THE OTHER DAY, WHILE WAITING in the checkout line at the supermarket, a man I didn't know told me I looked worried.
"Cheer up," he said, smiling a cryptic little smile. "Life can't be all that bad."
I worried about his remark all the way home. His observation that I looked worried was bad news. Among other things, it implied I'd better step up the old visits to my Worriers Anonymous group where I thought I had been making progress. Now I'm worried that I was deluding myself about the progress thing.
For years people have told me I worry too much. "Lighten up!" they'd tell me. "This savings and loan thing won't last forever!" Or they'd say: "Stop worrying about the deficit. Like, you've never had a check bounce?" And once, when I was worried dizzy that the trade balance between us and other countries was not working in our favor, friends talked me down by reminding me of the supremacy of American hamburgers around the world.
But it would be unfair to blame my compulsive worrying entirely on the troublesome geopolitical situation.
Even as a child I spent a lot of time worrying. I worried, for instance, that I'd lose my skate key and have to wear roller skates everywhere. Forever. And I worried a lot about catching a cold from talking on a public pay phone. Especially after the rumor spread on the block that old Mr. Huey had died from a cold picked up while talking on a public pay phone at Grand Central Station in New York City.
And the year I was 11, I worried a lot that I would grow up to be flat-chested like my Aunt Margaret. It was said to run in families.
Suffice it to say: When it comes to worrying, I've paid my dues.
I know I've got to stop worrying, but it's hard. Still, I keep trying. Last Sunday, for instance, I sat in my kitchen trying to pretend I wasn't worried about anything. But just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, my old Mickey Rooney Worry came back. With a vengeance.
Simply put, I worry about the mathematical probability thaeventually I might have to marry Mickey Rooney. I figure it's just a matter of time before the much-married Mr. Rooney -- now on wife No. 8 or 9 -- gets around to me. I have all the necessary qualifications: I'm single, over 18 and like short men. Think about it. How many women are left out there who have those qualifications and haven't already been a Mrs. Rooney?
Still, my counselor at Worriers Anonymous tells me that it's a step in the right direction -- to go from worrying about Saddam Hussein to Mickey Rooney. Simplify, simplify, simplify your worries, she keeps telling me.
I passed this advice on to some friends the other night as we sat around drinking cappuccino and discussing our worries.
"I worry about 'The Cosby Show,'" said one friend. "I'm worried that the Huxtable family might disagree about something and not be able to work it out in 30 minutes."
"Big deal," said someone else. "I'm worried that some hip, Hollywood producer will make a movie of the Nancy Drew books and cast Cher in the starring role."
I hadn't planned to contribute but swept up in the passion of the moment, I blurted out that I was worried about how the designated hitter rule would affect baseball.
Later, a friend who stayed behind after the others left, confided ,, she was worried that people found her boring. "I didn't think I was boring from first through fourth grades," she said, "but then from fourth through seventh, I thought I was. Then in the eighth and ninth grades, I wasn't again. But in 10th grade ..."
Oops. I must have dozed off there. Anyway, you get the picture. There is no end to the infinite varieties of worrying. Let me count the ways.
Or rather, let a colleague of mine -- a gorgeous (she insisted I describe her that way), sharp, seasoned, perceptive newspaper reporter -- count the ways:
"I worry that Mr. Right, or Mr. Half-Right, will say he can see me only one time in the next 3 months and it will be the day my permanent gets frizzy; that my car won't start in the winter; that Jack the Ripper will grab me as I'm trying to unlock my front door; and mostly that I will succumb to tubs of ice cream and an entire Sara Lee cheesecake one lost weekend and emerge from my house Monday morning weighing 295 pounds, with cake crumbs still stuck on my chin."
Of course, some of her worries are just plain silly. Everyone knows Jack the Ripper's been dead for over a hundred years.