Now Fear This

We all have nightmares. Some of us wake up in a cold sweat because we're being chased down the street by a gorilla with a knife. Others because we feel like we're falling down a bottomless pit for hours on end. Still others have nightmares in which scientists announce that they've figured out a safe, cheap, and easy way to clone a human being, marketing it in a form that you can pop in the microwave and have in less than five minutes. Unfortunately it only comes in one flavor, and that's Regis.

Now that's scary.

No one knows what causes nightmares, or for that matter, what they mean. But that doesn't stop people from trying to figure them out. The Greeks tried, Freud tried, even the woman in the house on the highway leading out of town which has the sign with the huge red palm on it—the international symbol for "Bored old woman watching TV waiting for people with more money than sense"— tries to figure them out. But nightmares are illusive, ephemeral things that vanish soon after we wake up. Okay, except when we elect one. That's what's known as a political nightmare.

Nightmares, it turns out, are more political than you think. And they're not bipartisan either. I know this doesn't sound like the American Way, but it's true. Don't worry, I'm sure that will change soon. When members of Congress hear about this they're bound to pass a law. Or a constitutional amendment. Or at least that taco they had for lunch in the Senate cafeteria. Congress, you see, is on a pass/fail system—if they don't pass enough bills they may fail to be re-elected. No wonder they wake up screaming. Well, that and the fact that they have a family vacation coming up and only have two offers from lobbying groups for free trips, neither of which are to a country their daughters haven't been too. Twice.

The revelation about partisan nightmares came to light in a study by a teacher at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA (motto: "In God we trust, though we still study just to play it safe"). He found that Republicans have three times as many nightmares as Democrats, and they didn't count any that include Senator James Jeffords. The most common nightmares were that they were giving a speech in front of Congress and discovered they had no clothes on, that Ted Kennedy was giving a speech in front of Congress and had no clothes on, and that Dick Cheney's pacemaker had a sympathy power outage for its big relatives in California and left George Bush with no one sitting next to him to whisper the answers to him. Just kidding. Well, about the first two anyway.

Not only do Republicans have more nightmares, it turns out they have different kinds. Kelly Bulkeley, who presented the results of his research to the American Association for the Study of Dreams (motto: "Better living through ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz"), says Republicans have dreams that resemble their daily lives while Democrats have more bizarre ones. Independents, on the other hand, dream that they have a chance in hell of getting elected.

This is enough to give a person oneirophobia, which is a fear of dreams. Or possibly politicophobia, a fear of politicians. And yes, these phobias really do exist. It turns out there's a phobia for just about anything you can think of, including lutraphobia (a fear of otters), automatonophobia (ventriloquist's dummies), and arachibutyrophobia (a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth). There's also a word for someone with a fear of having a ventriloquist's dummy that looks like a peanut-butter-flavored otter getting stuck to the roof of their mouth: committable. (You can find these and more at, where they have the names of over 530 phobias and swear they haven't made any of them up.)

A phobia isn't a regular fear, it's an exaggerated and illogical one. That's why the list doesn't have pantophobia (a fear of mimes), meltphobia (a fear that Michael Jackson will end up looking like the inside of a grilled cheese sandwich), and Moreschneiderphobia (a fear that they'll make The Animal-2). After all, there's nothing illogical about any of these.

Just as hypochondriacs get sick and paranoids have real enemies, phobics have things they should be afraid of. And so do you. For example, you should be afraid that Takeru Kobayashi, the 5-foot-7, 131-pound kid from Japan who ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan's International Federation of Competitive Eating contest will show up at your front door and ask "What's for dinner?" You should be afraid if the dogs sniffing around your bags at customs aren't drug-sniffing ones, but the cadaver-sniffing ones they have in Washington, DC.

You should be afraid that Disney's California Adventure is opening a new attraction based on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." And really afraid that they're probably considering "Fear Factor" as the next one. You should be afraid that they're selling Hello Kitty 1998 Bordeaux in Duty Free Stores in Europe and Asia. And even more afraid that they've probably kicked around the idea of Hello Pussy condoms.

If the thought of these make you shiver, then you're normal. On the other hand, if they make you break out in a cold sweat and you're not a sleeping Democrat having a nightmare about Robert Packwood coming out in support of Gary Condit, then maybe you have panophobia, which is a fear of everything. Good luck. You're on your own.

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