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PANIC: A How-To Guide in Two Acts - Public & Private

There are too many options for making a public panic attack a memorable affair. Always remember this: while your panic is a communicative tool expressing some personal grievance, you are simultaneously suggesting to others that they follow suit.

James Palazzolo

Issue #64, September 2003

Guil is well alive to the oddity of it. He is not worried about the money, but he is worried by the implication; aware but not going to panic about it — his character note.
— Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

I consider issues deeply, as if a route out of all future affairs can be negotiated safely if exhaustively practiced in the mind well in advance. Most exhaustively, I have considered the reign of King George (George Bush, Jr.) — both before his thievery of America's presidency and after. Detailing herein a report of King George's criminal activities would be unnecessary: his diabolical exploits are those that he performs everyday. And this causes me to panic.

Now, considering that I apply robust exploratory techniques to my every thought, and I am panicked quite often during the reign of King George, I must ask myself how I am not a basket case. My reply, panic must be funny.

Proof? Ever seen a man who just lost his wallet tearing around the mall food court pushing chairs and tables apart, tapping youngsters on the shoulder, maniacally quizzing the Sbarro's vendor for the twelfth time if his wallet has turned up? Or, on the global scale, how about the devout worshippers watching the Archbishop sweating and stuttering on television saying that 1200 individual instances of pedophilia (that's child molestation to y'all in the pulpit) were covered up to "protect" the sanctity of Murder Inc., otherwise known as the Holy Roman Catholic Church? How about a government that does nothing to punish those child molesters and the people who hid their crimes? You think those aren't funny? Then somehow, in some way, you must be involved . . .

Dig: the humor inherent in panic is distilled from distance. The further removed you are from the damage of the panic (emotionally, physically, mentally) the more mirth you may attain from the panic's presence. Mel Brooks said it best: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." It's all about someone else suffering: call it Schadenfreude, call it sick, call it the garnish of Nihilism.

Now, don't plant the Instaflame Crucifix on my lawn just yet. I'm here to help, to suffuse the "random, rapid and disordered proliferation of fear when caught unaware by situations of stress and/or terror" with a mechanism for efficient and entertaining disintegration. I have a plan.

My proposition is that, when a person panics, a certain panache and modicum of outrageous behavior should be applied. I intend to define an etiquette to losing composure in a grossly "sudden, unreasonable, overpowering" fashion. We all know that, although panic is by nature unpredictable, certain key features of a panic are knowable in advance: the sweats, the shakes, rants about rage and doom, violence, spitting, cursing and the sublimely hysterical (from a distance) complete loss of hope.

In addendum to these there is an infinite playbook of reactions that most people would find totally nonsensical: caustic self-abuse, personal eye-gouging, consumption of stone, regurgitation of stone (and blood), licking of fraternity house lavatory floors, arson, et cetera. Ahem . . .

Also, I declare that there are two styles of panic — that of the Public school and that of the Private. Public panic is any style that occurs outside the home. Private panic is any style that occurs within your own home and only your home; being alone is not necessary in order to enact Private panic. So, for example, in an MRI machine/in a port-o-potty/trapped beneath a bus are not private panics; they are very, very public.

Public panic is a style that is most like a performance and therefore should be handled with the distinct intention that others witness the breakdown (although no other person need be present.) Private panic, which must occur within your own home, is a style that is much more freestyle. That is, no matter who is present — Mormons, the dog, a Christmas gathering of kin — you do not have to entertain, but you may if you so choose. Private panic is tremendously liberating and can often include, but not culminate in, bellowing orgasm.

As you peruse this How-To guide please know that this is not a recipe, not a formula. These are merely suggestions meant to enhance the experience for both panic sufferer and voyeur. You can mix and match, isolate, or altogether forgo my materials. Know only this: if you ignore my keenly wrought and highly perceived ideas you will fail, get gonorrhea of the eyes, and labor under the sexless gaze of a Voodoo Mule-Man for the remainder of your days.

Beginning with the onset of King George's campaign murmurings up until this very minute in his reign, these techniques have proven successful. If people complain, just announce that terrorists with weapons of mass destruction are halting the proliferation of democracy. Don't worry. You don't need proof to continue pushing the world to the epicenter of Armageddon, just power.

Panic Graphic

How to Panic: Public Style

Consider the execution of public panic to be an invitation. Realize that your irrational breakdown will most likely be witnessed by many other human beings, ranging in age from infant to Grave-ready, and no matter how belligerent, insensitive or vulgar your panic, people watching should have an unsettling sense of welcome. This can be accomplished in many ways, but two are most effective: sound and touch.

