Loose Leaves column, 1st run Sunday 15 July 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas
By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group
It wasn’t even Friday the 13th yet, but the week wrecked me from the start. Somebody said something vaguely insulting. The home repair was delayed a few days, again. My computer crashed; what’s new. Got a chain-letter e-mail from somebody I thought knew better. Something healthy I cooked disagreed with me.
Took the normal summer’s heat personally, too.
Bad weeks and bad days come up sometimes. They are just a collection of coincidences. Some coincidences start from the actions of other people, who may be superstitious.
Superstition seems to be increasing, despite the presence of not only more verifiable knowledge but knowledge that’s ever easier to find and understand. Yes, from the Internet.
Developed gossip is a form of superstition.
We smart people presume Internet information from legitimate companies and institutions to be more current and factual. We know to remain skeptical.
Some electronic information sell people can’t-live-withouts, troubling hoaxes or whole belief systems.
Friends and acquaintances you thought knew better e-mail you old-fashioned chain letters, asking you to relay them on to others for money or just luck. They send you inspiring anecdotes that history easily disproves, or horrible tales quickly found listed on sites that categorize contemporary, “urban” myths.
I could attribute the lousy week to cutting a couple of such chains.
Instead, I daydreamed of withdrawing $500 cash from an ATM then driving out, for about $300 worth of gasoline, junk food and cheap motels (and Wal-Mart for a change of underwear) then driving home in a week or a month on the remainder. This would clear my head of 40-something years of false notions, met goals and discharged hopes.
I fantasized I would decide to do this spontaneously one morning, leave the office that noon, calling my wife from a pay phone after crossing at least one state line. Let the office fire me for going AWOL. On my return I would take a sweaty but simple job at a bakery.
This is not just my fantasy. Thousands of U.S. adults go “missing” every year. Some return. Some never come back, having embarked on new lives. Very few are kidnapped or bludgeoned into the actually rather-rare amnesia.
Crime is decreasing, according to FBI statistics. People may be abandoning families for a breather or forever, but no epidemic of psychopaths exists, despite arresting images on TV or other screens.
This is, yes, enormously frightening, depressing and frustrating for the loved ones left behind. Nor are relatives and friends assured by a culture — not just the ratings-addled media — that thrives on gossip, paranoia and a drive for combining facts and coincidences into cohesive if false wholes — logic, common sense and knowledge of human behavior be damned.
Certainly I hope Chandra Levy cut and dyed her hair, hiding out to figure out the rest of her life, having merely run away from being a 24-year-old (three or six years of adulthood under her belt) Californian feeling stuck in a Washington federal internship, having fled a romantic or just sexual relationship with a married father of children her age.
That we have quit discussing the murder of the wife of actor Robert Blake — and tax cuts and campaign finance reform and summer boat safety — to focus on Levy and her ex-lover, an obscure US congressman from California’s fertile belly, and to gab about allegations of his other flings and associations, is pathetic.
What mythology, what common theory are we craving? Post-communist conspiracy? White slavery? Internet pornography-fueled anarchy?
Superstition, in a word?
Say you, a rational logical person, are driving along last Friday (the 13th!) and the hypothetical car up ahead is driven by a regular guy who still holds only a couple of superstitions, left from childhood.
The guy sees that a black cat just crossed the road ahead of him, so he slams on his brakes then swerves around to “avoid the path of a black cat.” You and the dope collide.
The superstitious guy simply made a bad call, never mind his reasons, which had an impact on you, and your car.
The people you tell this to at the office coffee urn turn superstitious (and you thought all their only superstition was to tally celebrity deaths, arguing if putting a musician in with two actors adds up to three). They say the black cat caused bad luck on both you and the other driver.
What can you do but return to the scene of the accident, walk to a nearby yard and take a photo of the hypothetical cat sitting on a shady porch, near its hypothetical owner?
He had a bad day, having almost lost his kitty. He thought about running away but didn’t because the cat needs him.
The cat has one white paw.