Written and lived through by Will Seefried
I have just returned to New York City after four months living in Italy. Florence to be exact. Firenze. Home to Michelangelo’s “The David”, and some of the best looking people not made out of marble ever to grace God’s good earth. There were many things that I loved about Italy. I averaged a bottle of wine a night and digested more carbohydrates in 4 months than I think I had cumulatively in my whole life. It was a proud time. Tall dark men with thick muscular forearms, beefy old women lined up like birds on a bench in floral frocks, beautiful children laughing and playing to distract you while their friends try to snatch your wallet…I found a home away from home in Florence. I fit in there. I was finally understood.
Probably the proudest part of the semester was my slow but certain transformation from a slightly thinner, penis-donning version of my mother (Gretchen Anxiety Seefried founder of Midchx.com; a social networking site for birds of a feather), into a relaxed, European(ish) guy with a leather backpack and an expensive coffee habit. I came back to the states with my mind set on maintaining this new way of being and not slipping back into the old, genetically infused anxiety that left even my dearest friends describing me as “a ball of wire being electrocuted.” I had been doing extremely well with my mission to keep myself free of anxiety. I made it through a 17 hour road trip with my republican, tourettes-ridden 18 year old brother, a day on set of a big-wig TV Show, the grueling process of emptying out my childhood bedroom, lost baggage, and arriving to New York to be spit on by a stranger, but being able to recognize that it was all fine. It was all fine! None of it was worth the stress. I really didn’t give a fuck. I was cool as a cucumber.
Today I decided to do what I had often done in Italy: head over to the park, sit under a tree, and read a book. The chosen text of the day was a collection of Shakespeare’s Sonnets with specific words emboldened to create an alternate poem within the sonnet. What’s that you say? Why yes, I am a gay, white, theatre student from NYU living in the Lower East Side in an apartment my parents pay for! However did you guess?
But when I arrived at the park, ready for my relaxed afternoon of Shakespeare and subtly checking out the shirtless joggers who frequent the park, I had a sense of impending doom slowly infiltrate my bubble of American utopianism. At first I couldn’t identify why something felt horribly horribly wrong. And then it hit me.
A story. When I was a boy (back in the mid-nineties) I was a student at a pre-school in a church basement in Westchester. One day as we all shuffled outside to wait for our 30 seconds of glory on the swing, our teacher screamed so loud it echoed through the surrounding cornfields for miles. She fell backwards onto the ground, covered in dirt and sweat and screamed to the other teacher “TAKE THEM INSIDE! FUCK, FUCK TAKE THEM INSIDE QUICK!” As we all ran inside she pulled herself up by her crocheted knee-length vest, her short white hair a-blow in the vicious wind and behind her approached the most terrifying creature any of us had ever seen. Wendy Lotterman, my best friend and fellow “doctor” during playtime, shoved me forward to protect herself. And there I was. Face to face with a 6 foot tall, 300 lb rabid squirrel.
Luckily there was a window between us (not to mention the brick wall) and in reality the squirrel was roughly the size of my kneecap. So we missed recess, and animal control came and shot it. But the terror lives on. Ever since then I have been terrified of squirrels. And not the kind of terror that is more accurately described as extreme discomfort or dislike. I’m talking terror, like terrorism-war-on-terror-holy-fucking-shit-lets-get-some-troops-in-there-check-every-compund-surrounded-with-12-foot-walls-you-can-find kind of terror.
Inevitably, for my whole life I’ve managed to have semi-annual run-in’s with the bad-asses, punks, and rebels of the squirrel community. From waking up to one gnawing through the screen window inches over my head during my senior year of high school, to walking in on one in my bathroom (awkward for both of us), I have always managed to draw those fuckers to me like a magnet. I actually just looked under my chair to be sure one isn’t here. I’m safe for now. Yeah. It’s that bad.
When I arrived at the park earlier this afternoon, I was confused as to why I felt so hesitant to sit down on the grass and read. Why was I so unable to relax as I did in the Tuscan hills without fail for four months? Then I looked to my left. And lounging on the top of a fence was the most gruesome, asshole, don’t-fuck-with-me squirrel I had ever seen…looking me dead in the eye… grinning.
I froze. Actually, that’s a lie. I fled. I was out of that park faster than you can say “Ciao!” At present I am sitting in an equally pretentious and NYU student infested café in the east village. Here I am, sipping my Yoga Juice (Peach) and realizing the secret to my destruction. Squirrels. How had I not realized? There were no squirrels in Florence! I was safe there. Away from them I was confident, attractive, funny, relaxed, and even (on occasion) charming! But now what? My greatest fear, the haunting presence that has plagued my life since age 4 is an exclusively American phenomenon! Italians don’t stand for that bullshit. They barely stand for immigrants, Muslims, and American Students let alone aggressive fearless rodents leaping tree to tree, and hanging out in their scenic parks and monuments! That’s why I was so relaxed there. I hardly knew a word of the language, didn’t know a single person there, and yet I felt safer than I do in my own country. My own city. My own local park!
What is there to be done? My greatest kryptonite has returned from its remission and is ready to rumble. I suppose I could face the fear. Go and lay down on the grass until one walks over to me and then capture it as a pet and raise it as my own. Or I could continue to avoid places where they live, which in New York is everywhere. Or I could start a secret society that kills them? That won’t work because they freak me out when they are dead too. There seems to be no solution to my dilemma…unless I moved out of the country, but that seems a bit extreme. I’m lost and confused with nowhere to turn. Help? Please comment on this with suggestions for how to deal with crippling fear. Specifics for my situation are great, or just in general is even better. What the fuck can one do when one is crippled by fear?
 Everything after “30 Seconds of Glory” until this point is not true…except the rabid squirrel part. That is true. The weight and height are guesstimates. I actually have no memory of the event. It is just the only way I can imagine it went down. Check the history books man.
 This may not be true. But I have to think other countries would be smart enough to do something about big rats with fuzzy tails running around their cities leaping from tree to tree and harassing the locals, right?