In America, life is dangerous. We hear ominous factoids all the time about the ways we’re in danger every time we eat, breathe, talk on our phones or walk down the street. In a very general way, we all have a sense that something bad could happen at any time. And it’s true! To illustrate, I’ve created a quick “Chance Chart” which is by no means complete but which gets the point across:
Incident: Chance it will happen
A man will develop cancer: 1 in 2
A woman will develop cancer: 1 in 3
A woman will be sexually assaulted: 1 in 4
A man will be sexually assaulted: 1 in 33
You’ll die from heart disease: 1 in 3
You’ll have a stroke: 1 in 6
You’ll be the victim of a serious crime: 1 in 20
You’ll lose a child this year: 1 in 5,000
Kind of puts things in perspective, don’t you think? All I’m saying is that there’s a lot out there to genuinely worry about, but I’ll make a gentleman’s bet with anyone that on a daily basis, we worry about a whole lot of stuff that’s a lot less important.
Take, for example, our recent stress over what the rest of the world was going to think of us for throwing up a statue of Fonzie on the Riverwalk. It wouldn’t have been my choice, but then again I’m not the one who got my butt in gear and made an attention-garnering piece of public “art” happen. Love it or hate it, it brought in the national morning news shows and a handful of 20th century TV actors who wouldn’t have dropped in for breakfast otherwise. And in the end, how many New Yorkers are going to pass by Milwaukee for their summer vacation next year because our city has lame taste in bronze statues?
But here’s my favorite. When VITAL published its August issue with Nikki McGuinnis’ contest-winning photograph of a little boy nestled on the shelf of an open refrigerator on the cover, we received a veritable blizzard of calls, emails and even real live letters on the subject. Some were positive, with remarks ranging from the issue’s general attractiveness to our “artistic daring.” Needless to say, there was also negative feedback. One, obviously written by an elderly woman, went so far as to ask what I was smoking when I allowed it. “THE 50+ YR. CRUSADE TO AVOID KIDS DYING IN EMPTY REFRIGERATORS,” this letter read, “+ YOU CHOSE THIS AS YOUR WINNER.!?!?!”
All the correspondence we received by email we replied to respectfully. But this one, for some reason, (maybe because it came in the form of pages cut from the magazine and marked in red felt pen) really got the intrepid Amy Elliott fired up. She hopped on the web to look for information on the danger of refrigerators, and learned that only iceboxes manufactured before 1958 had the mechanical latches that cause kids to get locked in. Turns out that as these gems have been retired in favor of the much safer magnetic seal models, refrigerator death has become just one more sad footnote of a bygone era. In fact, the last known reported death of a child inside a refrigerator was in 2003 – in Guyana (it’s assumed that the refrigerator in question was the mechanical latch type), and there are no U.S. deaths reported past 1984. So you – and the nice woman for whom this was once a very real concern – can stop worrying about this, too. Also, poisoned Halloween candy. Not one case of it ever happening randomly, though a couple of sick parents have poisoned their children this way.
As winter edges ever closer, bringing with it the promise of record energy bills for consumers, a U.S. currency-bolstering scheme that could either steer us out of the worst of this recession or make things a hell of a lot worse and a sea change in the presidential administration with unknowable ramifications, we have plenty to be concerned about. Up to half of us will contract cancer. One in three of us will die from heart disease. But thankfully, none of our children are likely to die in refrigerators. VS