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Good Samaritan Strikes Again, The
THE WORRY BOX
I have this theory that people possess a certain capacity for worry, no more, no less. It's as though a person has a little psychic box that he feels compelled to keep filled with worries. When one worry disappears from the box, he immediately replaces it with another worry, so the box is always full. He is never short of worries. If a new crop of worries comes in, the person sorts through the box for lesser worries and kicks them out, until he has enough room for the new worries. The lesser worries just lie around on the floor, until there's room in the box for them again, and then they're put back in. They're welcomed by the worries that have been in the box all the time: "Hi, guys! Good to have you back. Boy, you should have seen the duds that just left. And they had the nerve to call themselves worries!"
For a while I worried that my worry theory wasflawed. I was talking to an old gentleman who gives every indication that his worry box is empty. Ed's ninety-three.
"Do you realize," I said to Ed the other day, hoping to worry him and thereby gain support for my theory, "that this new federal budget deficit will add another third-of-a-trillion dollars to the national debt? If this keeps on, by the year two thousand, we'll be about five zillion dollars in debt. How are we ever going to pay off a debt like that?"
Ed chuckled and tapped the ash off his cigar. "Beats me," he said. "But it ain't my worry."
"Yeah, sure," I said, "because you're an old geezer. But what about your great-grandchildren? They'll have to pay."
"Don't have any great-grandchildren. Got one that's fair to middlin', but the rest ain't worth a dang. Serve the loafers right if they have to pay off the zillion-dollar debt. Put some grit into 'em."
"Well then, how about the banks and the S and Ls? They're dropping like flies. That has to worry you."
"Nope. Don't have no money."
"Here's a good one. Pollution is eating holes in the ozone layer and within twenty-five years ... Okay, forget that worry. Let's see. Hmmmm. There's a lot of new sexually transmitted diseases, of course, but I suppose you're in a low-risk group."
"Ain't none lower."
"Yeah, but suppose you went to a dentist who had a deadly disease and ..."
"Right. You don't have to worry about your hair catching on fire, either. You could get burglarized, though. How about that?"
"Got nothing to burgle."
I tried for another hour to worry Ed, but without success. He seemed pretty well to have knocked my worry theory in the head.
"I've got to leave now," I said irritably. "Just remember, I'm picking you up at five o'clock tomorrow morning to go fishing."
"Good," he said. "Who's driving the boat, Smoky Joe?"
"Joe can't make it. I'm driving the boat."
"Now that worries me!"
I was elated. My theory was still intact. Ed had only one teeny-weeny worry, but one big enough to fill his worry box. He just had a teeny-weeny box.
I, on the other hand, have a very large worry box. My wife, Bun, is one of my major suppliers of worries.
"What did you do with the checkbook?" she asks me.
THE CHECKBOOK! Is that monster loose again? I imagine at that very moment an escaped convict is picking it up off the sidewalk. Maybe he will forge my name and deplete our checking account of every last penny and after he has exhausted all our funds buying dope, he will come to our house, because the address is on the checks, and he and I will grapple with each other, and he will pull a knife and ... !
"Oh," Bun will say, "here's the checkbook in my purse. Silly me! Now what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," I say, booting that worry out of my worry box, at least until the next time Bun asks, "What did you do with the checkbook?"
Bun's telephone technique is designed specifically to worry me. The phone rings. Bun picks it up. "Hello ... . Yes ... . Nooo! [Me: One of the kids has done something bad with his car.] Oh my gosh! How bad? [Me: It's real bad. Otherwise, the police wouldn't be calling.] You just never expect these things to happen to you. [Me: I do.] When can we see him?" [Me: Only during visiting hours, when he'll be wearing either a full-body cast or an orange jumpsuit.]
"So what is it now?" I ask, steeling myself to deal with the horrible emergency.
"Ernie's Garage. Ernie said he fixed the car's oil leak with a thirty-five-cent part. What's funny is that to install it, he had to totally disassemble the car. Isn't that amazing, just a thirty-five-cent part? How lucky can you get! By the way, Ernie says he wants to talk to you about something when you get a chance."
Ernie the Mechanic wants to talk to me? I know what he wants. He wants my house in exchange for totally disassembling my car, that's what he wants. We're about to join the ranks of the homeless!
