Every two weeks or so Andy awoke at 3 a.m. and was attacked by the heebie-jeebies. It had been this way most of his life. He assumed everyone got the heebie-jeebies at one time or another.
He hated them, but he had learned how to cope with them. The first thing he did, nowadays, was to arise and visit the bathroom. Nothing is more futile than to try to fight heebie-jeebies while encumbered by a full bladder. Then he returned to bed and did battle.
His next step was to curse at the jeebies (Andy used the short form of the expression because he was old and wanted to save time). Aloud or just in his mind, Andy called the jeebies every rotten name he could think of. This made him feel in control. Which of course he wasn’t. But hurling foul words at the jeebies gave him courage.
He pictured the jeebies as having several forms. Mostly they were birds – vultures, crows, owls, ravens – dark, noisy, squawking creatures who swooped and dived above Andy’s bed, threatening to land on his eyeballs or feet or rip off sizeable chunks of Andy’s carcass. But he had learned that they never actually touched him. That’s because the jeebies weren’t real – they were all in his mind. Which, for Andy, was the worst place they could be.
All of the jeebies had names: Poverty, regret, failure, disease, hospitals, abandonment, climate change, loneliness, missed deadlines, atomic war, jail, lawyers, cold, tornadoes, rejected (and rejecting) girl friends, dementia, and being condemned to watch “The View” or “Maury” or “Judge Judy” for days at a time.
Andy first experienced serious assaults by the jeebies in his early 40s. By then he was divorced and living in a shabby furnished apartment in Oklahoma. His college alumni magazine told him of the worldly successes his former classmates had already begun to rack up. A repeated nightmare for Andy had him being fired from every job, or else having a job and not knowing what his duties were. The jeebie attacks soon followed.
But with the years Andy grew wise. Or a little wiser. He got better at fending off the jeebies. He learned what they loved, and hated.
They loved for him to just lie in bed doing nothing except be afraid. One reason jeebies attack sleeping people in the wee hours is that the victims are usually horizontal, naked or nearly so, and surrounded by darkness. And feeling totally defenseless.
The solution: do something. Anything. Turn on a light. Get out of bed. At least sit up. Juggle some tangerines. Jeebies find it very hard to attack a moving object, such as you, me or Andy.
Another approach: books. Andy’s most treasured anti-jeebie weapon was a collection of New Yorker cartoons by George Price, whose main subjects were looney, penniless but unflappable city dwellers. Five minutes of Price’s cartoons could dispel almost any jeebie attack.
A second defense was Dale Carnegie’s classic primer on how to stop worrying. It tells of men and women who had faced thousands of disasters (many of them imaginary) but who had overcome or outwitted worry using tools available to anyone, including Andy.
And there was Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” one of the funniest stories ever told. Andy had repelled many a jeebie assault by reading about Portnoy’s inner and outer devils.
If all else failed, Andy pulled down one of Dave Barry’s collections from the shelf. Dave was Andy’s hero. Andy believed that if a group of jeebies were interviewed, they would say, “We can’t frighten people when they’re reading Dave Barry’s columns. We hate laughter.”
Andy had heard about suicide hot lines. He wondered why no one had ever started a heebie-jeebie hot line. It would be a 24-hour phone number that a person could dial up when a jeebie attack occurred or was imminent.
“Hello, I’m calling from Scranton and the jeebies are after me!” “All right, tell me about them. What shape and color are they?” “They’re big and gray and look like vampire bats. Some of them are screaming ‘Gonna getchoo, gonna getchoo, you worm!’” “Oh, yes, we’ve had several calls like that recently. Why don’t you get yourself a glass of warm milk and tell me your deepest fears?” “Do you have time to listen to me?” “Oh, sure. We have dozens of hot-line counselors on duty. We get thousands of calls, mostly at night. You’re not alone.”
Beautiful words: “You’re not alone.” Andy would remember them, next jeebie attack.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.