What frightens people with scary jobs?
Less than you might think
Staff Writer

Except in a movie, Halloween tends to be more cute than scary. If you want a real scare on Halloween, the best tricks and treats might come from people who do what many of us consider to be scary stuff. First, we have to determine what really sends shivers up spines and rational thought packing, or revs up survival instincts into psychic overdrive. Bats fluttering in the attic? The sounds of rats under the house? Giving a public speech on the merits of particle board?

If you think the speech does, then welcome to the head of Mr. Terror's class. Public speaking ranks No. 1 in most surveys of what people fear the most. However, spiders lurk near the top of the list, with snakes slithering close behind. Other fears: creepy, crawling critters; heights; enclosed or open spaces; and fear of the dark. Fear of death and fear of flying also get the nod. Scared to get on that plane to Hawaii? Give me the ticket.

Next we consult the experts, who have their own fears.

Kathryn Cobb gives private lessons in public speaking. Students try to overcome their fears in a very straightforward way. No hoodoo or hexes are involved. They memorize. They rehearse, They learn to connect with the audience. They learn that it's ok to make a mistake.

Cobb blames the fear of public speaking partly on schools that rarely teach classes in public speaking or require students to make speeches.

Cobb agrees that fear of public speaking, like most fears, stems from the fear at loss of control.

Two of her pupils, Judith Ivey and Yvette Porcelli, learned to overcome their fears - sort of. Ivey had to give speeches when she became director of career development and training at a Columbia business.

She never had been onstage and, as a technical writer, she feared that "my speeches would be boring."

Adding personal anecdotes, such as the time an aggravated grocery check-out clerk threw a chicken that missed the bagger but landed at her feet, helped Ivey liven up technical talks. The personal connection she wants to make with an audience, combined with practice, practice, practice, gave her confidence. Now if she could just feel more comfortable with enclosed spaces like elevators. "I don't like feeling closed in," Ivey said. Fortunately, her office has only one floor. Porcelli said her fear of public speaking was so great she would "stutter, shake and break out in a cold sweat." Hypnosis helped a bit but acupuncture didn't. Porcelli turned to Cobb and got an A for her college project. Does the European bungee-jumping, Jamaican cliff-diving and Zimbabwe-hiking Porcelli have any fears left? "I'd go right back to Kathryn if I had to make another speech," she said. "Fear is such a mental thing ."While Ivey and Porcelli have their fears, Cobb's not keen on heights. While on a Paris vacation, she passed on a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Enclosed spaces are no big deal for Jeffrey Branham and heights are nothing to fear for Rudi Stolla, Steve McLaughlin and a number of other window washers who ply their trade on Columbia's tall and not-so-tall buildings. "It's not New York
here," Stolla joked.

Branham is a sales representative with Modern Exterminating but he's not a coat-and-tie kind of guy. Coveralls and a flashlight are his usual attire. He also keeps an extra pair of coveralls in his car trunk but probably couldn't coax Ivey to climb into a crawl space in Shandon, Olympia or Elmwood neighborhoods.

The houses in these neighborhoods are older and tend to belower to the ground. Said Branham of the lower-than-a-snake's-belly crawl spaces, "You dig as best you can." He doesn't mind the bugs, bats, or occasional "rat shimmying on a joint just over your head" but he said, "I'm not too fond of snakes." Once he shone his flashlight on a six-inch hole, and a very large snake head emerged. It seemed to be as big as the hole. "You can guess what I did," Branham said. "Came out backwards as fast as I

Steve Brazell said he was "a typical ground kid when I started window cleaning." But he literally and figuratively climbed the ladder at Trinity Glass. After nine years that started on a six-foot A-frame and graduated to four-story businesses, Brazell overcame unease about heights. What he tends to fear now are first-floor bushes. They usually contain biting insects and piercing thorns McLaughlin of All Pro Window Cleaning left his job as a civil servant in Scotland to find work as a window washer in the United States. Like Branham, he started slowly and worked up past 42 stories. His only fear? "I'm ... scared of needles," McLaughlin said in his best Scottish burr, adding an American profanity to drive home his point.

Scott Pfaff, a herpetologist at Riverbanks Zoo, and Tammy Sutherland, an interpretative ranger at Sesquicentennial Park, are saddened by the bum rap that snakes, spiders and bats often get. They are firm believers in education to overcome these unreasonable fears.

They explain that these creatures know that man is the largest predator at the top of the food chain. "The saying that snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them is true," Pfaff said. Come upon one unexpectedly and snakes may defend themselves, but mostly they slither off when they sense a two-legged predator approaching.

Most snakes are harmless to humans. "We have 33 species of snakes in South Carolina. Only five of them are venomous," Pfaff said. The rattlesnake roundups conducted in the western United States also are inexcusable, he said. Rattlesnakes are human-shy and feed on rodents. "Rodents are one of our big competitors (in the food chain)," Pfaff said.

Bats also do their bit for bald beware. What do Pfaff and Sutherland fear? "Public speaking," said Pfaff. "People," said the eco-conscious Sutherland.

Maybe other humans should be what we fear most but then what about the thrill of Halloween ghosts and goblins? And palm-sweating, date-hugging horror movies? Or what about black widow and brown recluse spiders, who like to set up housekeeping around peoples' homes, Sutherland said.

They like holes and some moisture. That makes one of their favorite spots outdoor spigots, she said.

Sure, they want to avoid us too, but picture this. A kindly, outdoor gardener, dusty and dry from planting petunias, is thirsty. He doesn't have a cup, but there's
a spigot nearby.

He puts his mouth close to the rarely-used spigot and just before he turns the valve, he catches a glimpse out of what looks like a web. Too late. Fade to black.
Widow, that is.