By sound I mean: authenticate your panic with any form of noise others will be unable to ignore. Speak loudly, scream, make the noise of your favorite animal — all these will work. However, the sound does not have to be made by your vocal chords. Break a window, beat a pipe against a stop sign or throw shoulder blocks at mailboxes. Be imaginative! There is an instinctive allure about sound that draws human beings together, whether it be a well-thrummed guitar or an obscene belch. The reception of aural sensation compels humans to react, and this is the key to inviting them into your panic. If they are disgusted or intrigued, it matters little. The only important thing is that you have affected them. A person will carry the experience of you with them and, if the seed is planted well, they could eventually be panicked themselves. It is only the deaf or insane that you must worry about not reaching with the gift of sound.

That is where touch comes into play. Even insane people respond to someone putting their hands on them. You can use a playful poke, a dramatic shoulder grab-and-shake, a head butt, groin kick, on and on up to Homicide. In a very metaphorical sense, touching another human being during the throes of a panic is a purified interpretation of the cosmic struggle. And so is flushing a toilet. I digress.

To put your hands on another person immediately and irrevocably yokes them to your panic. They must deal with you and, 9 out of 10 times, the response is a mirror, a public panic. They could collapse and shiver, they could bite your bottom lip, or they could foul their trousers while wailing incoherently. All are acceptable outcomes. You have made the invitation into your panic a realized event. Congratulations! You're on your way to prison.

Next in achieving a robust public panic is the performance. Will you soar or flop?

Using tools is acceptable — a jump rope, Tiki-torch, spoon or vibrator — but often enough implementing a tool is just not practical. Once a panic has begun, opening a shed or kitchen drawer is a Herculean labor. If you succeed in grasping a tool, bravo! If not, go with the grace inherent in your very limbs. Perhaps implement the fine tradition of Kabuki theatre, channeling the language of your panic in body fluctuations and gestures. Or go with Sondheim meets the Down Syndrome Kids — this requires singing well known show tunes in a indecipherable yet spirited falsetto.

Are you a dancer? Prance, flamenco, mosh, jitterbug?Here's a scenario. You're in the mall and the suspicion that your spouse is at that moment fellating a horse on camera overwhelms you. You punch yourself twice in teeth, rip open your shirt, vomit on the nearest enclave of adolescents and then?hat? You've done a fantastic, stellar job so far. How can you possibly take this panic to a 6 o'clock news level? Gymnastics! That's correct. And this works especially well if you haven't exercised since you were forced to in high school. Go for the hand-less, backwards cartwheel straight off the bat. Splits, somersaults. Hell, use a bench as a mock Roman Horse and strike your groin on the edges repeatedly. Recall, you're still screaming, still weeping. For a finale, try some flowing jogs across the sales floor of the Gap, knocking over every rack along the way. When the rent-a-cops appear, use those choppers!

There are too many options for making a public panic attack a memorable affair. Always remember this: while your panic is a communicative tool expressing some personal grievance, you are simultaneously suggesting to others that they follow suit. Here are other public panic stylings gleaned from the autobiographies of the Virtuosos I've tracked: masturbating, licking between your toes, banging the head/limbs against inanimate objects, extracting teeth, quoting Vladimir Nabokov in a Scottish accent, salivating excessively (not to be confused with drooling, a dumb and passive activity: salivating descries hunger and insatiable wont), stretching your eyelids and inserting coins, throwing yourself into fountains, chanting, sudden stops that falsify an end to your tirade, spinning until you wretch and putting your arm around people as if you've been chummy for decades. Never open veins: this will hastily weaken your capabilities to perform.

Okay, perhaps you prefer the reserved-yet-dramatic panic. You sob, don't cry; you slowly tear hair out, don't eat garbage. This is fine, this is you, go to pieces in a manner that details your truest self. There are copious menu selections for those who might be crippled, incapable or weak. If you're the quiet type, try expressing your panic styling in an elevator. This can be most effectively accomplished by waiting for the elevator to be empty. Push every button (skyscrapers are best for maximum person-to-person contact) and begin pulling harshly on your ears while moaning lowly. If someone is daring enough to ride a few floors with you, you should most definitely honor this person by quickly gathering composure, approaching them with a savvy smile and trying to sell them your organs.

Another swell place to do the "emo-twist" is an eatery. Delicatessens, bakeries, buffets, Thai, IHOP, upscale Sushi joints?Go for the family focused places because here you can compound the maximum effect of touching other lives by scarring children mentally. Do not waste time at Denny's; anyone dining or employed therein is beyond human emotion.

