What are you afraid of?

We approached a range of metro Detroiters with some simple questions. What are you afraid of? What worries you? And are you willing to talk about it? This is what we found out.


"I'm afraid my children will grow up to be pansies. We're teaching kids today to fear everything. I'm afraid that fear will prevent them from taking the kind of chances that will make them great. Experiencing life teaches children intuitiveness and, well, how else are they going to tell the good guys from the bad guys? Don't talk to strangers!? I have the best conversations with strangers. Teaching my kids not to talk to people is stagnant. We are losing the skills on how to judge. When my kids were in elementary school, I would get looks from other mothers who knew that I let my kids walk home from school alone. Isn't that what they're supposed to do? You know, I have a 15-year-old who can travel anywhere in the world by himself. Last year he flew to L.A., switched flights and got himself all the way to Santa Barbara. Both of my kids know how to hail a taxi in New York City. I'm proud of that.

It's not that I don't worry, but they have to learn to cross the street. They have to learn how to drive a car.

I miss teeter-totters.

[The war and 9/11] don't scare me as much as the fact that our civil liberties are rapidly disappearing does. And lawyers scare the hell out of me too. We're all afraid of being sued. Being a business owner, a homeowner ... it's terrifying. We are literally losing our deep ends. I heard that the city of Las Vegas had one pool left with a deep end. What the hell are we going to do at the Olympics? None of out kids will know how to dive! Seriously though, the fallout will be children who can't take responsibility for themselves and who depend on the government to make all of their decisions for them. We're excessively safe, and unreasonable precautions don't really help anybody. And, heck, where's the fun?

Mary Liz Curtain owns Leon & Lulu, a housewares store in Clawson. She is also a lecturer and author of A Shopkeeper's Manual, a guide for independent business owners

I am afraid of failure, that is, not meeting expectations I have for myself. This

definitely comes from being an athlete. In the broad scope, my background in sports makes me cope with it more than most people. I mean, my coaches could yell at me for just about anything, but the truth is, I've already been yelling at myself. But being afraid of failure has actually made me successful. When you have something that pushes you, it's always a good thing.

Sarah Kish, 23, catcher on Wayne State University's women's softball team. Hometown is Saint Catharines, Ontario.

It's the simple answer that most frightens me, the exploitation of personal and wishful thinking to foster destructive national and local public policy. It's the belief that solutions are easy, and that complication and nuance are to be avoided at all costs. The simple answer is a refusal to study and analyze, discuss and debate; it's the notion that anyone who raises a doubt or a question is a naysayer or obstructionist; it's a call to collective ignorance. The simple answer is responsible for the tragic quagmire in Iraq, a rotten war based on rush to judgment, deliberate oversimplification, and distortion; or the Patriot Act, a simplistic excuse to curtail American civil liberties; or any number of ill-conceived, mean-spirited, dangerous policies enacted by the U.S. government during the last six years.

But Washington is not the only source of destructively simple answers. In Detroit, the simple answer has led to huge public investment in ventures that cannot possibly reverse decades of deindustrialization, corporate disinvestment, population loss, inadequate federal and state support, and polarization by race and class. Our budgets are in crisis, and our region suffers from deeply rooted economic injustice and educational and social inequality, but we try to solve these problems with the image, hype, spin and "positive" PR generated by entertainment and sports. Meanwhile, we continue to generate sprawl, ignore mass transit and punish the people who by necessity or choice remain in urban neighborhoods. The simple answer distracts the public from the hard, unglamorous, but necessary work of building communities and serving human needs. The simple answer tells us what we wish to hear rather than what we need to know. It's a lie told by opportunists that all will be well if we trust them with our hopes and resources.

The attractiveness of the simple answer makes it a favorite tool of the warmonger, the racist, the purveyor of civic snake oil. Powerful, persuasive and false, the simple answer is among the most dangerously corrosive forces in our culture.

Frank D. Rashid, 56, is the chairperson of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Marygrove College where he is also on the faculty of Institute for Detroit Studies. He is the father of two adult children and lives in Detroit with his wife Kim Stroud, a real estate agent.

