Go ahead. Search my writing room high and search it low. You won’t find anything there that looks much like a good-luck charm. And yet, such icons are everywhere. There are at least two items on the desk that I have to touch each night before I start writing. One of them is a rusty cog. The other is a snow globe.
There are other items across the room I poke absently but with precise ritualism before I shut out the light. There is a lot of touching going on in that room late at night.
I’m a strange guy when it comes to superstition. In one breath, I’ll tell you I take no stock in horoscopes or fortune-telling. I don’t carry a rabbit’s foot and a four-leaf clover is only as tasty as one with three leaves. But the next sentence out of my mouth is a reluctant admission that I will never, ever get out of bed on any side but the one I got in on. I will confess that I will never count stairs as I climb up or down them because that kind of thing could ruin my day.
The line between superstition and mental disorder is almost too thin to observe with the naked eye. If I stumble over a sentence more than twice while reading late at night, I am compelled to read that sentence aloud. Not because I want to grasp its meaning once and for all, but because in an abstract way, I believe I was tripped up in the first place through some mystical force that requires a vocal oration to be gone. Is that superstition or a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder?
I have a stuffed rat and a purple gorilla that must remain in precise locations in my room. I have a folding knife that cost maybe eight bucks, but if I cannot find it, I become certain that ill fortune is about to fall on me like rain. I keep that knife close at hand, not to pare apples or stab attacking beasts, but to ward away bad luck that floats about like noxious clouds.
The people who claim to keep no talismans often have yellowed scraps of paper folded into a chaotic shape and tucked away in their wallets. They hang on to things like ticket stubs or meaningless receipts and tell themselves they are only souvenirs. But snatch away those items and the owner of them feels hollow, incomplete and strangely vulnerable.
People who regard themselves as above superstition wear St. Christopher around their necks to ward off peril or carry troll dolls to invite fortune at Bingo. They toss spilled salt over their left shoulders and always pick up pennies found on the street.
We’ve all heard the stories about baseball players who refuse to shave or change their socks when a hitting streak is on the line. We know there was at least one notable batter who would eat only chicken before a game. The man clucked when he ran around the bases, but hey! He was running around the bases because he kept hitting the ball.
Those stories of celebrity superstition are quaint and they endear us to the people who devote themselves to these lucky charms and rituals. We brush it off as harmless and remind ourselves that it has no basis in science.
But me, I’m not sure enough of the workings of the universe to scoff at anything a person does to summon fortune or ward off doom. We used to believe that it was a vacuum out there in deep space and not so many years ago. Now we know that there is dark energy, dark matter and who-knows-what magical entities with the power to determine fates and alter the course of events in our dimension.
Me, I don’t tangle with those forces, especially the ones who have not yet identified themselves. It takes me less than a second to touch the cog and the snow globe. It requires no physical exertion to keep close track of the stuffed rat, the purple gorilla and the folding knife. It may not be those things at all keeping me alive. But the only way to find out for sure is to abandon them – and that could cause me to drop dead. Why monkey with the ritual?
Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.