Warning! Avoid trucker stops. This select breed of human animal, due to excessive road dementia and amphetamine abuse, is incapable of being influenced by another person's panic. Truckers can, and often will, stomp-bite-pummel-ear rape and set a person on fire before having their well beyond panicked cerebral hemispheres fucked by a moping, whiney freak that cannot cope with existence. In general, most blue-collar workers are like this, so always navigate yourself to a law firm, investment broker, doctors office, et cetera. And there are always abortion clinics. Nobody is already too-confused at an abortion clinic. I recommend building camaraderie with the religious protestors, then going to pieces directly in the middle of them. Who knows, perhaps they'll become so confused that they try to help someone.

Again, there is no formula for panicking in a formal manner. Chewing on yourself is a brilliant tactic. One, two, three fingers at a time — feet, forearm, breasts. Prove your flexibility and go for inner thigh or as near to the armpit as you can achieve. Reserved-yet-dramatic panic calls for behavior that is not just outlandish but technical. Sit Lotus-position and roll over backwards; grind your teeth until you can breath out a constant fine dust. Pinching flesh until it bruises a sickly pink with violet blood blisters has always proven effective. Incorporating others in this public panic style is not very difficult. White-collar folk feel more willing to help someone who is suffering quietly because only poor people are loud and draw attention to themselves. When your "hero" offers you a sip of his Starbucks, grasp his leg tightly and begin to gnaw on his slacks. No matter how much money you are offered, don't let go until mace is used; then you have grounds for litigation.

As you have already ascertained, public panic is about two things — sex and money. You probably have neither, like most people, so your life is full of the overwhelming fear that you will die without having gotten either and so you're always on the cusp of a panic. This fear is invented by advertising, and advertising is about communicating to the public. So what you're doing by having a public panic is a free market enterprise; you're fueling the economy. Now get out there and stimulate investment.

And remember, this is all justified. How? Well, recall your King. If he can invade a Middle Eastern country without proof, thus magnifying already horribly violent relations between us and the Moslem Nation, then you can piss on the counter at Dunkin' Donuts.

How to Panic: Private Style

Musical accompaniment is a must. Two particular accompaniments are capable of bringing the panic to an ecstatic level somewhere between orgasm and having a stroke. Classical or Slayer. Blaring Brahms, Rachmaninov, Wagner, Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart can not only emotionally intensify your panic style, but lend a reverence and dignity unavailable to those silent panic artists. As the movements of the music crescendo and blast forth emotion, so should you. Know your tunes! Don't just go picking any classical composition and expect your panic to be a flawless compliment. You must prepare. Go to your public library and borrow from their collection. Strong recommendations from my own library are Bernstein Conducts Stravinsky — Petrouchka, Ravel's Bolero, Rachmaninov's Prelude in C-Sharp Minor and Jerry Goldsmith's The Planet of The Apes: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

Panic GraphicAs for Slayer, this quartet of speed metal, death and violence enthusiasts will bring to your panic an aggression unknown by those who sway to the much more tepid Bon Jovi. With Slayer shaking the walls, a common tremble can be mutated into a rib-breaking quake, a punch to the face into a fifteen-round bantamweight slaughter. Remember: Slayer holds credence with dweebs, posers, skinheads, longhairs, psychos, Tipper Gore and all religions; you'll be working the multi-cultural angle, big for getting grants these days. Recommended albums are Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss, and the Barney endorsed God Hates Us All.

Now, you've picked out your music. Let's examine the domicile situation: apartment, loft, multi-bedroom home, abandoned U-Haul storage unit. All are acceptable places for private panics as long as they are your home, full of your/your family's belongings. As for people present, the point is moot. These people are more than likely stuck with you regardless of what happens.

Probably the most terrific aspect of private panic is longevity. You could panic in this place for long periods of time without being incarcerated. This is because family members will pity you for quite some time and non-relative roommates will either leave or have to pursue expensive and lengthy legal action before you're forced to desist. Being unemployed, being without an automobile and having a sinus infection are always enhancements for the private panic.