I work downtown here at the Ren Cen, downstairs in the food court. Ever since 9/11

and what happened at the World Trade Center, I've been afraid that all of a sudden my world will come to an end, just like that. There are a lot of crazy people out there doing a lot of stupid things, and it could be that I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that will be it. I wasn't like that before 9/11. And now, with the president taking us into this war and all, there are some people in other countries who might want to retaliate because of that. You hear so much stuff on the news — like that man who chopped up his wife. What could make someone do something like that? People do strange things, so what's to stop them from doing something here like they did at the World Trade Center? My cousin's like that too, ever since that happened. She's even worse than me. She's a news fanatic, so she hears all kinds of stuff. She calls me every day, just to make sure I got home safe. She's more scared than I am. I hope it never happens, and I try to get it out of my mind, but still there's probably a couple of times a month that I think about it.

Lakeisha Hooker of Detroit is 23. She's the mother of a 3-year-old boy.

All other thoughts of fear pale once I arrive at the notion of losing one of my children to disease, an accident or that they should simply vanish from the face of the earth. This evokes a primordial, in-the-marrow shuddering that I can only imagine would stop me in my tracks and send me into a spiral of helpless despair.

I lost both my parents by my mid-30s. This was sad, sorrowful and lonely. It also followed the natural order of things, made sense and allowed me to mourn and grieve what was to be inevitable. My aunt died last week. She was nearly 90 and earned her rest. It was sad. I have a heavy feeling but am also left to appreciate that she had a rich, complicated life. I am sad for my cousin. Death came, left its shadow but leaves me with no fear. I'll die someday — no one gets out alive. It's distant enough, I trust, that I don't yet fear it in a visceral, immediate way. I think it was Woody Allen who said he just doesn't want to be there when it happens. But if one of my kids ...

We lost a 4-year-old niece several years ago to a consuming but amoral cancer. The sorrow was suffocating and often re-emerges as palpable, oppressive and dark. A friend's son, several years ago, was diagnosed with leukemia. He survived and is a thriving 12-year-old. Hurrah! What I recall of both these times, and as the story of each was told, is a distinct chill traveling down my spine as I spoke of this to others. When telling this to other parents, voices softened, eyes met with a certain anxiety and we resonated with the utter terror that accompanies helplessness. We'd shudder, mutter some banal platitude and withdraw as best we could from thinking the unthinkable.

Two paragraphs and I've not yet uttered the unutterable. I fear, I tremble and rage, sometimes tear up at the thought of my children dying. The phone call, the doctor's grim prognosis, the empty room, the abject helplessness that would consume me. You see, fear is one thing — fear of snakes, bees, heights, public speaking. Makes you sweat, weak in the knees, whatever your personal phobia might be. But to lose a child, to see her dying, to lay her to rest, to be predeceased by the life you intended to surpass your own, to lose a love that is radiant, ever-growing, that embodies past, future and present with an indescribable elegance and grace, well, that leaves me searching for words to describe that which has no word to describe it.

My kids are many things to me and thrill me in ways they certainly never intend. The responsibility of nurturing, protecting and shepherding them is the heaviest, sweetest and most pleasurable one I've ever assumed. And as a good shepherd, I guard my flock jealously, fiercely and with the selfish wish to protect myself from this hellish fate.

Marc D. Rosen, 52, is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Southfield. He lives in Oakland County with his wife and his children ages 12 and 16.

In reality, I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. I never gave it much thought. Nope, nothing I can think of. You're always worried about being sick or something. ... Fear is not something you think about. A lot of things would bother me if they happened. But if you worry about stuff, that's not what will happen. Even when I was in the Air Force [in World War II], I don't remember ever being afraid of crashes. You had to be concerned [in bad weather] about whether you could get through it and get down, but I was never afraid of it. I suppose in the last second you'd say, "Uh-oh."

If I was suddenly in front of a rattlesnake, I suppose I would be afraid he would bite me. But I don't see a rattlesnake here, and we don't have any lions or tigers or polar bears around here. I suppose if someone was pointing a gun at me that would concern me. There doesn't seem to be much sense being worried about something you can't do anything about.

