The way my luck is running, if I were a politician, I would be honest – US comedian Rodney Dangerfield
I only realised what day it was after I’d scanned the paper.
It was Friday the 13th.
It takes all sorts of things to scare people. A child of six would undoubtedly be more terrified of a flu shot than, say, Dracula, while, at his age, Dr Mahathir is beginning to develop a fear of flowers.
For many others, it’s airline travel: the hours of boredom, interrupted by those moments of stark terror. For Pas, the Islamic Party of Malaysia, it is, and always has been, the haunting fear that someone, somewhere in Malaysia, might be having fun.
For the writer Kurt Vonnegut, true terror was “to wake up one morning and to discover that your high school class is running the country.” Meanwhile, George Foreman feared no man “but the dentist.”
Then there are the questions, like this excellent one from Steven Wright: “What happens if you get scared half to death twice?”
But I digress. We were talking about Friday the 13th, weren’t we?
Historians are generally agreed that the apparent ill-luck attributed to the day grew out of the number of people that attended the Last Supper – the thirteenth one to arrive was Judas, the betrayer. The next day – Friday – witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus which makes it something of an eternal irony that it’s revered by Christians as Good Friday.
Over the intervening millennia, the distaste has seeped so thoroughly into Western culture that a word – triskaidekaphobia – had to be invented to describe the human fear of the number. Lest anyone dismiss this as fanciful, one should note that Stephen King, the celebrated writer of horror fiction, suffers the syndrome.
Their numbers aren’t tiny – over 15 million in the US – which is why businesses have had to adapt to cater to this segment of society.
It explains why lifts generally don’t have a 13th floor button, despite having the floor physically. Most hotels don’t have such a floor either while airlines almost never have an aisle marked 13. Similarly, no ship has a 13th deck.
Other reasons, like the naming of future space missions after the 1970 Apollo 13, fall into the “I-told-you-so” category.
Nasa scientists had decided to give the mission after Apollo 12 its rightful number rather than bow to superstition and an otherwise unscientific outlook on space travel. In the event, Apollo 13’s planned moon landing had to be aborted after an oxygen tank blew up.
The mission is still considered a “successful failure” as its crew splashed home, unscathed. But the chastened scientists never used 13 for subsequent launches.
It’s also why we should never underestimate the power of ill-fated accidents occurring in unison. Like these inexplicable events that occurred on a fateful January morning in 2004.
He had to walk under the ladder on which a workman was perched installing his wife’s latest artwork when a black cat languidly crossed his path. Abdullah Badawi flinched before recovering to complete the remaining 13 steps to his door where an aide handed him an open umbrella for the rain outdoors.
At that moment, the mirror in one of the bathrooms upstairs cracked.
It was going to be a momentous day, reflected the premier.
He was due to announce his choice of deputy premier that afternoon.