Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

I was just about to head for the office when I realized what day this is. Now I'm afraid to leave the house. Here's why.

The year was 1979. It was May 13. And it was a Friday.

I was driving my friend Joey "Dag" Dagenhart  to school in my vintage 1964 Ford Falcon. Nerdy at the time, but man, I wish I had it now. It would need some work, but it would be a collector's item.

Anyway, my Falcon had a 3-speed manual transmission that we called "three on the tree" (as opposed to "four on the floor," which newer cars had) because the gear shift was on the yoke of the steering wheel.  I pulled into the school parking lot, found a place, switched off the ignition, and put the transmission in reverse. I always parked in reverse because that was the strongest gear, and it was most likely to hold the car in place. The parking brake didn't work, so I didn't even fool with it.

I saw somebody I knew and I hopped out to say hello. What I didn't realize is that even though I had switched the car off, the engine was still shutting down. Still sputtering. And as I was walking away, the car re-started itself.

I turned around just in time to see the car lurching backwards. I will never forget the look on Dag's face. As he reached for the steering wheel to try to gain control of the car, his eyes looked right into mine as if to say, "Help!" But there was nothing I could do. In that crowded high school parking lot, my beautiful Ford Falcon plowed into another kid's vintage Buick. (You could tell we were all driving our parents' old cars in those days. Any kid with a new car would have gotten beat up at my school.)

I had the unhappy duty of tracking down the Buick's owner and then getting him out of homeroom to tell him that my car had just crashed into his. By itself. With me not in the driver's seat.

I found the kid and we walked out to the parking lot to survey the damage. I remember how big he was. And how tough. He had a beard. A 16-year-old with a beard was quite scary in those days.

We called the police and filed a damage report, just like we were taught in Drivers' Ed only a few months earlier. In the end, it all turned out OK. But when I finally got to class and saw the date on the blackboard, I realized: "It's FRIDAY THE 13TH!"

I've been afraid of that date ever since.

Now, you may think I'm silly, but did you know that this superstition has a Christian origin? It's based on the fact that Jesus died on a Friday, and there were 13 people at the Last Supper before he died.

OK, that's still silly. I mean, one could just as well say that God blesses Friday as the day of our forgiveness. And that 13 is a good number because the Last Supper was when Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Silly, I know. But it's almost 10:00 and I still haven't left the house yet.

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