Happy Friday the 13th!
For one thing I am a HUGE believer in jinxes. I've always loved the cliche in movies where someone says something to the effect of "Nothing could possibly go wrong"--just before something goes horribly wrong. While I find this amusing in the movies, I find it incredibly frustrating in the real world. My Wife definitely falls into the "non-superstitious" class (though exposure to me and my ways over the past 13 years or so may be starting to warp even her sensibilities--sorry Wifey!). She never seems to be able to understand why I get so bent out of shape when we're doing some kind of outdoor activity on a cloudy, rainy day and she mentions the fact that the rain has stopped, the sky is brightening, and that everything will be great (nothing could possibly go wrong). Inevitably, the clouds and rain will quickly return after she makes a statement like that. I suppose that something like this can be chalked up more to our differing points on the glass-is-half-empty vs. glass-is-half-full scale of optimism/pessimism. Guess which side I fall on?
This jinxing problem is most frustrating when I'm watching/listening to a sporting event. Whether it's the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics or New England Patriots it never ceases to amaze me how the commentators will just HAVE to mention that a pitcher is doing incredibly well, a hitter on the opposing team hasn't hit a home run in weeks, a team hasn't had a turnover in eighteen minutes, a receiver hasn't dropped a ball thrown his way all season, a quarterback hasn't thrown an interception in 200 passing attempts... I swear that EVERY time I hear one of these proclamations, it ends up biting the commentator in the ass. EVERY TIME! Just a couple weeks ago Tim Wakefield was pitching for the Red Sox against the Seattle Mariners--an emergency replacement for a starter who couldn't go that day. They just HAD to mention that Wakefield had been pitching superbly and had only given up two hits in five-plus innings. I think they also mentioned the slump the opposing batter was currently in. On the very next pitch (or perhaps the second one--I'm not exactly sure) the batter had a hit. They immediately pulled Wakefield and brought in Bobby Jenks (Bobby Jinx?). There were two outs in the sixth inning. Jenks proceeded to give up hits, walks and wild pitches like they were going out of style. By the time the inning mercifully ended those Mariners with a mere two hits and no runs had scored twice to tie up the game 2-2.
I seriously start to wonder sometimes if these commentators realize what they're doing. I've even wondered if maybe they were actually doing it on purpose from time to time. Perhaps if the game seems to be going too smoothly or uneventfully they feel they need to shake it up a bit with a little jinx action...
Anyway, as far as more traditional superstitions go, I never really thought about it much, but I actually do follow most of them. I don't know if it started out that I actually believed them, or if my pessimistic nature just told me it was better to be safe than sorry, but since I was pretty young I've tended toward the superstitious. If a ladder was propped up against a building I would do everything in my power to walk around--rather than under--it. If a black cat crossed my path I would dread the bad luck that would ensue. I would throw a bit of salt over my right shoulder if I managed to spill some. I even tried my best to avoid stepping on cracks while walking--to avoid breaking my mother's back. I don't exactly know what I expect when a Friday the 13th rolls around, but I always have an underlying feeling of unease that won't pass until the next day.
When I was in the Army I broke a mirror in my wall locker once and I remember lamenting the depressing fact that I'd have bad luck for the next SEVEN years. Yeah, I know this is pretty negative thinking and I was probably just making my own self-fulfilling prophesy or something, but that's just how I felt. Ironically enough, about six or seven years later I got so frustrated one day at my job that I punched the outside rear view mirror of a truck--which broke, naturally. I was ALMOST over my seven years of bad luck and I just gave myself a brand-new seven!
I've even managed to put my own personal spin on a couple of the classic superstitions. I always followed the saying "Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you'll have good luck". But when I was in Army Basic Training back in 1987 one of my fellow trainees told me that there was actually more to the story than that. According to him, if you found a penny that was "heads up" then you could pick it up and expect the promised good luck. However, if the penny was on the "tails" side then it would bring you bad luck if you picked it up (great, just what I needed). In this case you were supposed to pick up the penny, throw it over your right shoulder and not look back. The nice thing about this ritual was that you could not only avoid the bad luck yourself, but you also had a 50/50 chance of giving the next person to find the penny good luck! Naturally I adopted this myself (just to be on the "safe" side) It would be much simpler (and certainly more lucrative) to simply pick up ALL pennies found on the ground. Now I have to check each one first. And if it happens to be tails I have to try to pick it up and throw it over my shoulder as nonchalantly and as unobserved as possible (yes I do realize how ridiculous it must appear--and that's why I try my best to make sure no one sees me doing it).
Similarly, I always had a belief that a black cat crossing your path would give you bad luck. Having owned black cats as a kid, I figured that black cats of your own didn't count--my own personal twist--and I hope it was correct (fingers crossed). In my experience it does indeed seem that black cats are MUCH more likely to cross a person's path than cats of any other color. Whether this is true or not it seems to be the case from what I've seen. Possibly this had something to do with the superstition getting started in the first place (?). Who knows... And I've also heard that white cats crossing your path bring good luck. I'd like to believe this is true. Of course I almost NEVER find a white cat crossing my path--they ALWAYS seem to be black. It is tough to avoid crossing the path of a black cat that has just crossed your path of course. And it's even MORE difficult when your driving. I found a solution to this predicament in a most unusual place. When Bill Parcells was the coach of the New England Patriots back in the 1990s I remember one particular press conference he had. He was famous for his odd and off-beat remarks that gave the sportscasters and writers stuff to talk/write about. For whatever reason, on this particular day Parcells was discussing his superstitions (it was probably a Friday the 13th). He said that he believed that a black cat crossing your path would cause bad luck. But he also believed that you could "erase" that bad luck by backing up over the path the cat just crossed and then going over it again (either walking or driving). This sounded quite off-the-wall, and I have no idea where it came from or if he had just made it up himself (like the penny-over-the-shoulder thing), but it has stuck with me all these years. It's a little difficult to try to walk backwards and then forward again in public without looking "odd", and it's even more difficult (and dangerous) to do it in a car, but for my own peace of mind I feel it's worth it! Living on a street that has a number of black cats on it, I'm glad for whatever relief from bad luck I can get.
Well, it's now over halfway through Friday May 13, 2011. I hope the rest of the day will be uneventful for me (and you too). See you on Saturday the 14th (I hope...)!