Dr. L. Murray Thomas, 84, retired neurosurgeon living in Grosse Pointe Park. Twice a week he interviews applicants to Wayne State University's School of Medicine.

I don't have a whole lot of things that I'm afraid of. But the other day I was at the firehouse, and I sat down, and I thought about it and, I said there is one fear I've been troubled by a lot lately, and that's the nature of our black kids. Am I going to, in my lifetime, see them get it together? Where kids aren't raising kids, and they're raising them to respect their elders and authority. You know how these kids in the city come out of public school? They have no opportunity; they have nothing to go after; they have no prospects; they don't go to college. But in the suburbs, it's just part of growing up — go to school, go high school, come out of high school, you go to college and you come out of college and you start your life. You know, I'd like to see our city like that, the inner-city black kids. My fear is that I won't live to see it, and that's the one thing that troubles me a lot. You see, I do my part with the kids on the baseball team. I do that every year and I try to teach them a little something about being black in the city. Nobody uses the N-word on my team. Kids tend to come out there and think it's cool to throw that around, and any team I've ever coached, they'll tell you Coach Ron don't play that.

I have an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old and, Katie, my 11-year-old. They sit down with my wife and I and have these forums. We turn the TV and the radios off, and we'll just talk. And the basis of most of these talks is what can we do to help out our people. And my daughter, the oldest, she asks me the question: What can you do? And I tell her, personally, I think it's a 40- to 60-year process. We have to change our culture the way we think as black people, as people period. It's like a whole generation of people have to get on board.

Ron Goss, 41, of Detroit is a senior firefighter for Ladder 19 on Detroit's east side. His 12-and-under baseball team, the Rangers, were first in their division in Think Detroit PAL's baseball League. He has been coaching for seven years.

It was his ghost. It wasn't my ghost.

We were talking in the kitchen. He asked if my house was haunted because my house is old; it's from the 1920s, which isn't really that old. I was like, "No, not at all." I mean, I do hear stuff, but I didn't want to seem strange. So later, we were walking up the stairs and I was high. I was walking in front of him and I felt this loud breathing in my ear. [She demonstrates a lingering exhale and then a quick gasp] Like "Aaaaaaaaah-uhh. Uh!" One breath and two more. If you asked him to do it, he does it better. I turned around and thought he was right next to me. But he wasn't, he was like three stairs down from me.

I asked him, "Did you hear that?"

"Yeah, it was coming from your shoulder area."

He heard it — it was like a disembodied voice or something, this breathing.

I couldn't feel anything, like a rush of air. I just heard this sound. You know what? I was more or less glad there was a witness, because when stuff like that happens everybody thinks you're weird. It was nice to see him freak out. I get more scared thinking what could happen lying in bed, but when it does, it's not that scary. I had a ghost in my last house. In this one, things go missing and stuff, I see shadows out of the corner of my eye, but that could be anything. I hear my name called a lot. I hear it only, I guess, in the house. It just happens so unexpectedly, I think it's my brain playing tricks on me or whatever. Do you ever hear your name being called? No? You never hear that? I thought it was normal.

A young woman, who asked that her name not be printed, living in Detroit's Indian Village neighborhood.

My biggest fear is dying alone out here and nobody ever knowing about it. All I have is this hospital bracelet to show who I am. There'd be no way to notify anybody. And if something happened to me, it would never make the news, because I'm a nobody. So that's what I'm afraid of, being alone, with no family, and dying out here like that. When I lost my job, I lost everything.

A former tool and die maker for the auto industry, 55-year-old Linda Bates lives on the streets of Detroit.

I was in a town near Athens, Greece, vacationing. I was eating fish with some friends at a real nice taverna right next to the water. All of a sudden I started feeling hot and cold and turning white so my cousin looked at me and said we got to go. I went back to his house to lie down and a doctor came over — doctors make house calls in Greece. He said you have to go to the hospital. I really fought them because I hate hospitals. I never go, except to visit other people. So they restrained me and took me. At the hospital, they had to give me a shot in my spine. Have you seen those needles? That's when I really threw a fit and they sedated me with morphine. That's the last thing I remember.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up. I remember feeling very calm. I thought it was a day later. The doctor was there looking at me. He said, "Do you know where you are? Do you know what day of the week it is?"

