The Whole Friday the 13th Thing

I suppose it can be classed as a superstition that I have an irrational fear of things going too well.

I look forward to these: Fridays falling on the 13th of a month. It appeals to many of my interests, which might be described as “dark.” Superstition itself has only a limited attraction, though I am, in some small ways, superstitious. While I don’t really consider Friday the 13th itself as bad luck, I believe in luck of some kind or at least in a pervasive influence of the random on the events of one’s life.

I once wrote a science fiction story that contained aliens whose deity was translated into Terran as the Random Factor in the Universe. The particular cult of this belief system was those who worshipped a god whose specialty was random violence, which somehow leads me back to one theory as to the origins of the Friday the 13th superstition. I wrote about it some years ago and now remember only that it had to do with the execution of several Knights Templar during or just after the Crusades. It was either 13 knights or the event took place on the 13th of the month. I no longer care, and it may well have been just another specious fact dredged up to promote The Da Vinci Code anyway.

I suppose it can be classed as a superstition that I have an irrational fear of things going too well. As common as it may be, there is no logical reason why a series of desirable events need be followed by a series of the undesirable. I think of this as the “other shoe dropping” theory or the “It’s quiet, too quiet, Kowalski” theory.

I suppose I am in one of those periods where nothing is going hellishly wrong, or what I call Good Times. This makes for poor subject matter along the personal or confessional lines, which is why I often have something interesting to go on about. As for this mid-weekend in June, I foresee nothing foreboding. In fact, I foresee sitting at a friend’s poolside, sipping iced coffees just a shuffle away from his condominium’s clubhouse featuring four pool tables. Another friend also has a pool at his building. He also has a great record collection, a Rickenbacker 12-string, and a convertible in case we want to go cruising for chicks or replenish our supply of Depends. Hey, Gary, I always liked you best!

So what could go wrong on Friday? For one thing, it’s payday, which means Bank Day. Every Friday at the bank I am open for some unpleasant surprise involving my balance or some new lien on my account courtesy of one of my muses...that is to say, my creditors. Another real possibility is some new crisis involving my son — it always seems to happen on weekends. But I am put in mind of my mother’s adage (not original with her, but she was fond of it), and that was “Never borrow trouble.”

And the whole Friday-the-13th thing is nothing if not an occasion for that sin. When things are going well, a hazard is boredom or complacency. And while boredom has never been a serious problem of mine (always having been gifted with some order of suffering or another as it has been needed), I do find myself looking for or borrowing someone else’s trouble. This is the root appeal of all adventure stories, which was once defined by someone or other as “Someone else, far away, in trouble.” And it is during times like these that I find stories of someone else’s misery gratifying.

I’m better at this than I used to be. I find, looking around at the books piled up around my bed, that fewer titles than usual indicate some truly bad scene or another for someone, real or imagined. Here is The Day of Saint Anthony’s Fire, by John G. Fuller, a book that I discovered in the ’70s that I am re-reading . It is about a town in France, Pont-Saint-Espirit, some 800 years ago, which was dosed with a crude form of LSD in the form of ergot (fungus) in the town’s bread and flour supply. Fifty-some people had one very bad trip and three people died in the throes of diabolical hallucinations. Damn bad luck and great reading. I also have The Ruins, by Scott Smith, a commercial horror novel and a summer chiller, well written but a little formulaic: vacationing young people in the Yucatán encounter mythic ancient evil, and — aaarghh! — it gets them.

I’ve also been reading The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a cozy, bookish tale set in Spain in the 1940s and ’50s concerning a demonic boogeyman who sets out to systematically burn certain obscure novels as if they needed any help on their way to oblivion. Cheesy (as Stephen King called it) and purple, it is good fun and couched in reassuring comfort-food-type prose.

These are the only real touchstones to the dark side I find I need this weekend and hope the fates will be happy with that. Possibly with the exception of The Ruins (though it’s not at all bad) I can whole-heartedly recommend the other titles. St. Anthony’s Fire is hard to find, but you should have no trouble with Shadow. Those stories contain all the troubles any dozen or more readers could want, and I see no problem with borrowing them at all.

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In honor of this special day, I'll be breaking mirrors, walking under ladders, walking paths black cats frequent...all those wonderful things in life.

Friday the 13ths rule - there's something so childishly delightful about 'em. Hope ya keep Jason at bay, JB, and may the Good Times roll on.


Ergot poisoning, or ergotism, also has been blamed for the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials. Ergot turns the ordinary wheat kernel into a large, purplish-black kernel. I saw it often enough in Illinois, while I was working on the farm. Ergot induces perceptual distortions and causes women to miscarry. What better proof of witchcraft? Ergot also served as the substance from which Albert Hoffman derived LSD.

My favorite Friday the 13th story: my hero Lester Young refused to attend a recording session scheduled for Friday the 13th. Count Basie fired him because of that, and that is how Lester came to leave the Basie band. A true story, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are lots more good Lester Young stories, for example, his trial for drug abuse in the Army.

See you.


P.S. How do I get to meet that blonde girl lying on her stomach in the Reader ads?

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