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Bold to the marrow: flying in the face of fear

Be afraid.

Be very, very afraid.

It’s our mantra. Repeat it, again and again. Get in the groove.

Fear is becoming the spine that holds the psychic body erect yet trembling, the germ at the center of the contemporary American experience.

Everywhere you look, dread lurks in the wings; there is little about modern life not stained by apprehension.

There are warnings sounded everywhere, about nearly everything — on television, on radio, in newspapers, in conversations with friends.

Beware, someone is preparing to abduct your children. Beware, your kid is in mortal danger every time he or she steps out of the house, out of the smothering sphere of parental control. There’s no more playing outside after dark. In fact, there’s not much unsupervised activity of any kind for kids these days.

At the same time, be suspicious of the other parent. A woman speaking on a television program the other night warned parents to suspect their mates of abuse, just to be on the safe side. The problem might sleep next to you every night! Do you really know all that much about the person you married and with whom you’ve shared a life and had children?

Watch out for illegal immigrants; they will not only steal your minimum-wage job, but they will creep into your home at night, inject you with drugs, slit your throat and steal your flat-screen TV.

Of course, you should be on the alert for terrorists, they’re going to blow up the mall next week or attack the nuclear power plant located down the block.

Think twice about traveling on a train, a plane, a bus, in a taxi. Be on constant lookout for abandoned backpacks in public places; be careful to assess everyone nearby to determine if he or she appears to have bulky items beneath clothing. Are they wearing inappropriate clothing? Do they look odd? Does anyone not look odd?

Did you know the government is using all of us as guinea pigs in an insidious chemistry experiment, loading our systems with who-knows-what witches brew disguised — oh, man, can you believe it — as jet aircraft contrails. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Just look up in the sky. The fact that most east/west flights are in the skies at certain hours has nothing to do with the fact we are going to grow gills and tails or that our ability to make clear decisions prior to an election will be obscured by Pentagon-approved organic compounds. Be afraid, very afraid. For crying out loud, there are Web sites devoted to this stuff. Isn’t that proof enough?

Be careful of the water you drink. Sunlight will kill you. So will an absence of sunlight.

There is a list of more than a thousand diseases you need to fear and you need to question the medications prescribed for the illnesses you might have. Can you trust physicians? Need I ask? And pharmacists? Aren’t they agents of a corporate conspiracy that includes doctors, the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry? Well, of course they are. There are websites devoted to the subject. Need I say more?

Ebola? Chicken virus? SARS? West Nile Virus? Yep, all lurking in the company of who knows what other lethal viral cousins recently loosed by the clear-cutting of rain forests. And once those rain forests are gone, what goes next? The polar ice caps (a sure thing with global warming). Water sports, anyone?

Car safety?

Slippery floors?

Errant baseballs?

Meteors?

Earthquakes?

Floods?

All certified anxiety producers.

Be wary of drinking too much alcohol or not enough alcohol and, while you’re at it, try to monitor air quality wherever you go. Chemicals in carpeting can bring you to your knees, as can gases emitted by plywood. Do you have asthma? Do you know why? Really know why? Do you know the carpet industry is in bed with physicians, pharmacists, etc.?

Ever heard of radon?

Did you know mountain lions love to attack joggers? From behind? They’re back there, so try to turn around as often as you can.

What about muggings, carjackings, armed robbery, someone stealing the weed eater? Those slack-jawed kids with baggy pants, wearing their hats on sideways? — conniving criminals, plotting to wait until you are old and feeble before they invade your home and thump you within an inch of your life. That loud music they play, the racket that rattles the windows when their cars pass by? — it’s a code. It’s about you, but you can’t understand it.

Sure, the communists aren’t much of a threat now (they’re still out there though, scheming), but did you realize your neighbor could be a liberal? She is going to take your gun from you any time now, and then where will you be? Government? What won’t government steal next? Which inalienable right is next on the chopping block? Why, the time will come soon when a man can’t throw his garbage next to a roadway or put a hog farm next to a school.

And food?

Here’s the Big Killer. Dangerous stuff. Butter? Fish that swim anywhere near the bottom of the ocean/lake/stream? Fish that are raised in fish farms? Poultry? Do you know about hormones? What about insecticides on your veggies and grains? Red meat? Succumb to the temptation to gnaw on a burger, ask for it medium rare and 30 years later you’re totally addled, in the grip of a ripping case of Mad Cow disease.

