Any psychologist worth his salt will tell you that the only way to conquer your fears is to face them head-on. Also, he'll tell you that the phrase "worth his salt" is out-dated and stupid. While the idea of facing one's fears sounds like reasonable advice, and works well for the fear of hamsters or the fear of flannel, it probably falls short in more terrifying situations. If you had, for example, an innate fear of being pummeled to death by former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, would you really want to face up to it? Sure, you could walk up to Iron Mike and say, "Hey, Champ, the Lullaby League called, they want their voice back. And by the way, nice tattoo." That would indeed be a fine example of facing your fear, but then you'd be facing reconstructive facial surgery. At best.
When I was young, I was afraid of lots of things. Some were relatively minor, like clowns and the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. They were petrifying, yes, but it's not like Bozo was going to follow me to school. That's mostly because Mike the Whip would've beaten the seltzer out of him, but also because he's a fictional TV character. I got over my childhood phobias by the time I was about eight. Well, that's not entirely true. I watched Stephen King's It on cable a few months ago and it freaked me out all over again.
My fear of fire lasted quite a bit longer. Like, permanently. To this day, I've never struck a match or flicked a Bic. On camping trips, I have to find a three-foot stick to roast marshmallows. If I have to light the fireplace, which is to say "if I can't find Theresa," I use one of those trigger-operated lighters that look like miniature shotguns. I'm not sure where this fear came from, but it's here to stay. On the plus side, though, I'm never going to be a suspect in an arson case. So there's that.
It wasn't until I was about 11 that I finally rode my first roller coaster. Space Mountain, Walt Disney World, 1976. At that time, Space Mountain had only been in existence for one year, and many rumors swirled regarding its safety. It was supposedly so fast that people were losing their glasses, false teeth, wallets, and overpriced lunches. I wasn't exactly eager to put myself through that, hell, it had only been about a year since I'd gathered up the nerve to go on the Haunted Mansion. But with some encouragement from my father, I agreed to give Space Mountain a try.
We stood in line for over an hour. During this time, the dark recesses of my mind spewed out images of a roller coaster pushing Mach 2, whipping around the track flinging passengers to the Happiest Death on Earth. Dad didn't help matters, either. If you've ever been on Space Mountain, you know that there are all sorts of space objects projected in the darkness. Comets, asteroids that look like giant chocolate chip cookies, meteors. Well, my dad pointed to one of the stars zipping across the ceiling and said, "See that? That's one of the cars!" I could just feel the seven-dollar hot dog looking for the escape hatch.
We finally boarded the ride, and for about thirty seconds, I was petrified. But then I started to enjoy it. I enjoyed it a lot. We got back in line and rode it again. Just like that, I was hooked.
But over the past couple years, things have started to change again. Don't get me wrong, I still love riding roller coasters, but I have to pick and choose. It seems that certain rides, particularly those that swing side to side like "Batman" at Magic Mountain make me want to do the ol' technicolor yawn. Even the friggin' Ferris Wheel at California Adventure turned me a vague greenish color.
That just getting me getting older, though. It's not fear.
Fear would be a roller coaster soaring through rings of fire, with Alfundo riding next to me. And maybe a flying monkey or two working the controls.