Monday, December 03, 2007

God and the Exploding Zamboni

Little Babe is in seventh grade at a Jewish day school that has four classes per grade, which means that, as of last winter, his weekends have been consumed with the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of his one-hundred or so classmates.

No matter where HOBB and I go on the weekend, we need to arrange driving and carpooling, as a great many of these events take place outside of Manhattan. So, last night, following the conclusion of the trippy and hard-to-follow Bob Dylan-inspired flick I'm Not There, we drove up to Dobbs Ferry to retrieve Little Babe and some Upper West Side kids from a partay at a club on the banks of the Hudson.

Because of the freezing temps and the morning snow, however, we found ourselves in one of those Holy Freaking Mother of God!! kinda skid-spins while pulling off 87 in Ardsley.

And once we stopped shaking and shouting and saying Shema and realized we had not been hit by oncoming traffic after all (though dozens of cars drove past us with drivers shouting and swearing and giving us the finger), we drove like geriatrics the rest of the journey, esp with Little Babe and his friends in the Bungalow-Van.

With each passing year, as I identify yet another fear I harbor, I become more firmly of the opinion that phobias have gotten a bad rap. While they are presented as some kind of pathological state of mind, what could be more rational than fear of a harmful object or substance?

Googling "fear of ice" earlier today, I found out that, indeed, there is a phobia named in its honor -- namely, pagophobia. However, I beg to differ with the classification of this fear as a phobia. Fear of ice is not a sign of mental illness but intelligence. People actually die from encounters with ice. In their vehicles or on their own two feet.

I am still traumatized by Dr. Atkins's death which resulted from a fall he suffered while slipping on the notorious "black ice," that in turn resulted from snow that fell, freakishly, in New York several Aprils ago. In fact, the word "black" coupled with "ice" sends shivers up my spine. No pun intended.

Many years ago, when we lived at the American Museum of Natural History, Little Babe developed a fear of Black Holes. Late at night, he used to call me into his darkened bedroom to express his fear of getting sucked into one and having his atoms crushed. Though I did the motherly thing of calming him down by reassuring him that he was in no danger of encountering a Black Hole anytime soon, I completely related. My fear of Black Ice is pretty similar. I am afraid of slipping on it and having all my bones crushed.

Which brings me to the ridiculous concept of Ice Skating.

Skidding on ice is a terrifying occurrence that I try to avoid during winter time. Indeed, since first observing it in my early childhood, I have failed to understand how this prelude to broken bones actually became a sport. And an Olympic sport, no less.

Yes, yes... I can understand that in the time of Hans Christian Andersen, in a place as freezing and backwards as Copenhagen, skating down frozen boulevards made sense. However, with the advent of the modern taxicab, bus, subway and car, there is no excuse for risking one's life in this manner. In fact, I think it's time to proclaim people who pursue figure skating professionally as judgment-impaired -- nay... stupid -- a view confirmed by the film Blades of Glory.

Skating parties were one of the banes of my bane-filled childhood. The skating rink was either populated by show-off skinny girls in Olympics-style skating dresses or maniacs bent on knocking you down on your butt. The music in the rink was always tinny and demonic; indoors, there was a damp, foot-scented ambiance that was only slightly mitigated by the promise of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate served by the emporia in question, however, was inevitably the rip-off version of Swiss Miss, manufactured by Pathmark supermarket.

Though I was an accomplished swimmer, cyclist and tree-climber, I was utterly unable to balance on the invariably too-tight skates that bound my ankles painfully and subjected my feet to frostbite while exposing the rest of my body to uncomfortably cold temperatures.

Fortunately, none of The Three Babes developed a fondness for skating and I can count on the toes of one, still-frostbitten foot the amounts of times I have taken my offspring to a skating rink over the two-plus decades of my mothering.

Anyway, two news stories today affirm the wisdom of my unpopular anti-skating point of view:
  • A report of a girl who drowned trying to save a dog who had ventured out onto a pond covered with a film of thin ice and,
  • A CNN report of an exploding Zamboni at a skating rink in Philadelphia
And while the death of the girl who ventured out onto ice is sheer tragedy, the Zamboni story signifies something quite different, I believe.

While there's an element in this story that hearkens to the science fiction theme of "our machines are turning against us," I discern the hand of God in the exploding Zamboni.

Obviously, the technological advancements of the 21st century have done nothing to dissuade human beings from voluntarily subjecting themselves to the dangers of ice. This failure has made God completely meshuggah with despair. Out of this sense of cosmic desperation He/She has now concocted a new and dramatic warning sign perfectly in sync with the early 21st zeitgeist, that is to say, something explosive.

I predict, however, that wily psychologists are already hard at work coming up with a snazzy-sounding phobia to signify the "irrational" fear of exploding Zamboni machines, thus training us away from our innate, natural -- and potentially lifesaving -- fear of ice.

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