Killers, one and all.

Fear producers.

Our propensity to accept fear as a standard is understandable. It evolves, at least in part, from the genuine angst that comes when we realize that, as we speed down the road of life, there is a massive wall built across the road somewhere up ahead. There is no way to avoid hitting the wall; the only question is when the wall will be hit, and at what speed.

To avoid the bone-deep terror that comes of contemplating an absolutely certain collision, humans are willing to believe just about anything to buffer the shock — mostly some variation on the idea that, yes, the collision happens, but you will survive it. Then, another fear takes over: specifically, what shape will you be in after the impact? Fortunately, given your particular belief system, there is usually a comforting code of behavior that can be indulged as insurance: You can buy your way out of doom by dispensing a few mea culpas in the company of those who share your beliefs.

It works, as long as you don’t give it too much thought.

You’d think that would be all we need, but no. The harbingers of disaster double their efforts daily; they are relentless, encouraging us to fear nearly everything, to live in a state of perpetual consternation.

I can tolerate nearly all the nonsense, since I am pretty much reconciled to the crash, absent those moments experienced on the brink of sleep, or upon waking in the middle of the night, when the frightening apprehension of mortality flowers unrestrained by reason.

But my tolerance disappears when fear is linked to food.

My wife, Kathy, has a subscription to the Be Very Afraid Journal. The cover of the monthly publication inevitably features a brightly colored photo of an attractive young woman, glowing with good health. A closer examination of the cover, however, shows indications of something else secreted inside.

“10 foods that will stop your heart within two minutes.”

“Don’t exercise? Prepare to die a horrible early death.”

“Cleanse your body of industrial toxins.”

“Think things are going well? Think again.”

“You and your diet: An arterial disaster ahead.”

According to this magazine, and several others delivered to our door, food will kill you. You must, say the experts, be very afraid of most foods and most ways of preparing them.

Allow me to summarize the lengthy list of deadly foods: Anything that tastes good is lethal.

You must, report these journals, eliminate everything you like from your diet; then, in the unbalanced state precipitated by your withdrawal, you must delude yourself into thinking the few, pathetic items left on the menu actually taste good.

I refuse to succumb.

I will not be afraid of food. I’ll willingly fret about al Queda. I will be on the alert for dioxin. I will look both ways before crossing the street. I will go to DEFCON 3 when I hear rap music. I will run indoors and seal myself in a closet with duct tape any time I see a contrail in the sky.

I will not fear great food and I will not convince myself a gelatinous slab of seeds, grains, nuts and tofu tastes “better than meatloaf.”

As a matter of fact, I intend to lash out against food fear this very evening. I am going to wage war at the dinner table.

I’ll start with this salvo: strip steak with bordelaise sauce.

No need to go over the specifics of searing the flesh. It is going to be medium rare, to put the diner in mind of blood and the chemicals that once coursed through the steer. How about a heavily peppered crust? Pepper’s gotta be lethal, eh? The more the better. I’ll grill the flesh — grilling, some say, produces carcinogens. My, aren’t they tasty?

It’s the bordelaise that will give me the fuel I need to stand up against the doomsayers.

Gotta have a serious amount of demi-glace. It’s best when homemade, reducing equal amounts of brown veal stock (oh, the poor tykes) and sauce espagnole — an exquisite blend of mirepoix, tomato paste, seasonings and brown veal stock, brought together with a lustrous brown roux.

A measure of red wine graced by shallots, thyme, bay leaf and black peppercorns is reduced by half or more over medium high heat. In goes an equal amount of demi-glace and the mix is simmered until reduced to a desired thickness, the flavors amalgamated. The mix is strained and seasoned with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Here’s the big daddy fear killer.

In goes a wad of diced, poached marrow. Ah, the marrow bone — sturdy repository of heavy metals and industrial waste, vault of all things toxic. The marrow bones are soaked in salty water for a while then the marrow is pushed out and poached. Mmmmm. Dice it and cook it into the sauce.

To finish, the pan is taken off the heat and a massive amount of butter is swirled into the elixir.

Over the top of the grilled beef it goes.

Go ahead, add more. Maybe a little more. Have courage. Have a spoon at the ready.

Over the top, lads: Pop a wad of beef, butter and marrow.

As for me, I will keep my portion small, to fit my weight-reduction regimen (belly flab equals a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, you know) but, aside from that, full speed ahead, Fear be damned!