What Happened in Vegas #4: Facing Fears

Sunday was a low key day, devoted to resting, naps, and eating. G had said that the day following the after party should be ‘reserved for vomiting,’ but things never went that far. In contrast, Monday was filled with activity. It was our last full day in Las Vegas and we had booked one of those bus trips to the Grand Canyon, including tickets for the Skywalk. You probably know all about the Skywalk and might even have taken a stroll on it yourselves. In brief, it is a U-shaped platform made of thick glass imported from Germany that juts 70 feet out from the canyon wall, offering glorious views of the huge expanse below it, some 4,000 feet down to the Colorado River. After lining up, placing all of your valuables in a locker, and pulling fluffy slippers over your shoes, you walk on this glass floor, or jump on it while laughing as G did, much to my chagrin. More about that shortly. So we dragged our sorry, hung over asses out of bed at about 5:30 am to be taken to the canyon by a loquacious driver named Frosty. Frosty was literally brimming with information that he could not wait to share with us. Unfortunately, he knew little about the Hoover Dam or Grand Canyon, and instead spoke at length about his granddaughter, a 13-year-old belly dancer, his childhood in Ohio, and the Las Vegas laws against washing your car in the driveway. He did so in such an annoying manner that even the agreeable—though ultimately wretched; I won’t bore you with the details—Australian family seated behind us on the bus began to seethe in unwhispered voices ‘Shut up Frosty.’

Now I am not a person riddled with phobias. I am shy and awkward but not afraid of social events, or of much else really. As far as I can tell I have only one illogical fear: standing on a transparent floor over some kind of height. Ha! Now you see why I was not impressed by G’s antics. Yet I do not suffer from vertigo. This may seem odd so let me explain by invoking an example. When I was in London with my partner about 20 years ago, we decided to climb the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral. At first the steps were solid concrete but as they narrowed toward the top they were replaced by iron slats, through which you could see the dark drop below. That is when I had my first panic attack; I had difficulty breathing, started to feel dizzy, and began to sweat, my heart pounding. Because there were about a hundred impatient Germans behind us, my partner had to push me up the stairs while I attempted to avoid passing out. Once at the top I was completely fine, leaning over to look at the views of the city below. You can therefore imagine that it was with some trepidation but also determination that I charged tickets for the Skywalk to my credit card. No refunds. I warned G and my partner that I would likely crap myself or else freeze, cry girl tears, and maybe have to crawl on my hands and knees. They were delighted to hear this news, promising to capture my humiliation on their camera phones. Too bad, so sad, in the end no phones or cameras were permitted on the Skywalk.

If they been allowed to bring phones, here is what their pictures would have shown:  me inching onto the platform, a false cheery smile pasted on my face. I am grateful to see a frosted edge on each side of the curving transparent glass, and I walk along it very slowly, as if avoiding the cracks that would break my mother’s back. I look straight ahead and not down. Eventually I try to put one whole foot on the see-though area but my breathing stops and I have to move back to the opaque strip in order to avoid suffocation and certain death. After about ten minutes of watching G and my partner cavort around the entire platform like billy goats (have you noticed that frostiness and goats are recurring themes in my life?) I decide to walk straight onto the glass. I am paralyzed with fear. I hate myself. I ask my partner for help and he immediately comes to my side, holding me and saying that ‘everything will be okay.’ He is such a stable presence in my life, such a constant, that I believe him. I step into the centre of the platform, gripping onto his hairy man-arm. I am able to withstand this torture for about 10 seconds. Then I try sitting down and inching my butt forward onto the glass. This toddleresque strategy is only partly successful and I cannot bear to remain for any length of time in the middle of the walkway. I came to the Skywalk to face my fears and test myself, and I did not really pass; nor did I utterly fail. I suppose that is all right.

How is this discussion of my ‘walking on air’ phobia related to the Feminist Figure Girl project? Well, there too I am facing my fears. Or at least I am forcing myself do something I would rather not do. It would certainly be easier for me to avoid the impending competition. I do not relish the idea of prancing on stage in a bikini to display my physique before an audience. I am not very confident about my appearance even as I realize that my body is better than average and that I am in some ways good looking–that is, under specific light conditions and from certain angles. Or when dancing with a glowstick in a smoky club. Perhaps also when viewed through a heavy pair of beer goggles.

