Trouble Comes In Threes and Other Outdoor Superstitions by Nathan Cartwright
I have often laughed off the superstitions of the gullible, such as avoiding crossing the paths of black cats and taking special care not to break a mirror for fear of seven years of bad luck, but after thinking about it a bit, I suppose at least some of these so-called superstitions may be grounded in common sense.
I used to scorn that it was bad luck to walk under ladders, and even decided to test the theory one day while helping my brother, Bubba, who was adding a room onto his house. Unfortunately, Bubba chose that particular moment to strike his thumb with the hammer he was holding. To this day I am amazed that, totally by coincidence, at the exact moment I stepped under the ladder he happened to smash his thumbnail into a blue pulp. Talk about blind chance. He even had the nerve to later suggest that I actually bumped the ladder while passing under it, just as he was putting the finishing strike on an obstinate nail. I have long suspected that the hammer was traveling just a bit faster than the normal laws of gravity would explain when it struck me on the head, but Bubba claims he just dropped it. However, as you can clearly see from this incident, it is absolutely ridiculous to let silly superstitions control the actions of your life. I am proud to say that, especially after incidents like this, I avoid superstitions when at all possible.
Most sociologists will tell you that superstitions are grounded in our ancient, primitive fears and instincts for survival. For example, a primitive hunter-gatherer, Throg (the ancient meaning of this name is thought to mean ‘he-who-doesn’t-wait-long-enough’), may have once crossed the path of a large, black panther, only to have it turn around and spot him. The subsequent experience and physical condition of Throg as he pantomimed the story to his tribe would then have instilled a fear of crossing black cat’s paths into modern man to this very day. It is an interesting theory, but I’m not sure I buy it. After all, in this day and age we all ought to be rational human beings. I have to laugh when I hear about people who let these fears rule their lives. If they would just avoid black cats and ladders altogether like I do, there wouldn’t be a problem.
There is a whole host of superstitions out there, but the one that used to get me the most was that ‘trouble comes in threes’. I thought that had to be one of the silliest ones of all, mainly coming from paranoid statisticians who had too much time on their hands. Surprisingly, this particular theory seems grounded to an amazingly strong degree into many people’s psyche. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that if they think back long enough after something bad happens to them, there will always be two other bad things that happened to them sometime in the past. My friend Bob and I were discussing this one-day at the local sandwich shop, and he claimed that the point is that the trouble usually comes in groups of three, spaced relatively close together. I started to laugh at his naïve ponderings, but then my thought turned to the last fishing experience I had gone on with my dad. We had gone on a fishing trip into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas, a real, old-fashioned, father-son get-together. My brain reluctantly began to open doors onto memories that it had kept closed, locked, and barred up until my discussion with Bob.
The trip started out rather well. My dad had just gotten a new boat and was dying to try it out. According to him, his other two boats just weren’t cut out for a gulf-coastal trip so he had found a great deal on a used boat just perfect for this trip. It had a decently powered engine and a nice shallow draft for the little bay canals we would be traveling through. He already had it hooked up to his truck when I got to his house and seemed eager to get on the road. For some reason he didn’t even think I should take the time to go in and say hi to mom, something about a nervous condition she was having lately. (I later discovered that this condition started just shortly after she discovered my dad had bought his third boat. Just the silly sort of coincidence that can start up these crazy superstitions.)
The trip itself down to the coast was pretty uneventful, but once we got the boat in the water things started to get interesting. It seemed that the draft of the boat was not that shallow after all. To be more precise, the prop extended into the water about a foot below the actual bottom of the boat, and seemed to be fond of sandbars. Following several hours of my leaping about in waist deep bay-water pushing on the boat while my dad alternately shouted directions and gunned the engine at random intervals, we worked up quite an appetite and decided to give the fishing a break and eat lunch. We had noticed a boat-dock on a deserted shoreline about a quarter-mile away and thought it would be a good place to tie up while we ate, and managed to reach it in less than two hours and four sandbars later.
Dad was starting to get irritated with all the shouting he was having to do to get us unstuck and so was understandably a bit gruff when he ordered me to jump onto the dock to secure the rope tied to the front of the boat. Spurred on by his irritated demeanor, I leapt with alacrity onto the dock, only to discover with alarm that the dock’s designer had either run out of nails at this section or they had rusted away. The end of the two-by-eight plank on which I landed pivoted on the front of the dock’s crossbeam with a perfect see-saw effect, causing me to fall forward and experience first hand Lew’s first law of angling catastrophes. (For the uneducated, Lew was a scientific fisherman and philosopher of the late twentieth-century. He discovered several interesting things in his quest for knowledge, including the law that states that if you jump onto one end of a boat-dock plank that is not nailed down, that the other end will rise up at five-times the speed of light and transform your nose into a collection of subatomic particles resembling a squashed sausage.)
When I awoke and was done bleeding, my dad solicitously helped me back into the boat, having decided it would perhaps be best if we ate our lunch in the boat itself rather than on the dock, as originally planned. My mother had prepared a nice lunch of thick roast-beef sandwiches, but unfortunately I could not enjoy them as much as anticipated due to the fact I could not breath through my nose. Not only did this remove my sense of smell, but required me to periodically stop chewing and suck in great lungfulls of air in order to breath. It was on one such attempt to eat and breath at the same time that the eating and breathing got a bit confused and a rather large chunk of roast-beef got sucked into my trachea, thus ending the whole breathing issue all-together.
I faintly remember something I had read in the past regarding how important it was to remain calm while choking, and immediately began to suspect that the fellow who wrote that had never actually been choked, something I hoped to remedy should I ever meet him. I proceeded from these brief but pleasant thoughts into a regimen of jumping into the air repeatedly with the happy result that the chunk of roast beef dislodged, and accompanied by some of his fellows, took residence partly on my father, and partly on his boat. It was at this point that my dad began to put forth the idea that he had been having a rather bad day and that perhaps it was time to go home, but I remained adamant in my hope of actually getting a baited hook into the water before giving up on the expedition. We traveled a good twenty yards before hitting a sandbar, at which point I expressed the opinion that perhaps this would be a good place to fish.
It was good to finally get my line in the water, but after the fifth time of seeing my cork go under only to have my shrimp stolen from the hook, I began to get a little frustrated. I decided the next one would not get away, no matter how small, and the moment my cork bobbed under I yanked with all my strength, hoping to at least hook the little fish that was stealing my bait.
My pole bent double under the sudden strain of my powerful surge of strength, and at the last second, the sea released my cork and tackle from its suction-like grip. Then the rod straightened. It was at this point that Lew’s second law came into effect, which states that if you yank hard enough on a fishing pole with a four-ounce lead weight, the weight will spring from the water at five times light speed and hit you in the left eye, thus making one pupil permanently larger than the other.
The rest of the trip, including over-water travel in the utter darkness of a cloudy night searching for a lost boat-ramp, does not really bear repeating. Coming back out of these recollections, I turned to Bob to say that I still thought the ‘trouble comes in threes’ superstition was silly, but when he asked me why my nose was crooked and one pupil was bigger than the other, I put my roast-beef sandwich down and decided to head home. There is just no reasoning with some people.