by Alice Bradley

I'm walking down Broadway when I realize that I'm not wearing pants. I don't know how this has happened; I can't recall actually having removed my pants, but I'm sure that I am in fact exposing myself to most of downtown Manhattan. I consider glancing down and confirming my suspicions, but that would call attention to my horrifying faux pas. Instead I shuffle along, feeling the breeze wafting around my legs, rearranging my expression to read, "Sure, I'm not wearing any pants, but this is a conscious fashion decision, and I'm perfectly happy to be showing you my blue underwear with its little white stars and sagging elastic."

If I just looked down, I could see that this simply isn't true. I am secure and be-pantsed. This is my crazy, irrational fear: I could be at my desk, on the subway, or at the firing range, when I'm seized with the sudden, inexplicable feeling that I have forgotten to put on my pants (or that I've stripped from the waist down during the day, and simply not realized it).

From fear of heights, to fear of enclosed spaces, to fear that the UN is trying to give me cancer, I'm well-acquainted with the basic litany of phobias. But then there are those other, lesser-known fears. There are the fears that probably won't get much exposure (fear of large diamond brooches, or the Eiffel Tower); there are the fears that most of us outgrow (fear that your stuffed animals are talking about you); and then there are the fears that are just, well, odd.

For example: A friend of mine (for her sake, I'll call her "Rexella") is afraid of brain-like substances, but not brains themselves. Only things that look like brains. This means, apparently, that if you took a human brain and placed it on a dish in front of her, she'd smile calmly at you, but if you then offered her a side dish of, say, caulifower, she'd run screaming from the room. Not content to limit herself to merely one odd fear, Rexella also tells me that she's terrified of honeycombs.

The cereal?, I ask, in an attempt to be jovial.

Rexella does not find this funny.

No, not the cereal. The shape of the honeycomb fills her with dread. I'd say that this was just a particularly odd friend, were it not for the fact that another friend of mine (let's call him "Findhorn") recently confided to me his fear: he's desperately afraid that he smells like his grandfather. When I responded, "so that's what that stale cigar smell is," I thought he was going to burst into tears.

I can't really point any fingers: I'm usually too busy checking my pants status. And every time one of my coworkers glances at me, I fear the worst:

"Alice, what did you do with your pants?"

"Well. Apparently I took them off. Perhaps they were chafing me."

"I see. Have you met our new Managing Editor? Security will escort you out."

It's only a matter of time.

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