To OH YEAH MAMA the upcoming release of Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia— (available for pre-order!) I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series. Thanks to everyone who’s been following along and everyone who’s joined in to share. As Olivia, the heroine in Driving in Neutral says to Maxwell the claustrophobe, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” I’m not really sure where this one stands.
It’s safe to say I am not afflicted by Pogonophobia, the fear of beards. I am married to a goateed Sicilian and I like beards as long as they don’t stray into ZZ Top or Rumpelstiltskin territory, which makes me think there may be food scraps hidden somewhere in all that hair, which feeds my cleaning compulsion. I look at the long, backwoodsman beard and feel an overwhelming urge to TIDY IT. First with a vacuum, to collect all the toast and cookies crumbs and dislodge any caked on bits of cheese from last Thursday’s Fusilli Bolognese. Then with shampoo, and finally with a pair of scissors.
I once had a friend who wasn’t bearded, but he did have a moustache. He had a moustache that was so thick and long he would often have remnants of his lunch embedded in the hairs. On first glance, his ‘mo seemed broom-like, but that vast stretch of bristly hair curled over his upper lip and dipped into the seam of his mouth. His ‘mo was more like the food filtration system on a Baleen whale. So I was wondering if my fear of his dirty, dirty Balleen whale ‘mo meant I was somehow Cetaphobic. Like I developed a irrational fear of BIG WHALES because of his big, bushy, bristly, food-filtering ‘stache? Or was it merely some kind of mustaceumphobia?
Then I met another man who had the ZZ Top Harley-Rider beard that he could tuck into his belt. I noticed his beard was soft (because he used conditioner) and clean, and his massive comb-like food-filtering bristly moustache was too. But this was only BECAUSE HE KNEW HOW TO USE A NAPKIN!
Dark chocolate cranberry almond crunch was the unusual flavor Olivia chose, but Emerson went with green apple. He liked the idea of ambling around the town square, window- shopping and eating ice cream cones, but the afternoon sun was too intense. The ice cream began melting faster than they could lick it. Milky trickles started to run over golden cones as soon as they exited Kenton’s ice cream shop.
They found a park bench beneath the shade of a maple tree and sat.
Olivia handed him a paper napkin. “Have you ever considered you might have anger management issues?” she said.
Emerson licked the joint where the apple ice cream met the cone. “I think I manage my anger very well.”
“I can’t argue with that. You did a great job getting hostile back there in the jewelry store.”
“I wasn’t hostile.”
She clicked her tongue. “You practically used him as a stand-in for Timmons. Do you miss your little whipping boy?”
“You know if you talked less and ate your ice cream faster, you wouldn’t have chocolate all over your knuckles.” He sneered, wrinkling his nose.
Olivia made a face back. “You’re like my brother. It’s taken him over sixty years to learn you don’t have to yell to get what you want.” She watched him bite the tail off his cone and suck ice cream through the end.
He smacked his lips and said, “Look at it this way. This is how I manage my anger. I get mad, speak my mind, and poof, it’s over. I’m relaxed and I’ve got what I want.”
“Of course, because you use dictatorial intimidation tactics.”
“This coming from the woman with the chocolate Hitler moustache. Good Lord, you’ve got ice cream all over your chin too.” He handed back the napkin she’d given him. “It must be good if you make that much of a mess.”
She wiped her mouth with the crumpled paper. “It’s very good. Want to try it?”
“Great, and when you’re back in Kenton’s can you get me another napkin?”
It took him a second of watching her lick a circle around her ice cream before he got it. “You mean I can’t try yours?”
“No. Go get your own.” She stuck out her tongue and turned the cone against it.
Emerson stared at her.
“What are you going to do, yell at me until I let you try mine? Holler until I submit?”
“Just for that, you have to go back into the jewelry store and face Mr. Twenty-First Century Hair Fantasy alone,” he said.
“Like I was going to let you come back in there with me.” She licked her ice cream again and then shook the cone at him. “There is no way that’s going to happen. You are going to sit here and wait.”
In one motion, Emerson grabbed her wrist and yanked her close, sliding her across the bench until she was just a few inches from his chest. “I may employ a bit of intimidation…” He drew her closer and watched her lips part, her eyes widen. The heel of her hand pressed into his breastbone to push him away. The conductive energy of her touch shocked through him, but before she shoved him away, his head dipped…