friday_the_13th2This could be a long day for triskaidekaphobics. Then again, having a condition with that many letters is never a good sign. But what is it? Hint. Check the date at the top of this column. Another hint? Some famous triskaidekaphobes include Napoleon, Herbert Hoover, Mark Twain and FDR. (A lousy hint, but an intriguing group.)

Actually, triskaidekaphobia refers to an abnormal fear of the number 13. You see today, if you hadn’t noticed, is Friday the 13th, which causes anxiety and fear in a surprising number of people. If you’re one of those, today you might want to avoid open ladders and wait until tomorrow to hang that living room mirror.

Being at least a little superstitious seems to be a universal human condition. I think it comes from the absolute chaotic human existence, when from one moment to the next we don’t know if the earth will quake or some AR-carrying psycho will snap.

As a child my earliest introduction to superstitions occurred in Santa Monica. I was in the back seat of the family’s 1949 Pontiac as my mother drove my sister and me to the beach. It was on that very drive that my sister also explained that one day, I too, would die. (Thank you, sis — not!)

But, as my sister continued to tell me, if I could hold my breath as we would soon drive past the entire length of Woodlawn Cemetery at 14th and Pico, I could avoid this horrible fate. But, being so young, I didn’t have much lung power and couldn’t hold my breath. (Though I faked it.) It was then I knew I was doomed. My sister, however, managed to hold her breath and, wouldn’t you know, she’s the healthier of the two of us to this day. Go figure.

Speaking of Woodlawn Cemetery, on the Internet it’s described as the “Final resting place of the stars.” In fact, the late actor Glenn Ford, born and raised in Santa Monica, is buried at Woodlawn. (Though he lived to be 90.) So is the late actress Irene Ryan, most famous for playing “Granny” on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Scrolling further, it says that “the actor who played Ingrid Bergman’s husband in ‘Casablanca’ is also buried at Woodlawn.” Paul Henreid was an accomplished actor. I wonder how his family appreciates his being remembered as just the guy who played Bergman’s hubby.

Henreid’s character was Victor Laszlo. At least they could have mentioned that.

Trivia alert: Reportedly, at the time of filming, “Casablanca” was considered by many experts to be a “B” movie with a paltry budget and it was rumored that Bogart, among others, thought it was going to be a total disaster. Don’t you love experts?

Meanwhile, this morning millions will awaken with dread, anxiety and depression. (And not all because of how bad the Lakers are. That’s just my reason.) It’s estimated that Friday the 13th phobia afflicts 17 to 21 million Americans. (Which is approximately the number who think Elvis is alive, though I’m not sure there’s a connection.)

It’s also estimated that in the U.S. on Friday the 13th $800 to $900 million will be lost because people will not fly or do business they would normally do. This is according to Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C.

In case you were wondering (or even if you weren’t) triskaidekaphobia is not a new thing. It comes from the Greek treiskaideka, so that tells you it’s been around for a while. There’s even a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Apparently Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper.

Numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number as in there are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and the aforementioned 12 apostles of Jesus. By exceeding 12 by 1, some suggest that “the number elicits restlessness and fear.”

Again, according to Dossey, many airports skip the 13th gate; hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13 and more than 80 percent of high-rise buildings lack a 13th floor. As it happens, The Shores, where I live, has a 13th floor. In fact, when I first moved in I resided in apartment 1336. (Which, now that I think about it, explains a lot.)

But, if you happen to suffer from triskaidekaphobia, the good news is that we won’t have another Friday the 13th until next June. So, for the rest of the day, all you have to do is be careful not to break any mirrors, stay away from black cats, and don’t walk under any ladders. And, oh yes, if you drive past Woodlawn Cemetery, be sure to hold your breath.


Jack can be reached at, or via E-mail at

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