You see from this example that the old worry about the kid is immediately replaced by a new worry about becoming homeless. I used to pity the homeless; now I am one. And so on. The worry box is always kept exactly full.
Where Bun really excels in worry production for me is on camping trips. It is popularly thought thatcamping provides a wonderful way to escape from the stresses of modern city life. I myself think this. I can always tell it's time to head for the mountains when I start getting stress cramps in my eyelids. They are quite painful, and cause me to go about for days with a startled, somewhat horrified expression. People coming toward me on the sidewalk look at me and then jerk their heads around to see what's sneaking up behind them. It's an embarrassment, not to mention a major social liability.
Once I'm back in the mountains, though, and Bun and I set up our tent and roll out our sleeping bags, the stress cramps vanish from my eyelids. Soon, I'm drifting into a deep and peaceful slumber, the fragrances of leaf mold and cedar boughs caressing my nostrils. It's nice.
"Was that you?" Bun asks.
"Nope. Probably just leaf mold."
"I mean that snuffling. Did you just snuffle?"
"I don't think so," I reply, trying to recall the characteristics of a snuffle.
"Oh well, go to sleep. It was probably just my imagination."
Yeah, but maybe not, I think. Maybe something outside the tent snuffled. A bird wouldn't snuffle. Squirrels and chipmunks are too small to snuffle. Something would have to be pretty big to snuffle. A deer could make a sound similar to a snuffle but not a true snuffle. Actually, the only animal I've ever heard do a true snuffle is a ... BEAR!
"For heaven's sake, what's wrong now?" Bun asks.
Now, here's an interesting aspect of my worry theory. Up to the point where Bun mentions the snuffle, my worry box is neatly layered with worries about the children, work, money, illness, poverty, pestilence, environment, war, the checkbook, famine, etc., each patiently awaiting its turn for my attention. But the instant the snuffle is mentioned, and its source identified as BEAR, all those other worries are blasted right out of the box by the sudden inflation of the snuffle worry. War, poverty, pestilencewhy, they couldn't even be shoehorned back into my worry box, it's packed so tight with snuffle.
As with most of my worries, the snuffle turned out to be nothing of consequence. The problem with a major worry, though, is sometimes it can produce the very condition that you are worried about.
When I was a kid, I would lie awake all night before the opening day of trout season worrying that I wouldn't wake up at four o'clock so I could be the first one at the best hole on the crick. I kept checking the alarm clock, to make sure it was still ticking. It had awakened me every day for school but it would be just like the treacherous machine to conk out the night before trout season. Every half hour, I checked the tomato can next to my bed, to make sure my worms weren't suffocating. I got up several times to arrange my rod and tackle for a quick getaway. I checked my fishing clothes and boots, to make sure they were all in order, a fairly easy task, because I was wearing them. The night seemed endless. Finally, the clock ticked its wayto 3:30. Great! I was going to make it! I closed my eyes in relief. The next time I opened them it was a quarter past ten! ARRRRHHHHH!
"The stupid alarm didn't go off!" I screamed at my mother.
"Yes, it did. But you were so exhausted you slept right through it. I thought if you were that tired, you needed the sleep."
"Sleep? Sleep! I needed to go fishing! Maybe there won't be any fish left in the crick by the time I get there. I've missed the best fishing time of the whole season. Maybe ..."
"Why are you looking like that?" Mom asked, glancing over her shoulder.
I was contemplating modification of my worry theory the morning I pulled up in front of Ed's cabin to take him fishing. My conversation with the old geezer had convinced me that as a person grows older, his worry box grows smaller. The box is still always full but it doesn't require so many worries to fill it. By age ninety-three, there's room for only one or two little dried-up worries in the box.
I honked my horn. After ten minutes or so, Ed opened the door of his cabin and headed down the walk. I ate a sandwich, drank a cup of coffee, read the sports page of the paper, and was thinking of taking a nap by the time he got to the car. He seemed in his usual good spirits.
"Why are you always so cheerful?" I growled. "Must be because you have so few worries."
"Nope," he said. "It's because every morning this incredibly wonderful thing happens to me."
"I'm not sure I want to hear this," I said, "but what's the incredibly wonderful thing?"
"I wake up again! Dad-gum if that don't make my day!"
So I guess that's why I put up with the old geezer. It takes so little to please him, and that's one less worry for me.
Copyright © 1992 by Patrick F. McManus All rights reserved.