Step on a Crack, Break the Outsidah’s Back

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Superstition is ridiculous, I know.

Like, for example, there for quite a while, every time I took my Honda in for an oil change, Pat McNally got re-elected. But then he retired from the Board of Selectmen, and I got my oil changed, and nothing in particular happened. So, see? Silly superstition. Nothing more.

I was never even remotely superstitious before I moved to Ipswich.

I never knocked on wood, or threw salt over my shoulder, or carried a rabbit’s foot. I never crossed my fingers or wished on a wishbone. I never worried about breaking a mirror, or opening an umbrella indoors. I took a black cat into my home. I walked under ladders with impunity, even on Friday the 13th.

But after I arrived here in town — which is, after all, where the whole Salem Witch Trial thing actually started — I began to notice that some things actually did seem to mysteriously happen in association with other things happening.

We bought too much Halloween candy last year, so for a long time, our mudroom featured a plastic pumpkin full of little bags of M&Ms, plain and peanut. I would reach in for a bag as I headed in or out of the house. Sometimes I got plain, sometimes peanut. But for a long time, I swear I’m not making this up, whenever I got peanut, the ZBA put off its Ipswich Inn decision again. When they finally handed down their ruling, I looked in the pumpkin and — you guessed it: The nuts were finished.

Silly superstition? You decide.

For a time I was superstitious about driving westbound on Central toward Lord’s Square, because one day I realized that if I happened to blink my eyes, the car in front of me would slow down as it approached High Street, as the driver determined whether to stop — even though, as you know, there’s no stop sign, and no traffic signal.

Then one day I noticed that I happened to blink twice, and the car in front of me stopped altogether at High Street — even though, if you stop, you’re totally breaking the law.

And then — here’s the really weird thing — one day I happened to blink three times, and the car in front of me not only came to a dead stop, but the driver began giving wild hand-signals to the drivers of the cars at the east- and westbound High Street stop signs.

I started experimenting with different numbers and patterns of blinks. One day I think I made a woman touch her brake 14 separate times as she approached High Street.

But what I really needed was some magical way to get people to keep going — not to stop, not to slow down, but to keep driving straight on through, the way Lord’s Square is supposed to be driven through.

I tried coughing, yawning, scratching my nose, drumming my fingers on the dashboard. I tried various curse words and inappropriate gestures. One day I tried squeezing my eyes shut very, very tightly. This also didn’t work. However, I did bump into the car ahead of me, which had stopped at High Street.

(On the other hand, that driver will never stop at High Street again. So maybe there’s something to be said for superstition.)

You may not be superstitious at all, and to tell you the truth, I’m with you. I’m not comfortable regarding myself as superstitious. But ultimately, there actually is some stuff that just can’t be coincidence, in my opinion. For example:

  • The price of gas at Cumby’s directly correlates to my blood pressure.
  • If Section A of the Chronicle happens to have exactly 8 pages, on Thursday, you’re going to see someone you know in the Pub on the weekend.
  • Watch what happens when someone walks out of the post office. If they pause before they take that first step down the stairs, there will be a squirrel in your backyard before sundown. If the person coming out of the post office doesn’t break stride, but goes marching right down the steps to Market Street — no squirrel.

Do you see how difficult it is to deny superstitions?

  • Jamie Wallace’s column appears at the top of the page, and mine appears at the bottom of the page, only if I’ve sneezed on Wednesday. As an unpaid columnist, eager for any smidgen of compensation, I try desperately not to sneeze on Wednesday.
  • Blue jays are the first birds to appear in my backyard whenever I put out meat scraps.
  • If the CNN.com headline starts with any letter other than X, my teenage daughter wakes up grumpy.
  • And it snows in Ipswich every time I — Oh, no.

Oh, my.

Oh my, my, my.

I am really, really sorry.

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