The origins of the Friday the 13th superstition are, as any reader of The Da Vinci Code now can tell you, the events of 13 October in the year 1307. On that day, "French authorities began capturing, interrogating, torturing, and burning Templars [the Knights Templar] as heretics and blasphemers. As a climax to this inquisition, the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was roasted to death in Paris in 1314. It marked the public end of a proud and secretive order." This is from The Secret Societies Handbook, by Michael Bradley: a must on the shelves of any self-respecting paranoid and/or conspiracy theorist. From my perch on the deck of the Café Noir, near Petco Park, I contemplate my own irrational belief systems that would come under the heading of superstitions. For some reason, the first that comes to mind (possibly because of its embarrassing and flagrant idiocy) is my refusal to retrace my exact steps unless it is unavoidable. The best example of this is when I leave home and have forgotten something -- my wallet, my keys and notebook, whatever. I will not walk back home on the same side of the street I have just walked. No idea where this comes from, but it is there. On the other hand, I will, at times (though less so these days) deliberately walk beneath ladders that appear in my path in such a blatant defiance of I-know-not-what that I might as well be hopelessly enslaved to that particular superstition and assiduously avoid the underside of ladders.
I will not sweat it if a black cat intersects my projected path, and I will not change course, but I do flash on it (as some of us used to say). Same with spilling salt: I will not grieve about it, and I won't do anything like tossing it over my shoulder (correct that; actually, I might), but I am momentarily aware of it. I wonder if my reluctance to pray while on the toilet seat could be considered superstition or just -- as I tell myself -- a matter of consideration, dignity, manners, really. My reluctance to make the sign of the cross in public is, so I rationalize, a matter of distaste at public displays of piety and not a fear of jinxing whatever prayer might be at hand. A broken mirror? No big deal.
But on any Friday the 13th, I confess I am cataloging events all day long. In the middle of the day, I might look at my parking karma or timing at bus stops, any surprises on payday and -- if I run across one -- my horoscope, though I am hardly a subscriber to ideas of astrology in general. The irrational (or is it non-rational?) tug of that paragraph under "Sagittarius" in the newspaper is just harmless diversion, I tell my super-ego, and he believes me; but it is superstition, all right, even if it is just a ghostly twinge of some long-extinct, vestigial sensibility that has stopped serving any purpose. "Or," as, say, Rod Serling might put it, "has it?"
In a former incarnation as a bartender, during my Sambuca phase, I would not take a sip out of a snifter of the Italian, anise-flavored liqueur if it had more or less than three coffee beans in it. Bad luck. I would not wear a hat behind the bar for fear I might pass the cash register while wearing it -- but this was less a matter of superstition than the practical observation of bar lore, that doing so obliged the house to buy drinks for all bar patrons. I'm sure there were a few other bar superstitions I observed at the time and can't remember now, but then I was in the bag half the time anyway and can't remember much that happened between 1974 and 1980.
I may stop in at the Museum of Unnatural History on the 500 block of Market Street to catch their display of objects associated with someone or other's bad luck, and I may do it on Friday the 13th, too. I figure, what safer place to avoid evil mojo than the obvious target? It might be like standing under a lone tree on a golf course during a lightning storm; but whatever theoretical intelligence there might be behind the machinations of misfortune, surely it has a mature aversion to the obvious.
Yes, it was October 13, 1307, that a good number of French knights, out of favor with King Philip IV and Pope Clement, the progenitors of Gothic architecture and keepers of secrets (among them, those of "sacred geometry") had their hash settled in a most gruesome fashion. Many of them survived, of course, and, it is said, carry on today -- certainly their ancestors. But then that was, let's see, 699 years ago this Friday, October 13, 2006.
What's this -- 699? The figure, if you notice, is a perfect dyslexic's anagram of the number of the beast: 666. It is a well-known fact that Da Vinci was dyslexic. My psychiatrist, Dr. Emile Beidweider, would dismiss this as meaningless coincidence; and when he does, I will point out to him that I selected Dr. B. from the Yellow Pages listings for his name: a cosmic signpost, if you ask me, directing me to the one man most likely to help me unravel the decades of neurosis begun as a child in the throes of nocturnal bladder dysfunction. That's right, I was a bed wetter.
Next week: premature ejaculation and The Egyptian Book of the Dead: Ancient Curse or Harmless Fun?