By Herald de Paris Contributor's Bureau on July 1, 2009

By Cynthia J. Cohen
LOS ANGELES (Irreverent Homemaker @ Herald de Paris) –
Perhaps it’s a genetic malfunction. Perhaps it’s a traumatic incident so deeply embedded in her psyche that it was forced to manifest itself in an unconventional way. Or perhaps it was the incessant drone of the Stealer’s Wheel song, “Stuck In The Middle With You,” during a treacherous snowy road trip with her family that was the impetus for Patty’s “middle” fetish. Beyond that, she swears, there really isn’t any explanation. Well, I beg to differ.

Patty is not the middle child, her politics are not middle-of the road, she’s not middle-income, and she doesn’t live in the middle of nowhere. She doesn’t even have a beef with the word, “middle.” Still, she harbors a phobia that has not been able to escape her since childhood – being in the middle of people.

Now, we’re not talking about being in the middle of a crowd of people, such as a stadium, or a mall, or even a mosh pit. Patty’s issue is when there are three people in a group – she cannot be between the other two. She freaks if she’s in the middle car seat – so the rest of us are always forced to sit in the back, while she has the luxury of riding shotgun. She cannot be flanked by strangers on a bench, so one of us is always forced to be intimately close to the unknown human entity – our only other alternative is to stand. Even, when taking the hand of her young child, Ashley, if Ashley has a playmate with her, Patty will have the playmate hold Ashley’s hand, so that Patty doesn’t have to be sandwiched between them. And I have a problem with my 6-year-old having to hold the hand of another 6-year-old when crossing the street; that said, my daughter rarely has playdates with Ashley.

And, that’s a shame. Because, I love Patty, and occasionally, I get a chuckle out of her quirks – except when they involve me. But, I’m not certain Patty realizes the effect of her fetish on her friends. We can’t even take a leisurely walk down the street with another friend without having to dosy-do so that Patty is the flanker, not the flankee. Patty cannot sit between two friends at the movies. She cannot sit in the middle of a restaurant booth. (Yes, in Patty’s skewed, irrational mind, walls substitute as humans during phobia time.) So, I try to opt for tables when I’m with her. Square tables. Fortunately, we don’t travel much together, because, when she’s on an airplane – well, you get the picture. Her motto? Aisle, aisle, and more aisles. And, no doubt this is TMI, but I’m going to make a big leap here and assume that Patty would somehow “kill the moment” during a three-way. Not that I care to find out.

I tolerate Patty’s need to be on the end, but ultimately, she must realize I think she’s a freak, doesn’t she? I mean, even she must think she’s a freak. Agoraphobia, claustrophobia, even arachnophobia – those we understand, to some extent. Maybe because there’s actually a clinical name for them — and, in some cases, even a movie. But, I’ve done the research (well, I’ve Googled), and a clinical name for “fear of being in the middle” seems to be lacking. I mean, for god’s sake, there’s even a term for fearing the penis! Phallophobia! Why couldn’t Patty have that? At least, it wouldn’t involve me.

But, that notwithstanding – every personality oddity, idiosyncrasy, every quirk, has its fundamental origin, does it not? Was it that Stealer’s Wheel ditty for Patty? Or, does it go much deeper than a pop song?

Patty has often wondered – well, truthfully, she doesn’t often wonder, she confesses she only wonders when she’s asked — what is it about being between two people that makes her so uncomfortable. What unnerves her so much that she must remove herself from in-between and move to an outside position? Well, she admits, she’s only come to one conclusion thus far: It depends on the circumstance, and the stature of those she’s sandwiched between.

At 5’8″, Patty considers herself tall. And at 120 pounds, she’s also rather slim. But, even with that kind of thin physical stature, if she’s between two people shorter than her, she insists she feels too damn big. Like she tower over them. Like she’s taking up too much space. Like, everyone’s looking at her and pointing and saying, “wow, that chick’s humongous!” She doesn’t realize everyone’s thinking, “wow, that chick’s crazy!”

Well, if one wanted to get nitpicky, maybe Patty herself is at fault. Somehow, she’s managed to populate her inner circle of friends with people that barely pass the 5’4″ mark. So, between two of those “little people”, she feels nearly twice their size. Any rational person knows she’s not. But, Patty’s not rational. She convinced she’s an Amazon next to them. And, therein lies the problem. That’s what makes her middle fetish a fetish. It’s bizarre, and it doesn’t stand to reason. But, reason doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with perception. Your own perception. If you’re thin as a rail and look in the mirror and see fat, you are fat. In your mind. If you’re a supermodel and you see ugly, you are ugly. If you feel like you’re bigger than the Sears Tower, you are bigger. The mind has way too much fun taunting us.

I bet you’re wondering, couldn’t this all be avoided if Patty just hung out with people taller than her? Well, um, no, not in her mind. Truly, if Patty’s brain had a GPS navigational system, it would have difficulty tracking the logic of her thought process.

So, how does she feel when she’s between two people that are taller than here? Does she feel big then? No, not in the least. She insists she feels small. Very small. Minute. Microscopic. Insignificant. Like she could be swallowed up by them any minute and no one would even notice. Like somehow, she doesn’t measure up. Somehow, she’s become a minnow between two sharks. Immediately, she’s compelled to remove herself from danger and position herself anywhere but there. Phew, Patty has once again escaped that horrific feeling of utter irrelevance and discomfort.

So, pray tell, what happens when she’s between two people that are the same size as her? Does her middle fetish kick in immediately, or can she tolerate being on the same plane with them for even a nanosecond?

Of course, when it suits her, Patty prefers to play the logic card. When I asked her the above question, she counters with, “Well, the chances of being between two people who are the exact same size and stature as you are, statistically, not very common.” I tell her, okay, let’s not nit-pick here for the sake of evasion, let’s just say you’re between two people within an inch or two of your own height. How would you feel? She doesn’t waver, convinced it would be just as painful and unpleasant. She insists she’d rather have salt poured into a deep paper cut, then dipped in peroxide and finished off with a side of ammonia.

So, is it something else, beyond size? Is it that Patty feels trapped, like, if she needed to make a quick escape, she couldn’t? Does she feel like a piece of plywood in a vice, about to be sawed up and nail-gunned to a 2 x 4? Or is she one of the few people on earth who feels peanut butter’s pain? Or cheese’s? Or ham’s? What a horrible fate, about to be suffocated by two pieces of bread. It must suck to be lunch fixings.

After all that, and spilling her guts to her therapist, Patty still doesn’t know what it is about being in the middle that unnerves her so much. Perhaps she feels big. Perhaps she feels small. Or perhaps, she just notices that she feels something. And, knowing her as I do, I know she doesn’t like noticing herself. She doesn’t like that self-awareness. And perhaps she’s concerned that people are just as aware of her as she is. Though, I’ve tried to convince her that most people aren’t paying any attention to her at all. Which sends her even more over the edge. Nice.

Maybe, Patty’s middle hiccup isn’t that profound at all, and it does indeed hark back to the song, “Stuck In The Middle With You.” Maybe it’s just a simple case of a geometric theorem. If p, then q. Maybe she just doesn’t like the song. And therefore, if she doesn’t like the song, then she doesn’t like being stuck in the middle. As they say, whatever it is… it is what it is. And Patty should count her blessings that she wasn’t born a slice of bologna.

Cynthia Cohen is an accomplished television writer and playwright, currently residing and paying high gas prices in Los Angeles.

No comments yet.

Leave a comment