All this talk about fear reminds me of a terrifying encounter I had in Paris this past spring, and I include a description of it here for your amusement. If you have already read about the unwelcome intruder on facebook, you have my official permission to stop reading this post, and immediately exit from Feminist Figure Girl’s Blog.

Unwelcome Intruder at the Bibliothèque nationale, le 28 juin 2010

My day at the library started like any other: metro ride, short walk, security search, line up to transfer belongings from backpack into rigid plastic box, two more security checks, and finally Salle M. Oh Salle M, how pleased I was to be there after a week in the noisy Salle K, located near the café. I approached desk 66, delighted to discover that it was at the end of the bank. A corner office! ‘Perfect,’ I whispered to myself as I began to set up my laptop. But then I saw something black and fuzzy on the upper part of the chair. Is that from someone’s sweater, I wondered? I suddenly realized that the large piece of lint had eight legs and two long pinchers and was in fact a spider. I had never seen anything like it outside of a zoo. It was Tim Burtonesque. That can’t be real, I thought, poking it with the end of my computer’s electrical cord. It moved. Ugh, I recoiled. It must be one of those poisonous jumping spiders from Australia, I decided, having travelled here on the hat band of a sweaty academic. I pondered the 3 x 4 inch long beast, wondering what to do. I considered switching chairs with the station next to me, but decided against it. Not for ethical reasons—oh no—but because I was afraid of two things: 1) that I would get into trouble for breaking an important chair-based rule, and 2) that the spider would awaken, leap onto my throat, and suck the life out of me. So instead, I went over to the information desk and handed in my card to retrieve the books I had preordered.

‘J’aimerais changer ma place Monsieur.’

‘Ce n’est pas possible,’ il a dit. ‘Mais pourquoi?’

‘Il y a une araignée gigantesque sur ma chaise. C’est une sorte de tarantula.’

I was hoping some unwritten rule of masculine behaviour would force him to drop everything and rush to remove the spider from my chair. That is not what happened. ‘Go and ask Madame my colleague,’ he said in French. Apparently, she was in charge of all things to do with chairs.

‘A spider?’ she scoffed, grabbing two thin pieces of white paper. ‘I will take care of that.’ ‘But Madame,’ I protested, ‘it is very large.’ She smiled and strode towards Place 66. Upon seeing the spider, she was aghast, realizing her error. I grinned triumphantly. She went back to her desk and spoke briefly with two young men, who rushed into another office. Finally, a third man emerged with a red plastic bag in his hand. He shrugged when he saw the spider and for the first time I felt some relief. I hid behind nearby book shelves as he gently scooped up the offensive creature, noting that he was obliged to save it for his superiors. I pictured him presenting the furry specimen to a group gathered inside a boardroom for end-of-the-month reports. By now many people were watching and giggling at our performance and even I laughed a little.

After thanking my valiant saviour, I left to de-stress by drinking two cappuccinos with arôme cacao. When I finally returned to my desk the same bearded young man was waiting for me. He offered me a small glass jar with the spider inside it, alive and well. ‘Would you like to take this home with you?’ he queried. ‘Yes please,’ I falsely enthused. ‘C’est de quelle sorte?’ I asked, considering him the closest thing to a spider expert in the library. ‘C’est la sorte qui n’est pas gentille,’ he responded authoritatively before marching away, imprisoned arachnid in hand.

I settled down to work but was continually startled by soft brushings against my neck. It was only my hair, but I remain convinced that a spider colony from the land down under now lurks deep within the bowels of the Bibliothèque nationale. They are there, they are learning from experience, and they are preparing a future attack.

At this point you might accuse me of laziness for pasting in a story that I wrote months ago. You would be fully justified. But please understand that I am finishing up this text while in the airport on the way home from Las Vegas, tired and with a major tummy ache. It serves me right and yet I am cranky. All I can think is ‘No tip for you Frosty.’

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 50-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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