Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

We’re Not Afraid of Friday the 13th

But the MEL staff has its fair share of superstitions

JOSH SCHOLLMEYER: The stupidest thing about my compulsion for lucky pennies isn’t the fact that I never miss an opportunity to pick them up. (Admittedly, I did once try to pick one up in the middle of traffic, which definitely qualifies as stupid; or maybe not, since I wasn’t actually hit by a car and was one cent richer?) It’s that I always recite the following while doing so: “Lucky penny, pick it up / All day, have good luck.” Somehow I can remember those words — in my defense, they do rhyme — while forgetting whether or not I should forego the penny depending on the side that’s most readily apparent. Is it heads that will bring me even more luck — or death? Or tails? I can’t ever fucking remember. It doesn’t matter, though. I’ve never forgotten the rhyme — sometimes I even sing it aloud — and it’s sure to protect me from any kind of bad shit for at least 24 hours.

TIM GRIERSON: I’m a knock-on-wood guy. I do it whenever I talk about something I’m grateful for. “My wife and I don’t have any health issues.” [Quickly looks around for wood, knocks on it.]

I tell myself that I’m not really superstitious — I don’t really think something will go bad if I don’t knock on wood — and that it’s just a way of me being mindful and taking a moment to appreciate the things in my life that I have. But who am I kidding? Just now writing about my wife and me being healthy made me think, “Okay, seriously, make sure you knock on some wood.” I’m scared that, somehow, expressing contentment about something good will cause the universe to snatch it away from me — as if I wasn’t appreciating it enough and should be punished — and that the process of knocking on wood is my way of showing proper deference to the unseen powers that control everything.

What do you mean I sound completely crazy? My superstition may be nuts, but everything’s turned out great so far for me. [Quickly looks around for wood, knocks on it.]

ZAK STONE: When I first moved to L.A. and lived in Echo Park, I tried to embrace the local superstition of the Happy Foot, Sad Foot sign. It’s possible you’ve heard about it even if you don’t live here: In 2011, Salon called the sign a “literary icon,” thanks to its appearances in novels by Jonathan Lethem and David Foster Wallace.

Here’s how the superstition works: The sign, belonging to a podiatry clinic on Sunset Boulevard (the aptly named Sunset Foot Clinic), rotates round and round. On one side of the sign: a reddish foot, mouth agape in a toothless smile, arms extended like a figure from Sausage Party. This is Happy Foot! He’s super happy cuz his metatarsals are totally in check. But on the other side is the yin to his yang: Sad Foot, hopping around on crutches, a bandage toe, eyes bloodshot red.

Local tradition says that whichever side you see when you drive by (this being L.A., you can’t walk by) determines the outcome of your day. See the sad foot? You’re in for a fucked-up day! See the happy foot? Your day’s going to slay. Best part of this tradition is there’s no cheating allowed: You can’t slam on your breaks to guarantee the happy day cuz you’ll probably cause a car accident and that’s, obviously, the surest way to have a sad day in L.A. 🙁

TRACY MOORE: As bleak and weirdly self-defeating as this may be — particularly in a culture that advises putting your most precious hopes and dreams out into the universe, and loudly (see: The Secret), to see them realized — I hold deeply the superstition that saying The Thing You Want Out Loud a bunch actually gets in the way of getting said thing. I base this on the fact that one summer in my 20s (2007) in Nashville, my friends and boyfriend and I came up with the Summer of Dreamz. It was a “movement” comprising a handful of optimistic assholes, based on the notion that over the course of this one summer, we would not be cynical jerks, and instead would reach for the brass ring of getting shit done and drink from the chalice of achievement.

We would be boldly positive; we would “embrace all moments,” we would state our wishes aloud, and we would work adamantly toward making them real. The world would be ours, or at least we would accomplish a few personal artistic goals. Instead, that summer, each of us who participated — and in reality, the Summer of Dreamz manifested in maybe a handful of dance parties and a lot of drunken conversations at bars long into the night — experienced previously unimaginable failures: Bones were mysteriously broken; record deals were not signed; engagements ended; jobs were lost. Omens were sent by strangers who mocked our naïveté. And they were right!

Since then, we’ve each had perfectly legitimate successes, so none of us holds that it’s a curse so much as a warning, and we all still joke about our hubris even 10 years on. That said, we know better now, and the painful, but useful lesson of that summer is this: He or she who dares to dream so brazenly will regret it. So dream big, kids, but shut the fuck up about it.

