It is the first Friday the thirteenth of 2012 and I am hunkered down at my writing station. I am rather superstitious. Friday the thirteenth is the high holiday of all things superstitious and I pay it the respect it deserves. I used to request each Friday the thirteenth off from work. Seriously. I would do everything in my limited power not to leave the house. Apparently I believed that bad luck could only find me if I actually emerged from my domicile. As long as I stayed beneath the covers I would remain safe.
Responsibilities have already mandated my leaving the house this morning twice. Even more frightening, I made plans to drive to a neighboring town and view a movie with friends tonight. I am willfully leaving the sanctuary of my safe little living room on the scariest day possible. That’s growth, isn’t it?
In the spirit of attempting to lighten my personal mood today, I present to you a handful of my own superstitions. Some of them may seem silly, but I bet everyone has at least one that they practice.
1) BLACK CATS. These mangy beasts pose no personal threat to me unless they cross my path. I have encountered black felines before and spent untold moments engaged in an awkward dance; they would move so I would counter their movement by stepping out of their direct path. They then would freeze because of my motion and we would size up one another as if dueling over a chess board. I would skitter sideways to avoid crossing their route, taking special pains to also not step on their shadow. You see, stepping on a black cat’s shadow may result in their stealing your soul. Plus, black cats just sort of look shady to begin with, as if at any moment they are going to hold open their trenchcoat and try to sell you a stolen gold watch.
2) HATS ON BEDS. It is bad luck to toss a hat onto a bed. This one is more difficult for me because of my inherent laziness. Many times I have entered my bedroom, removed my cap, and casually tossed it onto my bed. This is easier than taking the time to actually properly stow a hat where it belongs. Then my OCD, paranoia, and superstition conspire against me. I frantically rush back into the room, remove the cap from the bed, back out of the room, re-enter the room, and gingerly place the hat anywhere but on the mattress. I think I may actually need professional help.
3) HEARSES. Whenever I see a hearse–even if it is being driven as a citizen vehicle by some hipster down the boulevard–I stop and make the sign of the cross. Even if I am driving. This stems from a combination of personal superstitious belief and respect for the dead. Somewhere deep inside, I believe that failure to cross myself may curse me to be stricken dead next. Also, I cross myself so that if that hearse is carrying a payload, that person’s spirit may be received by a heavenly entity.
4) THREE ON A LIGHT. Three on a light is extremely bad luck. If there are three cigarettes, they must not all be lit by the same flame. Two of them may be lit, but the third must be lit by a different flame. This means shaking out a match and striking a new one for the third cigarette. The same is true of lighters. I have personally lit two cigarettes with my Zippo, closed its hood, and relit it for a third smoker. I have been called names for this act. An old boss of mine who served in Vietnam told me once that this was a wartime superstition; soldiers believed that lighting three on a match could give enemy snipers just enough luminescence for an accurate kill-shot.
5) SPILLED SALT. When I spill salt–which is often–I fly into a cold panic. I scoop up a small pile and toss it immediately over my shoulder. The trouble is, I can never remember over which shoulder it is supposed to be tossed. So I flick a bit over each shoulder. Does this mean I am actually cancelling out the very act itself? I should probably research.
These beliefs arise from a steady diet of comic books, horror movies, urban legends, second-hand stories, and book research. Most superstitions are considered to be archaic, laughable practices in our modern scientific world. The silly customs and spookhouse ideals of the old world–where they burned alleged witches and the Jersey Devil fathered satanic children–have no sway in our tech-savvy and fact-based minds. The spectral fingers we feel caressing our spines as we lie in bed long after the lights have been dimmed, listening to floorboards creak in the hallway are just our nerves. No one ever experienced a spell of bad luck after walking beneath a ladder. No one’s mother ever suddenly had their back broken because their child stepped on a sidewalk crack. The sound of something pushing against the front door on a moonless fall evening is just the wind. Right?