I now know that fear of public speaking and fear of clowns are the same thing. Or they are when you look under the surface. My friend Karl helped me understand this. Karl and I sometimes go to Chili’s to hang out with our friend, Jeff. We talk about things like Napoleon’s battles and the properties of foam rubber while we drink beer and eat cheese fries. Last night I mentioned to them that I’m afraid the Christmas gift I bought for my wife sucks. Since she flat out told me she wants a squatty wooden chair for Christmas, giving her a lousy squatty wooden chair would be bad, and I fear that. I believe my fear is justified.

Cheese Fries - The Philosopher's Friend. Photo Courtesy of Laura Merrill

Karl swallowed a mouthful of fries and said, “You sure are afraid of wolves.”

I stared at Karl as if he’d said he had x-ray vision and his nipples were made of diamonds.

He went on, “Every fear can be boiled down to the fear of being eaten by wolves. For example, you’re really afraid that your wife will hate the chair, and that it will poison your marriage, and that she’ll boot you out of the house, and that you’ll wander in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

“No I’m not!”

“No? Are you really this scared just because you think she’ll look at the chair and frown, or because she’ll yell at you? Nope. You’re scared of the wolves.”

“Hey, wolves don’t eat people too much. That’s a myth,” Jeff said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Karl said. “It’s a myth that most beautiful women go for fat, bald guys who play video games, but that doesn’t stop fat, bald guys from thinking it. I’ll prove this. Ask me about another fear.”

“I’m afraid of giving speeches,” Jeff said.

“Easy. You’re really afraid that when the audience hears how bad you are, they’ll hate you so much they’ll chase you out of the building, and you’ll be fired or maybe branded, and that you’ll go broke and lose your house, and that you’ll wander in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

“Oh come on,” I said. “That’s dumb. That stuff won’t happen.”

“Of course it won’t happen. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid of it, deep down. Ask me another one.”

I thought for a moment and grinned. “Fear of falling.”

Karl grinned back. “You’re really afraid that when you hit the ground you’ll break your legs, and that you’ll drag yourself around in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

Jeff snorted and lifted his beer mug to his lips.

“Honestly,” Karl said. “You’re not as afraid of instant death as you are of a thoroughly agonizing maiming, followed by a desperate struggle and painful death. In the jaws of wolves.”

Karl stared back at us in triumph as he unconsciously played with a cheese fry, making it dance across the plate in front of him.

I squinted at Karl, hoping I looked like Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars, but expecting that I probably looked like a lemur in Death Valley. “Fear of clowns.”

“Clowns riding wolves. The clowns mock you, and the wolves eat you.”

“Fear of spiders.”

“Wolf spiders.”

I raised my eyebrows at Karl.

Jeff jumped in, “No, I get what you’re saying. You look at a spider and your brain screams that some terrible thing is going to eat you. You know that little spider can’t eat you, so deep inside you’re afraid you’ll end up being eaten by wolves. In the snow.”

Karl smiled and held out his mug to toast with Jeff.

I refused to surrender. “Fear of success.”

“You’re really afraid that when you succeed you’ll change, and people won’t like you anymore, and then they’ll abandon you, and you’ll lose everything, and you’ll be alone wandering around in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

This was stupid. I looked up at the ceiling and pursed my lips. Karl and Jeff began chatting about how electric socks are made. Then I set my mug down as if it were an iron glove flung at Karl’s feet. I snatched a fry and said, “Okay, if you can answer this one I’ll give. Fear of sinning and going to Hell.”

Karl leaned back in the booth. “I’ll concede that you’re not afraid of wandering in the snow. But you’re not afraid of Hell itself, either. You’re afraid of what will happen there.” Karl finished off his beer, which mainly consisted of his saliva by now. “If there are wolves in Hell, they won’t just eat you. They’ll eat you twice a day for all eternity. Now, you met my uncle Luther, right? The one that knocked over that liquor store after kicking the Salvation Army Santa in the stomach and stealing the donations? Well he died six months ago. So I guarantee that there’s at least one vicious, rabid wolf in Hell to welcome you.”

And thus Karl made his point. It’s all about the wolves.

Photo Courtesy of Laura Merrill.