The Observer, an office-bound hermit until we were cast back into the hustle of an open newsroom earlier this year, had forgotten how much we'd missed the camaraderie of being forced into joining conversations with your colleagues. Like the stealthy wampus cat, The Observer is a solitary creature for the most part, preferring silence and a good book to scintillating conversation any ol' day. We are, however, an opinionated cuss, and when folks around us start honing their own opinions on the social whetstone, we can't help but join in. On a recent, slow Thursday, the late-August news doldrums having becalmed our little ship as they have every year for the 15 years this Old Salt as been aboard, folks in the newsroom got to talking about superstitions.
With the exception of reporters who work the Jesus Beat, journalists in our experience are almost uniformly down on hocus-pocus, grumpkins, snipe hunting, hoodoo and the idea that the Fouke Monster majestically tromps the backwaters and bayous of Little River County, arm-in-arm with Maude Crawford. Overly naive reporters don't seem to last long in this business, or at the very least get the naivety beaten out of them in short order, so superstitions among the scribbling class are few and far between. Getting a bunch of reporters to admit they believe Things Unseen might be in control of the levers of the universe is a big deal.
To that conversation, The Observer contributed our own worry that someone whistling in the newsroom is a portent of destruction and printed misspellings galore, a superstition we gained early on in our career while reading The Arkansas Gazette Project interviews and learning that some old hand at The Gazette — possibly the storied editor John Netherland Heiskell, though our memory fails us — would go absolutely ape if he heard somebody whistling in his workhouse. Our own storied editor, Max Brantley, weighed in to admit to mild triskadekaphobia, a tickle of worry at the number 13. And so on, and so forth.
What The Observer didn't tell them, though, so as not to look like a crank, is that we're eat up with superstitions, a believer in all manner of haints and hoodoos. It's likely the residue of being raised by our dear ol' Pa, who believed in the dire consequences of everything from not holding your breath when passing a graveyard to lighting three on a match. When The Observer was a boy, we'd be out driving in one of his rattling old work trucks, and if a black cat even looked like he might cross his path, Pa would lick a finger and shoot it out, quick as a whip, to draw three X's on the windshield, then spit out the window through his circled thumb and forefinger for good measure. The Observer still does that, too, much to Spouse's chagrin. Gotta eat them black-eyed peas on New Year's Day, too. When the world falls under the cold spell of Mercury in Retrograde, as it has in recent weeks, The Observer blames the hot little planet closest to the sun for every calamity and miscommunication. We believe in Full Moon Fever, too, imagining the emergency rooms and drunk tanks and complaints departments overflowing as the Great Cheese Wheel grows fat. Yours Truly wouldn't touch a peacock feather with a three-meter boathook. No leaving any candles on the birthday cake un-extinguished, no singing during a meal, and birds at the window are cause for pulling the covers over our head and staying in for the day. Found money must be immediately spent on others to ward off bad.
We've got a million of 'em, so many that we've been known to ponder on occasion why. Control, we suppose, namely the feeling that sometimes we ain't got none, the cogs of The Great Machine spinning on in darkness, at times grinding our best-laid plans to bitter crumbs in the process. And so, in lieu of any other remedy, we wish on clovers and toss salt over our shoulder into the devil's eyes, huff the last bit of tidal air at the last stubborn candle on the birthday cake, listen for lucky crickets in the house and owls hooting doom in daylight. In this world where so much seems to be beyond our reckoning, a little luck never hurt anybody. Unless it's bad luck, of course.