“You just jinxed us!” my friend said to explain why everyone was yelling at me and making the meanest faces they could find.
“You think this stuff is funny?” my friend’s dad intruded. I did, until I realized he asking me that question in a confrontation manner. “People here depend on the income from the outcome of this game.” If I flirted with the notion that the dad was in on the joke, but the look on his face suggested otherwise. This idea of jinxes and/or superstition could affect a football game on television was not fun and games to them.
What I said to ignite this uproar, while watching an otherwise meaningless football game in my friend’s family home, was, “Well, it looks like it’s pretty safe to say we’re going to win here!” I said this after our team scored a touchdown, to go up twenty-one points with less than two minutes left in the game, but I also said it to tweak my friend’s superstitious nature. The furor that line generated wouldn’t have too much worse if I went to the bathroom, stripped down naked, and sat at their dining room table as straight-faced as I could.
In the aftermath of the tongue lashing, mouths hung open at my utter stupidity. One of the attendees sat back with his hands splayed, as if to ask, “What are you doing to me here?” Another said it was, “One of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard anyone say, and I’ve heard people say some incredibly dumb things.” My friend just sat there in the midst of all this shaking his head.
I was so young and so stupid that I couldn’t understand how a teenager in the Midwest could alter the course of a game played hundreds of miles away. My friend reiterated that this football game wasn’t just a game to the people in the room, they depended on the income from the outcome.
I understand that anything can tip the precarious balance in sports, but I had no idea how instrumental I was in it, until they educated me on the matter. I might’ve considered it ridiculous if it were just my friend saying it, but the adults in the room not only shared my friend’s condemnation, they taught it to him. Adults who had twenty-five-years’ experience on me and knew things about the world I did not, were saying things I considered incomprehensible, and they were shaking their heads with their eyes closed, whispering my name through clenched teeth.
I was not oblivious to the world of hexes, jinxes and superstitions before this otherwise enjoyable Saturday afternoon, but I thought everyone was in on a the joke. I thought everyone else mocked them in the way we did. If those requiring me to watch what I said were fellow teenagers, I would’ve continued mocking “the rules”, but the forty something adults who joined in on the condemnation, intimidated me into taking it more seriously.
You might think, as I did, that I was the butt of Jedi mind tricks, and that they all have a good laugh later, but they believed it. They believed all of it. They believed sitting half-bun on a chair in team-related sports memorabilia, while singing the team’s football fight song to send a telepathic message of love and truth to our boys fighting on the gridiron would make a difference.
Years of repetition informed me that these forty somethings were serious, “serious as a heart attack”. They informed me, without saying these exact words, that I was to respect the ways and traditions of their home.
My family wasn’t of sound mind. My dad was as quirky, if not more than my friends’ parents, but he didn’t abide by superstitions. I never experienced anything like this before, but I never spent time around big-time gamblers. The adults basically informed me that I sat on the threshold of being banned from the house if that other team came back. They didn’t. Our team won, but they said, “You got lucky … this time, but don’t ever say anything like that again.” The next time they invited me to their home to watch a game, the dad remained in the doorway for an uncomfortable amount of time, blocking it, saying, “You’re not going to say anything stupid this time, are you?” I reassured him that I wouldn’t, and that I learned my lesson last time.
This friend and I later watched the movie Drugstore Cowboy together. In the movie, a character introduces the concept of a 30-day hex that results from leaving a hat on a bed. “Why a hat?” a side character asked.
“Because that’s just the way it is sweetie,” the main character responded. “Never talk about dogs, and never look at the backside of a mirror, because it will affect your future, because you’re looking at yourself backwards … No, you’re looking at your inner self, and you don’t recognize it, because you’ve never seen it before. But the most important thing is the hat on a bed. The hat on a bed is the king of them all. Hell, that’s worth at least 15 years bad luck, even death, and I’d rather have death, because I couldn’t face no 15-year hex.”
The hat-on-the-bed hex seemed so arbitrary and quirky that it was interesting, kind of cool, and fun. The characters in the movie were drug dealers, and we assumed that this offered us some insight into their damaged brains. To prove the theory that a hat-on-a-bed could provide anywhere from 30-days to 15-years of bad luck, the movie characters’ lives fell apart, and they realized their run of bad luck started with that hat on the bed.
That movie is over twenty years old now, but I can still see that hat sitting on the bed. It provided a crucial turning point in that movie. The characters’ lives were progressing as well as any drug dealers could before the stupid and naïve character haphazardly left a hat sitting on a bed, as if it were nothing more than a hat resting on a bed. I remember that narrative so well because my best friend talked about it all the time, and when we were in his house, we were to abide by his rule.
“Are you serious about this?” I asked this otherwise rational human being who informed me that I was not to place a hat-on-a-bed in his home.
“Why would you want to risk it?” he asked.
“Because it was a movie,” I said, “and not only that, it was a joke in the movie that the writers inserted to show how hilariously insane their characters were.”
It should’ve been obvious to my friend that the movie makers didn’t believe this superstitious nonsense, as they arbitrarily edited the definition of looking at the backside of a mirror, and the length of the hat-on-bed hex, but my friend was born and raised in a home of highly superstitious people, and the hat-on-bed hex scene altered his life in the same manner the scene altered the trajectory of the characters in the movie. No one ever put a hat on his bed, as far as I know, but he made us all aware of the consequences of doing so on numerous occasions for years.
Propagandists say that if we repeat the same lie often enough, enough people will believe it to make it true, and my friend, his family, and their friends genuinely believed these hexes, jinxes, and superstitions. I learned that no matter how great the momentum, a few choice words can change the course of a history.
They all talked about the time Ron “Swannie” Swanson said something as dumb as I did, and how the other team miraculously came back shortly after he said it. “It happened,” they said.
“I’m not denying that it happened,” I said, “but how many times has it happened since humans started watching sports? How many spectators have prematurely called out a victor only to have the event flip? Do you see how Swannie’s slip up might be viewed as a coincidence?”
They did not. That inexplicable loss was marked in the annals of sports’ history, as it proved their contention that when a man says a most unfortunate thing at a most inopportune time, he can alter the course of history as we watch it play out on TV, hundreds of miles away from the action. What would happen if Ron “Swannie” Swanson was watching a History Channel documentary on World War II, and three-fourths of the way through that production he mentioned that he thought it was pretty obvious that the allied powers were going to win? Swannie said such stupid things, at such stupid times, so often that we called them a Swannie. What if he dropped a Swannie on World War II? Is it possible we could all be speaking German? Shudder to think, right?
If I thought my friend was an unmovable moron, I wouldn’t have pled Swanny’s case, but my friend was a logical, rational, and well-educated man. On the subject of hexes, superstitions, and jinxes, he proved an immovable object. He had a blind spot, we all have them, but this one was so confusing to me.
I might be one of the least superstitious beings on our planet now, and I’d love to write that even as a teenager, I was immune to such laughable ridiculousness. I watched football games at my friend’s house, with his superstitious parents and their superstitious friends for decades though. They were rabid fans, and their fervor made watching games at their home a lot of fun, but what started out as a joke for me progressively morphed into some sort of reality that I somewhat accepted as humanity’s new reality. I took their ridiculous hat-on-the-bed superstitions home with me, and I chastised my brother for making an inopportune comment at an inopportune time while watching a football game on television together. “You just jinxed us!” I said.
“Seriously?” he asked. “You’re serious? Take a step away from what you’re saying, and I think you’ll realize how ridiculous that is.” I didn’t, I wouldn’t, then I did, and I entered into a lifelong cringe for ever somewhat, sort of, slipping under the power of repetition.