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My Turn: Fear of heights good for health

Hot air balloons take flight at the Hudson

Hot air balloons take flight at the Hudson River Rowing Association Boathouse along the Hudson River during the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce's Balloon Festival in Poughkeepsie. Sandra Friedman learned she had a fear of heights when she wanted to go hot-air ballooning in Albuquerque, N.M. (July 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Caylena Cahill

Looking at the bright side, acrophobia, or fear of high places, is helpful for my survival. I know I will never lean over the edge of a steep cliff or jump from a high peak. Nor will I ever sail along a silver sky in a beautiful balloon. An awareness of this information is, after all, essential for prolonging my longevity.

If I must have a phobia, acrophobia, from the Greek words "height" and "fear," hardly interferes with my daily life.

I learned I had the problem when I wanted to go hot-air ballooning in Albuquerque, N.M. Following a recommendation, I began the daring escapade in a tethered balloon. Once onboard, the pilot opened a propane valve and off we went. The heat and the loud hissing sound of the colorless gas jangled my nerves. I hung on for my life and decided, right then and there, that hot-air ballooning is too extreme for an acrophobe.

In Copenhagen, I climbed to the rooftop of a church. To reach the apex, one must climb many more steps. Standing on a narrow platform, out in the open, way up on the top of the church, my white-knuckled fingers clenched the metal railing. I am embarrassed to say I cannot describe the view of the city because a vertiginous feeling overcame me. I am certain the view is breathtaking and beautiful, if one had the courage to look.

On another occasion, I traveled to New Hampshire with my children. We took an aerial tram to the top of Cannon Mountain. I leaned too close to the edge, and my acrophobia leaped into the foreground. I knew from that experience I could never ski down this 4,000-foot mountain or any other mountain.

Surprisingly I enjoy scenic rides in aerial trams. Soaring through the air to the summit of a mountain is lovely. But, in Lucerne, Switzerland, on a foggy morning, I rode a cable car to Mount Pilatus. The dense fog hovered about, and the wind swayed the cable car in every direction. The eerie atmosphere and seemingly endless ride caused the onset of panic. The sudden appearance of bright sunlight at the summit calmed my worst fears.

At home, whenever I drive over the Williamsburg Bridge to lower Manhattan, I keep to the inside lane. On the inner roadway, I clutch the steering wheel, and my eyes remain focused on the vehicle ahead until I am off the bridge.

In truth, I regard my acrophobia as a gift. I am attentive and alert to what I believe is a dangerous situation. In some way, acrophobia seems protective. Who knows? It may even help to increase my life span.

--Sandra Friedman, East Meadow


Mickey, Minnie, Miller and me


For as long as I can remember, there has been a "public me" and a "private me."

My public appearance is polished and styled and almost perfect, according to Cosmopolitan, my bible. My makeup, not too much, not too little, my Chanel jacket and tailored skirt; the newest designer handbag (purchased out of a car trunk on a Manhattan street) and the hairstyle of today (modified for my age), with blond highlights.

At first appearance, I look quite intelligent, as though my bookshelves are filled with Shakespeare and Arthur Miller plays. However, if the truth is told, I have been reading The National Enquirer. It keeps me up to date on Brad and Angelina and the too-fat, too-skinny actors. It helps mentally when my jeans feel too tight. I like to feel they shrank in the wash.

When I am home, my private side takes over. I love my old, short terry robe with the spaghetti stain on the pocket, which will not wash out. My matching terry slippers have Mickey and Minnie miniatures on them. Before bedtime, with my 2 percent glass of milk and my three Oreo cookies, my remote helps me predict the weather for tomorrow.

I remember my mother sticking her head out of the window and yelling, "Wear a sweater." How things have changed, and so have I.

As for the private side of me, some things are meant to be private. That's why we have locks on our bathroom doors.

--Ruth Greenstein, Roslyn Heights



A man-maid performer


When I was in junior high school, I took modern dance classes. Guess what? I danced with my troupe at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. However, I was one of the "male" dancers in the production "St. Louis Woman." At that time, there were very few boys who took dance classes. So it was funny to see me attired in a man's ruffled shirt and turquoise trousers. I also had a white sailor's cap. I loved the music and enjoyed the performance.

Another production was "Sleeping Beauty," and I was one of the maids in waiting. It was so much fun to be a part of the program. I felt proud as a peacock to be chosen to dance in these shows.

I never told my friends about these programs as I grew older, and I didn't continue when I started high school. So my career was short but quite enjoyable.

--Roberta Solomon, Massapequa Park

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