Backing up unreasonable fears with research

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller share the same small house (still), work in the same office (again) and somehow manage to cling to their sanity (barely). Older and wiser (she's wiser, he's just older), the Southeast Missourian sweethearts offer their views on everyday issues, told from two different perspectives.

HE SAID: I filled up Callie's vehicle with gas the other day and when I climbed back in, I was shivering.

Callie, my cute and pregnant wife, said (in her women-are-smarter-than-men tone) that if she were filling up, she would have kept herself warm by climbing back inside the vehicle while the gas pumped into the tank. She's so smart you see, and she implied that I hadn't thought of that.

And so began a small debate about our individual levels of saneness. She declares that I'm unreasonable because I stand outside while my gas is pumping as to not build up a static charge that could detonate gas fumes that could explode and send me to a fiery death. She had never heard of this and claimed it was probably something my parents told me when I was younger: static causing gas stations to blow up.

So I Googled the words "gasoline fires static electricity." The search engine came up with 220,000 hits, including one from the The Petroleum Equipment Institute, which states that about 200 cases of alleged static-caused gasoline fires have been reported to the organization. On this Web site, it states clearly never to re-enter your vehicle while fueling. I had heard stories about this happening several years ago, but, alas, my wife thinks I'm nuts.

That got me to thinking about the pizza slicer in the silverware drawer. Callie approaches that cutting instrument like a nuclear reactor. "Be careful with that," she says. "It's sharp enough to cut your finger off."

I think that's crazy. I used the tip of my thumb to test the sharpness, and it had the same feel as that of a garden-variety pocketknife. This is a fear, Callie says, handed down from her mother.

Sure, I could cut my finger off with a pocketknife, but I figure I'd have to try really hard to do it. Now, because of this fear, Callie either lets me slice the pizza or she pulls out a serrated knife and saws back and forth at the poor pie. Then, of course, there's the issue of Callie being afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid of balloons, medium- to large-sized birds and, oh yes, being stabbed in the shower, as in the movie "Psycho."

I think I'm much more sane than my cute and pregnant wife. At least I've got the Petroleum Equipment Institute on my side.

SHE SAID: Type UFO into a search engine and you get more than 44 million hits. My point? Just because it's possible doesn't mean I'm barricading my house against a possible alien abduction.

I agree that it's more responsible to stand beside the gas pump, no matter what the weather. That's why there are those little signs that say, "Never leave the pump unattended. You are responsible for any gas spills." If the gas station folks were worried about the whole place being blown up because of static electricity, wouldn't those signs say, "Never leave your pump unattended, including to sit in your vehicle. You could be responsible for detonating gas fumes that could send you to a fiery death"? That would definitely get my attention.

As for the pizza cutter -- if someone warns you against something from a young age, you have a hard time overcoming the associated fear. What I can never figure out is why my mom bought me an object she spent years lecturing me about. So Bob cuts the pizza at our house. And I sit in the warm vehicle while he pumps the gas.

So far, very few things in our marriage have exploded. There have been no fiery deaths recorded as yet. And we both have all of our fingers. Obviously, something is working here.

Bob Miller is the Southeast Missourian's managing editor and personal gas attendant to Callie Clark Miller, the managing editor of online and special publications. Reach them at bmiller@semissourian.com or cmiller@semissourian.com.

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