Panic GraphicBreaking things is a nice way to begin. This announces that you are upset, vulnerable and violent — the three key ingredients to gathering ill will (either from housemates or just from yourself). A common mistake when breaking things is to start little and work your way up. Wrong, wrong, wrong! and not for an easily conceived reason. This is true because little things in the home often retain the most sentimental value — gifts, awards, "favorites" and tchotckes. Big items are bound to monetary woes and, believe me, these should be the first to receive wrath being that they play such a tremendous part in creating it. Fuck all and go for the bathtub and refrigerator first. Never go for the pipes, air conditioner or heater — thirst, heat exhaustion and hypothermia will force you to leave the house. Destroying the stereo is a no-no, being that your theme music will dissipate. Go for the television when it feels right, but not before — in America, destroying a television is equitable to Deicide and should be savored. Ceiling fans, bookshelves, dressers, washing machines/dryers, mattresses, couches, walls — use your best judgment.

All right, you've initiated. Now, it's time to disintegrate emotionally. Relieving yourself in your pants, on the furniture or into the refrigerator is quality private panic. Whether you're emptying the bladder or investing in the soft-log industry, this highly effective signature of mental imbalance is an immediate clue that you are skipping without a rope. Destroying appliances is one thing, but reverting to a beastly stratum of evolution denotes true collapse of the spirit, primary to a stalwart panic. Getting excrement on the doorknobs is big — doorknobs are ultimate symbols of accessibility and showing your disregard for such sends a bleak and well-realized picture that you are mentally beyond reach. Of course, stop changing your clothes. I recommend beginning a private panic in loose fitting corduroys, a white t-shirt and a long robe. The cords will keep you warm and produce perspiration, the white t-shirt retains stains well and the robe is a signature of royalty. Sporting a cereal box as a crown will enhance this madness ten fold.

So, by this point the house resembles and smells like the municipal dump. You look homeless. Let's label a few behaviors that have been proven to make a private panic a successful, worthwhile and memorable affair. Mumbling is a terrific invention. Added to a panic, rapid mumbling declares an eerie vibe that says: I'm in here and I'm planning. Potent stuff. Your sentences need not be complete or completely discernible, but now and then understandable words must be mumbled. Tried and true words for private panic mumble are grotto, riboflavin, funny, legless, electricity, hammer, Jehovah, and white house. Be not afraid of using these again and again and again. Repetition lends the air of you mulling specific issues and having a dangerous focus on completely random, yet oddly interlinked, issues.

Spit a lot. Scratching excessively at your face and the tops of your hands is a good way to display panic. Get the skin raw and red. Hmm, did you obliterate that phone yet? Keeping the telephone in operational order is a good idea. As you've undoubtedly torn up the phone books and pasted the pages to the wall with bodily fluids, you can pick any number and just say hi. Or riboflavin. Place multiple orders for large amounts of food to be delivered to your neighbors. How about having your sewage tank exhumed? Chimney cleaning, pest control, realtors?ll are delightful to hear knocking and knocking while you crouch on the other side of the door knocking back. Don't forget, all behaviors specified in the public panic part of this manual are acceptable for private panic episodes.

When the time has come to punch that clock and end your private panic — perhaps the lesions are too aggravating or your children have scheduled an intervention — I say go quietly. Act as if this thing happens all the time, that you are now fulfilled and want to develop your resume. Purchase some diet books and wear sunscreen whenever you leave the house, even if just to get the mail.

But never ever apologize. Tell all people involved that you felt trapped and needed your space. You may have done it irrationally, but everyone heals mental trauma differently and you don't want to be judged right now. Buy people inutile yet suggestive gifts — crutches, sod, beast porn. Private panic is all about you. It is a completely selfish and rewarding activity. No need to besmirch the memory of your panic by denouncing it and offering condolences to those who had to bear witness. Remember, have you seen King George in public once? I haven't. Yet he's managed to severely diminish my happiness, potential for travel, and safety by placing ALL the blame on other people.


Remember, this operations manual is not gender, age or race specific. Any person can experience a public or private panic using these techniques and never worry about being persecuted as part of a larger demographic that exhibits similar behaviors. And don't think that you can only do this once. Whenever you feel the urge, don't bury it for fear of indigestion or rickets. Always, always release your sensation of panic. With these materials you are prepared to heap emotional, physical and mental scars upon yourself, family, friends and strangers as well as build an impressive criminal record. What's most important is that you might, in the throes of your panic, invent some new panic maneuvers that add to the girth of the panic lexicon being compiled constantly throughout history. Or you could become an ape-faced despot who has assured the downfall of America in under fifty years.

Peace to you and yours.

James Palazzolo is the author of four novels and several dozen short stories. He writes freelance on the arts, literature and music. Contact him at

Credits: Panic painting copyright ©Aiden Hughes. Slayer image from Broken TV from

Copyright © 2003 by James Palazzolo. All rights reserved.