SERENA GOLDEN: I’m very much not a superstitious person, to the point that my friends sometimes chide me for “jinxing” things by openly assuming the best-case scenario is likeliest. I hate the idea that it’s somehow not okay to get your hopes up. I love getting my hopes up!

For a while, though, I did try to say “rabbit rabbit” on the first day of each month, as my ex-boyfriend from a decade ago used to do (and still does, for all I know). He was so devoted to the idea that if he forgot to say “rabbit rabbit” on the first, he’d say “tibbar tibbar” on the second. He swore that adhering to this superstition would bring him good luck. But I ended up dumping him for someone else, so it obviously didn’t work.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: In high school, my friends and I developed this strange tradition of tapping the interior hood of the car every time we drove through a yellow light. This was supposed to ward off any bad drivers from T-boning us in the intersection (I think), but over time it became ingrained into my nervous system on a Pavlovian level. Every time I saw a yellow light, I’d reflexively tap the roof of the car. I still do it to this day. Passengers who witness this behavior are always bewildered by it, and I often respond by trying to gaslight them into thinking they saw nothing peculiar. Occasionally I get self-conscious about this weird habit and make a conscious effort to restrain myself. But then a vague sense of dread creeps up my spine and I feel incomplete.

So yeah, my superstition is I’ll suffer a horrific car crash if I don’t touch the roof of my car when the light is yellow.

BRIAN EMRICH: These days my only real superstition is some weird thing I picked up in Japan — they say if you cut your fingernails at night you won’t be able to be with your parents when they die (???). After hearing that enough, it sort of became habit for me to wait until morning to trim my nails whenever I think about doing it late in the day.

I do have a better story, though. In high school I broke a mirror on Friday the 13th and my friend got me all freaked out about it… we looked online to see what it meant and some occult website recommended burying the shards as quickly as possible, lest I experience 7×7 years of bad sex, or something to that effect. I figured it couldn’t hurt so I gathered everything up in a small trash bag (awkwardly holding the bag way out in front of me so as to not catch my reflection in any of the broken pieces, per the site’s instruction) and went down by the train tracks with my then-girlfriend to bury it in a place where it wasn’t likely to be disturbed. Unfortunately it was the dead of winter and the ground was rock-solid — it took us about an hour to dig a deep-enough hole with a couple of sharp rocks we’d found. In the meantime all kinds of people walked by, some more than once, eyeing us as if we were attempting to secretly bury our stillborn love child or like, used needles? Honestly, though, it was worth it — who knows where I’d be if I hadn’t buried that mirror.

C. BRIAN SMITH: I’ve always rolled my eyes at superstitions and felt people who allow silly myths to dictate their thoughts and actions were needlessly living in perpetual fear. Then it was announced a couple months ago that the heating ducts in my hallway needed to be cleaned, and then completely replaced, after a colony of woodland creatures had met their demise deep within. For a week, access to my bathroom warranted passing beneath a ladder, which struck me as a lousy way to start the day off when it was just as easy to step outside and piss on the side of the house — which I did, while rolling my eyes.

NICK LEFTLEY: I always used to turn over one cigarette in a new pack — this became the lucky cigarette, although it was only truly lucky if it was smoked last (smoking it before then actively brought bad luck). This normally just resulted in someone lighting the wrong end of a cigarette after bumming a smoke — bad luck for them, I guess.

ANDREW FIOUZI: I’ve never understood why, but back in high school and in college, the white lighter was not to be used when lighting up a cigarette or a joint, and especially during bong rips. It was this strange taboo with myriad horror stories about using a white lighter and cops showing up (back when weed was still illegal) or getting caught by your parents, basically it would lead to something personally awful happening. What’s funny is I actually preferred to use and carry a white lighter mainly because I could count on the fact that four out of five stoners were too paranoid to use it, and as a result its half-life in my pocket would be significantly extended.

JEFF GROSS: I definitely subscribe to some of the more popular superstitions — things like not walking under ladders or opening umbrellas indoors, and knocking on wood. But as a high school and college water polo player I had a big one that was entirely my own. As a goalie, I would bless the bars of the goal cage before each game by gently slapping each bar with my hand, as if I were checking the structural integrity of the bars themselves. Afterward I’d follow that up with a moment of zen underwater. It worked most days.