Nervous Habits

Have you any nervous habits? I have, plenty of them. I’ve got so many one would think I need therapy.

Why is calm and cool, in other words, the ability to fool the body that danger or stress doesn’t matter, looked upon as desirable, when it’s really stupidity? Nerves are God-given radar built-in that helps people survive. If you were a caveman living in a cave in prehistoric times and a saber-toothed cat showed up at the entrance to your cave, would you show that cat a punk car sticker that said, “No Fear?”

Fear is good, so are nerves. The shakier you are, the more intelligent you are.

I chewed the bone-bump, you know that bony lump on the outside of your wrist, until there’s no hair on either wrist. I’ve never gone in much for fingernail biting. That’s too traditional, old hat. I have to have much more bizarre nervous habits.

I constantly feel a bump on top of my head every day to see if it’s grown any bigger. I get these bumps called “cysts,” that if left untreated for say, six years, keep growing until you have to go into the doctor and he cuts into it and removes something that looks about the shape and size of an olive. One got to be the size of a golf ball. I keep it in a jar over the fireplace.

I tell people I have the ability to grow a second head.

Then there’s my gagging. It’s totally inexplicable to me when this started, or why. When I get really nervous and rattled, like when you’re in front of an audience and you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, and your mind runs back and forth trying to decide whether to admit the truth, “I don’t know”——-or lie. All these people are staring at you. It’s then when I feel like gagging.

There are many ways over the years I’ve learned to deal with this. One is to drink. If I have a couple glasses of wine beforehand, I don’t feel much like gagging. However, substance abuse is troubling from a moral perspective, and wine tastes just lousy at 8 am in the morning.

Having a glass of water nearby helps, but if I’m really scared, I literally have to keep drinking water the whole time, or I start to gag. The best method has been candy. The trick is to get it in your mouth without the audience seeing. You look at the ceiling as if pondering a question, yawn and pass your palm over your mouth for a second.

No joke. I’ve gotten away with this. I did it one time before a television camera on a panel show where I was the interviewer.

The late actor James Dean relieved stress one time by urinating in front of an audience. I haven’t tried that one yet.

The dentist’s advice, breathe through your nose, doesn’t work when you’re scared enough.

I’ve asked myself, why gag? I’ve come to the conclusion that just as fear is a normal, healthy intelligent response to danger, nervous habits are necessary in a crazy loused-up world. For example, the president says two empty vans found in Iraq were used for the production of biological weapons when there’s no proof and he knows it.

In other words, much of the world today makes me sick.

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