I said, "Yes, it's Friday."

He said, "Yeah, right man."

Ten days had passed. I had been in a coma in intensive care. My whole family had flown in and was at my bedside, including my 83-year-old mom and my children. I actually thought my wife was a doctor who looked like my wife — I couldn't see how she made it to Greece in a day.

It turns out I had bacterial meningitis. A few people in town had already died from it. I must have caught it at a museum or something because it's airborne. The doctors there took really good care of me, though. It was like I was their guinea pig because I was the first case of meningitis brought to the hospital since the outbreak. Plus, I'm American, and the director of the hospital happens to be a family friend.

Now when I go to the bar or something, I always drink through a straw. I'm freaked out by germs. But my biggest fear, next to losing a family member before I go, is losing my work. As soon as I woke up I asked about the business. It's like a child to me. I've got big plans coming up, restoring the sculptures on the top of the Wayne County courthouse and repainting the Calder sculpture outside the AT&T building. I can't lose my work. It means everything to me.

Georgio Gikas, owner of Venus Bronze, a sculpture conservation and restoration firm.

I never ever for a second thought I would have breast cancer. I have all this heart disease in my family, so I was ready at any second to have a heart attack. Seriously, I knew all the ins and outs of heart attacks — that you are supposed to, like, cough if you got one because it might help, and take aspirin ...

The day I found out was sort of nightmarish. I remember the doctor, my gynecologist, saying, "Oh, damn it. I don't know why they make me do this." I just started crying.

The unknown is hard. Before the mastectomy, I was nervous because I didn't know what it was going to be like. And then I found out it's not so bad; it wasn't so painful. The next step was chemotherapy. After that I thought, "Oh, that's not so bad." Then I lost my hair, and dealt with it by wearing hats and a scarf. I'm actually on the precipice right now of the next step, which is having the radiation. I have to go five days a week for seven weeks, at the hospital every day.

I'm not scared of dying; I just don't want to die fighting with all these chemicals and feeling shitty. I don't my obituary to read, "She died after a long battle with breast cancer." I want them to be completely honest with me and tell me if this is going to come back. And then I'm just going to take the American Express card and go to every museum in Europe and then just go jump off a cliff.

I don't know if this is connected or not, but recently, in the last three months, I'm getting more and more obsessed with hurting deer. I don't want to hit one. I used to drive these streets to my house, back roads. I know there are deer through there; I've seen them. If I hit one, then I know they sort of limp into the woods and die. I have nightmares for these deer, and it has gotten worse since I've been sick. I never even thought of it, but it's totally gotten worse. I tell my husband not to drive down certain streets and I just think of deer, lying in the woods, without a doctor.

Once, five years ago or so, I did hit one up North. I went into this party store to ask them to call the police and the guy said, "You wanna take the deer home?"

Yeah, right. Tie them on to my car. All three of them. No I don't want to take the deer home! I want to put it out of its misery! I want somebody to shoot it so it's not just lying there, slowly dying.

Christina Hill is an art critic, art history professor at College for Creative Studies, a wife and mother of two, ages 26 and 31. She lives in Bloomfield Township.

My biggest fear is the American auto industry becoming marginalized.

And I don't think I'm alone in having this fear. I see the American automakers being reduced to niche players. If anybody has had a hit product lately, it's been a niche product like Ford's retro Mustang. There's a lot of borrowing from the past. But there's nothing with mass-market staying power. And we've all but conceded the small-car market to Asian automakers. There's no real leadership in the American auto industry, which is a shame considering the talent at lower levels. Think back to the days when Iacocca ran the show at Chrysler, he turned a mess around in just a couple years, just so the next batch of shortsighted dummies could go hog-wild with trucks and SUVs. Guys would name their kids after Iacocca, but most people on the line have no idea who runs Chrysler anymore, except that they cash a big check.

We have this mistaken idea that all you need to be successful is a college diploma, but that's not true. The need for highly educated people will never equal the population. I think you are going to see a lot of people with college degrees standing in the unemployment line.

