Friday the 13th – perfect day for dental work

Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that one of his chief pet peeves is the term “pet peeve.” I know the feeling: I’m so unsuperstitious that I’m positively superstitious about it. Show me a ladder and I’ll duck under it in a heartbeat; point out a black cat and I’ll cross its path in a flash. Inform me that the 13th of November, 2015 falls on a Friday and I’ll yawn till my jaw joint cracks.

So when my dentist asked me to pick a date for repairs on a fractured tooth, I mulled it over for a nanosecond and replied, “How does Friday the 13th work for you?” Works for me.

Apophenia, the interpretation of meaningless phenomena in meaningful ways, seems hard-wired into the human brain. On Oct. 10, 2010 – 10/10/10 – more than 39,000 couples in the United States were wed, nearly 10 times the nuptial number of the comparable day in the previous year. Elvis impersonators hit the jackpot on 11/11/11, when the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel recorded 200 bookings, four times the norm.

I’m no psychologist, but I’ve seen enough of human behavior to take an educated guess about who’s pushing the easy-to-remember anniversary numbers. It’s the grooms.

Some superstitions that seem numeric are actually sonic. Superstitious people in Japan, China, Korea and Vietnam shun the number four, a homophone for the word for death. This influences the assigning of numbers to cell phones, floors in buildings (skipping four, as we in the West sometimes skip 13) and names to streets. If this strikes you as foolish, imagine our Western numbering system containing an exact sonic match for “bloodbath.” How’d you like to live on Bloodbath Boulevard?

What prompts some superstition isn’t numbers or sounds – just wishful thinking. Some folks believe that if they use the same pen when taking a test that they used when studying for the test, the pen will remember the answers, well … the pen is mightier than their gourd.

If I’m wrong about this, if our superstitions correspond to the way things truly work, if the number 13 is truly jinxed, we’re all in deep doo-doo. It means that the cosmos is supervised by a malicious prankster, that the slightest slip-up can trigger tragic consequences, as when the groom who drops the wedding band during the ceremony dooms the marriage. Who knows what other innocent acts ignite icky outcomes? Maybe the cosmic prankster decided to lay a curse on dentists who whistle “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” while performing root canals upside down (which might even qualify as an “original sin"; it’s certainly original).

If you’re superstitious and want to break the habit, go break a mirror. Thumb your nose at the cosmic prankster and track the consequences. Keep a journal – in the case of the mirror, every day for seven years. Or make a dental appointment for Friday the 13th. Dental work: drilling and chiseling on sensitive nerve endings in your mouth. What could possibly go wrong?!

But to the true believer on this inauspicious Friday, November 13, 2015: Relax. Embrace your superstition. Take a deep breath. And never mind that it rhymes with death.