Knock on Wood: Stupid Superstition


IMG_2615  Scott Todnem
“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” – Groucho Marx

I’ve always been superstitious. Not the kind of superstitious where I truly believe horrible things will come my way if I don’t perform a certain task, but superstitious in the sense that… well… it’s kind of fun.

I mean, that’s sort of it, right? It’s all just for fun.

Many of our superstitions are negative, though, aren’t they?
Don’t open that umbrella inside. Don’t step on that crack in the sidewalk. Don’t walk under that ladder… don’t break a mirror… don’t spill the salt… don’t put shoes on the table…”

And hundreds of other innocent acts.

I’m more interested in the positive superstitions that are out there. For instance, find a penny, pick it up… or, star light, star bright… or even something as simple as fingers crossed!

Good vibes, you know?

In having these fun and harmless acts that purportedly bring us good luck, the positive superstitions simply give life some shine. Sure, it’s a tad ritualistic and unnecessary, but in the end, are people being harmed? If not, then have at it.

Growing up I had little tendencies and things that I liked to do for good luck. Particularly before big days at school or important games in whatever sport I was in for the season. Looking back now they are mostly laughable, some even downright obsessive-compulsive. Like when I’d have to play a song on the piano before Little League baseball. Or when I’d leave the strings of my shorts hanging out during high school basketball. Or, most recently, when I needed my favorite pen while coaching track meets. Yes, these are actually just routines and habits more than superstitions. Nonetheless, I like the feeling of creating good luck.

Some people find religion to fit this mental and emotional need for positivity. For me, superstitions do the trick just fine.

I don’t think spines will explode if I step on a crack. I don’t think years will be ruined if I break a mirror. And I don’t really think it was me who made it all happen because of the way I sat and watched a World Series game— but it’s fun anyway, right?

• • •

Prior to teaching, I had a bunch of odd jobs throughout life. Paper route, golf caddy, custodial work, pizza delivery, computer lab, lifeguard… just to name a few.

On a muggy summer day in 2001, I was stuck painting curbs for the local park district. Bright yellow, by hand, with nothing but a roller brush. The temporary position was more like a bunch of random jobs around the town parks; on this particular day I needed to designate the No Parking areas at the swimming pool. I also needed to paint the speed bumps at the park entrance.

It was all, literally, a pain in the ass— hunch, paint, stand, shuffle, repeat.

The old paint was chipping off from the concrete and would get stuck on the roller brush with each pass. I had to pick off the flecks of… what should we call them… freshly painted paint chips, and toss them to the side. Bare handed. No, I didn’t think to bring gloves.

I spilled paint here and there, which, at one point, gave me the idea to just pour directly from the can and mush the paint around with roller. Seemed smart, until it all started running down the sides of the speed bump onto the road. I’d chase after the yellow streams with a rag, jumping from spot to spot like a dog at a rainy window.

That was me, 22-years-old, trying to figure out what to do in life. Running around, unprepared, making a mess, and trying to paint over the speed bumps. The analogies are blaring.

On one speed bump, zoning out while listening to something on my newly-yellow headphones, a vibration shot up my already aching leg. My cell phone. It was ringing. Mind you, I didn’t get a cell phone until that very year, and, if memory serves, it was a brand new Nokia flip phone. Obviously. At the time I found it a bother to carry around.

I begrudgingly fished the phone out of my pocket, but simultaneously managed to tug at the string of my over-sized mesh shorts, immediately untying the front, dropping the waist below my butt. Instead of dropping the roller, I only had time to pin the shorts against my leg in a painted smoosh while I jumping-jacked my feet apart to stop gravity from doing its untimely job.

Strings out. For good luck.

I looked around for spectators. None. I huffed and finally zoned in on the phone.

The unknown number changed my tune. My stomach fluttered. I knew that it wouldn’t be a sales call, not on a cell phone. Not in 2001. I had interviewed for a couple teaching positions that summer, and had been called back for a few more meetings as well. But no offers. This call could be good, or it could be bad.

“Fingers crossed,” I thought.

Quickly, I pressed a yellow fingerprint onto my flip screen and popped it open. In my most professional of voices, I said, “Hello? This is Scooter.”


I had been working summer camps with kids for too long. The counselors always made goofy nicknames. Nervous mistake, I suppose— the damn shorts threw me off.

“Stupid superstition.”

I tried again. “This is Scott,” I said. Correctly.

Indeed, on the other end was the principal of a new middle school opening up, and not too far away either. I was offered a job over the phone. And I took it.

Score one for Scooter.

Now I don’t want to say it was good luck, but it was certainly fortunate. Education, social skills, and connections all play a part in life events. This was no different. I was eager to begin.

Although nervous before starting in the teaching field, I figured I’d learn. My previous work with young people gave me confidence, and all the odd jobs growing up provided some life experience and worldliness— what I’d need to handle the culture shock that is becoming a middle school educator.

A month later I started up, and have been teaching there ever since.

We will have to see what the future brings for career path and other life choices, but I’m thankful for where this has all taken me since the phone call that caught me yellow-handed in a parking lot with my pants down.

Knock on wood that I continue to have such luck.


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