Personally, I think I will be able to land on my feet. And I don't have any kids or anything like that to worry about. But I worry about what will happen to my parents and my grandparents. And I worry about what will happen to the metro region as a whole. There are some people who have the idea that this region will become some sort of high-tech mecca, but I don't think that's going to happen. Why open a high-tech company here when you can locate it someplace where it's 80 degrees and sunny in the winter? The reason people came here is because we are set up for heavy manufacturing, and there were good-paying blue-collar jobs. But those jobs are going away. Which means that Detroit is going to keep sliding down into a smaller and smaller city, and the whole region — maybe the whole Midwest — is going to be hurt, and keep being hurt.

The rich will be able to ride it out, but the middle class is going to shrink, and the amount of poverty will continue to grow. For so many people, their biggest investment is their house. But look at what's happening. The boom of the 1990s is over, and now the housing market is going backward. A lot of houses and a lot of shopping centers are going to be sitting empty. It makes me feel kind of sick, because, except maybe for the weather, I love this area.

Chris Vitale, 31, lives in St. Clair Shores and is an assembly line worker for Daimler-Chrysler.

Truthfully, there are not a lot of things that frighten me, but being a person who has been involved in a 30-year marriage, a good marriage, with two sons — one now 24, soon to be 25, and the other one 20, soon to be 21 — one of my fears is that as they get closer to settling down with a woman, and neither of them look like they are close to it right now, I know that it's inevitable they will probably get involved in a committed relationship and perhaps even more toward marriage. The thing that I guess I'm most fearful of with them is that they find somebody who is emotionally well-adjusted and who is settled and who really wants to be with them and that they in turn will be emotionally ready for that type of relationship. It bothers me because in my church I see a lot of relationships that are suffering on one end or another, and it's becoming very clear to me that in matters of the heart, that's something that parents can't do a lot about. You can raise your children and try to show them by your own example, but you really don't know what your children will do when left to their own devices. You don't know the decisions that they will make.

I try not to be judgmental with the girls that they bring around — the girls that they talk about — and I try to listen very carefully to their perspective and at the same time to encourage them to be as broad in their thinking as possible. Broad in terms of looking at a whole person, looking holistically at a person, not being fixated on the physical aspects or the intellectual aspects but the total package. What is it that you like about this person? What is it you think they like about you?

I spend a large part of my ministry helping people to either think through their relational issues to get out of bad relationships or to pray and have the courage to try a relationship. You know, when their fears are so great for failure and disappointment it takes an awful lot to encourage a person to actually give another person a chance.

I know that probably doesn't sound very lofty. I could tell you about my fear of black people losing power and clout, not only in cities like Detroit but throughout America. Those are political fears that I have and maybe large ones. But really that doesn't bother me as much as worrying about my own children.

Rev. Nicholas Hood III, 55, is senior minister of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit. A former member of Detroit City Council, Hood ran unsuccessfully in the 2001 Detroit mayoral primary.

I think my audience's greatest fear is not being told the truth, and that can stem

from all walks of life including governmental leaders. As Jack Nicholson once said in A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth." Well, yes, we Americans can.

Gregory Noory, host of Coast to Coast AM, a national late-night talk show famous for its discussions of the paranormal, bizarre weather phenomena, conspiracy theories, cover-ups, and pet psychology.

Gone are the nightmares of showing up to school naked, or being struck dumb on stage. Instead I have nightmares of Bush, which usually end with me beating him senseless. And yet my own anger makes me fear myself. I’m not a naturally violent person; however, when faced with the possibility that Bush, Cheney, and the gang will never have to pay for their many crimes, I refuse to be passive. I fear the uncertainty of revolution, but if it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it’s good enough for me. And that scares me.

Frank Pahl, Detroit area musician, composer, and musical instrument builder.


See Also:

Kids' stuff
Children talk heights, bugs and the dancing boogeyman

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About The Author

Metro Times Staff

Since 1980, Metro Times has been Detroit’s premier alternative source for news, arts, culture, music, film, food, fashion and more from a liberal point of view.
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