by Jim Harris

I believe it was Kris Kristofferson who said, “Freedom’s just another word for too much stuff to choose.” Or maybe it was Chris Christie. I’m not sure. And now that I think about it, I’m not even sure that that’s the real quote. But it’s OK because I’m not a real reporter.

Anyway, freedom is certainly a trending topic these days, and it’s one of the founding principles of our country. Unfortunately for me, though, I have a rare condition called “lottagrataphobia,” which means that I’m afraid of freedom. Experts think that it comes from not getting enough red meat as a baby. It makes living in America very difficult for me.

Sometimes I spend hours at the drugstore just trying to decide between the whitening, cavity-fighting or sensitive teeth varieties of toothpaste. Often I am forced to leave without any toothpaste because the store is closing. All the more tragic, because I actually DO have sensitive teeth.

And I find the abundance of choices being offered on the internet even more overwhelming. News sites proudly offer me “The news YOU want to hear,” as if I knew what the news was going to be and could choose which bits to leave in or out.

Music websites invite me to create “channels” that will play only music by artists I request. Since I can’t decide whom I like, I just pick the ones ranked as the most popular. So far, I have channels for Taylor Swift and Barney the Dinosaur. I can’t decide which is worse.

I recently decided that I needed some spiritual help for my problem, so I went to hear a traveling shaman speak at a local feel-good church, but when I got in line to pay, I noticed that the sign said, “Pay as you wish.” Immediately, my heart started pounding. What shall I pay? If I choose too little, I’ll look like a cheapskate to my neighbors. But if I pay too much, it’ll be like throwing money away — money that could go towards world peace or new socks. That would just be wasteful.

As the line moved closer to the door, I grew progressively more anxious. I phoned my therapist. He told me to breathe deeply and have a martini. He also said he was charging me $90 for the phone consultation. At least he didn’t tell me to pay as I wish. More panicky than ever, I started asking other people in line what they were going to pay. They all had different answers. Some just looked at me like I was crazy.

Suddenly I found myself at the ticket table. The woman there said, “Oh, Hello, Mr. Harris, and what will you be paying?” I stammered “Homina homina,” about 12 times and passed out. When I awoke, a guy wearing a hollowed-out badger on his head was leaning over me, chanting. It was the shaman. A crowd had gathered, and they clapped as I attempted to stand up. The shaman spoke: “You must abandon your fears, my son, and learn to choose so that the universe can unfold and carry you with it.”

I thanked him for the advice and shakily made my way out the door. I felt like I needed something to eat, so I stopped into a sub shop where I was greeted by a guy in latex gloves standing behind a vast array of metal troughs. “I’d like a sandwich,” I said.

He asked me what I wanted in it. “What have you got?” I replied. He silently swept his glove-clad hand across the entire gamut of goo laid out before him. He either didn’t know or was too world-weary to actually tell me what all of the available ingredients were.

“Tell you what,” I said. “Surprise me. Just make me something substantial.” This prompted no response. He just stood there, motionless, waiting. I mean, it’s a sandwich shop, for God’s sake. This guy’s job description is literally “sandwich artist.” I would think he’d have some specialized skill or knowledge superior to my own that would enable him to come up with a creation that I would like, but no. Suddenly, I heard the shaman’s words echoing in my head, so I gathered up all my courage and said, “I’ll have some mustard on a piece of bread.”

“That’s all?”


“Yellow or dark mustard?”

“Uhhhh … yellow.”

“White or wheat bread?”

“White. No, wheat. No, wait … yeah, wheat.”

The sandwich wasn’t so hot, but at least I had finally made a decision on my own. It felt pretty good. Maybe someday I’ll be as opinionated and annoying as everyone else, but for now, feelin’ good is good enough for me.