On his way up on the magnificently carved stone steps, NBCdiplomatic correspondent Bernard Kalb thought that the climb was leading "straight to the heavens."
Cambodia's ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, now in the middle of the jungle, has that effect on visitors.
Looking down, however, from a height that Kalb thinks was the equivalent of 40 stories, the steps appeared to him to be exceedingly, improbably steep. He noticed that there was no railing. Suddenly he felt dizzy; he feared he would fall into the abyss. Terror overtook him.
"Only a helicopter could get me down from here," Kalb remembers saying. "I am NOT going down these steps!"
But his wife, who went down to look for help, could not locate a helicopter.
Eventually, a Cambodian tourist guide came to Kalb's rescue. Taking his hand, the guide led him slowly, carefully down the stairs backward, so he would not have to look down.
"If it weren't for that kindly Cambodian," Kalb now says, "I would have spent the remainder of the Vietnam war on top of that temple."
Washington painter SAM GILLIAM is afraid of snakes. He has never been bitten by one, nor does he think that what he fears is their poison. "I just don't like snakes," he says, "I can't stand seeing them." He believes that his sentiments have to do with the snakes' motion.
"I may be conditioned by my mother who is really afraid of snakes," Gilliam says. His mother lives in Kentucky where there are all sorts of snakes--"mostly garten snakes, but also black snakes that bite and poisonous snakes like copperheads and water moccasins."
Gilliam has always kept his distance from snakes. The closest--a few feet away-- happened years ago, while he was cutting grass on a friend's farm in Wisconsin. "I gave it time to get away," he recalls, "and it did. I never went to that spot again, and I am very cautious if I am on that friend's farm again." ZELDA FICHANDLER
Fear of contact with the public was the original terror that struck Zelda Fichandler and drew her to the theater. Founder and producing director of Arena Stage, Fichandler calls herself "counterphobic." She quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson to the effect that you must do what you fear most.
Since childhood, Fichandler says, she had had an inordinate fear of appearing in public, speaking in public or walking into a roomful of strangers. Behind all these fears was, she thinks, "the existential fear of being exposed to a hostile world, of being blotted out."
Fichandler explains that as "a deeply shy person," she was attracted to theater because theater required maximum public exposure. "All actors are fragile people," she says. "You are drawn to the opposite of who you are."
She developed a method of exposing herself to her phobia over and over again. "Little by little the fear went away," she says. "I have been engaged in this project since I was 8 years old. I can remember thinking: I am not going to be afraid. It's a lifetime project.
"But no one is ever cured. I am in the process of being cured.
"I don't have phobic rituals. I just found the right profession to be shy in: theater." JODY POWELL
I have been claustrophobic ever since I can remember," says Jody Powell, White House press secretary during the Carter administration and now a syndicated columnist.
His fear kept him away from campaign crowds, Powell says. It seemed easier to stay with the press, in areas cordoned-off from the masses. But he doesn't remember an instance in which he would have been incapacitated by his phobia.
The only time Powell had it "really rough" was in the army, during exercises. He had to crawl on his belly, underneath tunnels of barbed wire covered with branches, and with people in front and people in his back making him feel even more confined.
"My claustrophobia has bothered me," he says. "It's mildly serious, but it has never reached the point of panic." BUFFY CAFRITZ
The cold terror of a phobia is an experience socialite Buffy Cafritz has had several times.
Cafritz is deathly fearful of flying. "It's terrible," she says. "Because of it, I travel by ship or train 95 percent of the time. I take a plane only if I am forced into a situation --there is no other way to get there."
Last summer, for instance, with the liner Queen Elizabeth II pressed into service to ferry British troops to the Falkland Islands and no other ship sailing to Europe, the Europe-bound Cafritz had no choice but to take a plane. "I clutched my husband's arm," she says. "I wouldn't get out of my seat. I wouldn't eat."
The fear of an imminent crash gets even worse when she sees no flight attendants. "I have to see them go by," she says. "So I ask for a glass of water. Anything to keep them in motion."
She has been treated, and a hypnotist has talked to her. He cited reassuring statistics proving the low probability of a crash, stressing how safe it was to travel by air.
"Nothing has helped," Cafritz says. "I discovered my phobia the first time I flew. I was just plain scared. I have no other phobias."
She does not drink alcohol, she says, so dulling the senses that way is no help. As for falling asleep, her answer is "heavens, no. No! NO!"