Thursday, May 14, 2009


I was recently reflecting on the number of little rituals sprinkled throughout my life. Somewhere between superstitions and obsessive-compulsive traits, these behaviors are recurrent responses to particular situations.

Rabbit, Rabbit -- At the first day of each month, the first person to say "rabbit, rabbit" wins. A quick web search reveals that this statement (along with numerous variations) is widespread.

Passing under a train -- Whenever I am passing underneath a moving train I cross my fingers and touch the roof of the car. Failure to do so is inconceivable. MARTA and other rapid transit trains don't count for some reason. Apparently this is also a fairly well-established custom, although I don't remember where I picked this up.

Jinx, you owe me a Coke -- Whenever two people simultaneously say the same word it is lucky to be the first person to say, "Jinx, you owe me a Coke". The recipient is then allowed to retort, "The drink machine is out of order, please insert another quarter". Again, the first is apparently a ritual of long-standing duration although I don't see any corroboration of the response.

Needles, pins
-- I also remember a variation of the above from childhood in which the two people who said the same word at the same time would hook little fingers and pull them back and forth while chanting:

Needles, pins.
Roosters, hens.
What goes up the chimney?
What goes down the chimney?
Santa Claus
I don't remember anything after that.

There was also a ritual from childhood I remember about twisting the stem off an apple while reciting the alphabet until the stem came off. The letter signified the first name of the person you supposedly love.

Apple core -- And then there's the old ritual that happened when eating an apple. You would yell "Apple core!" The other person would then reply "Baltimore". You ask "Who's your friend?" The other person would name a third person and you would throw the apple core at them. This apparently goes way back: I found an old Donald Duck cartoon with this exchange taking place (fast forward to the 3:02 mark.)

Punch buggy
- This well-established game takes place in a car when you spot a Volkswagen of a certain color. You cry out "Yellow punch buggy!" and hit the person next to you on the arm, adding "No punch backs!" so they couldn't hit you back until they saw a Volkswagen of another color. This game continues until you run out of colors or your mom tells you to stop.

Chicken butt -- If you ask a person "Guess What?" and they answer "What?", then you get to say "Chicken butt!" and laugh uproariously. This can happen any time, any place, and is usually successful when asked in a serious tone while the other person is absolutely unprepared for it to happen, such as at a grocery store or church. Apparently this routine occurred in the movies "Uncle Buck" and "Suburbia".

And, by the way, my entire family has "Guess What" Chicken Butt!" t-shirts.

Movie title -- The idea here is to applaud whenever a movie character says the title of the film. The exact title has to be spoken; it's not sufficient to hear "so, will the slumdog become a millionaire?" My family has been doing this for years and I don't know how it originated, although a quick search reveals that Penn Jillette used to do the same thing, and joked that when the words "Malcolm X has been shot" it was the "quietest applause you've ever heard."

The following rituals are more personal to me, with no similarity to any cultural archetypes:

Multiples of 5 -- I have been doing this since I was an early adolescent, although not as frequently now as in years past. The idea is to count the number of words in a sentence, then count the number of syllables. If the answer equals a multiple of 5 I feel very satisfied. For example, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" is a good sentence because it has 9 words and 11 syllables, which equals 20, a multiple of 5.

Other number rituals
(a) 13 -- Many staircases in office buildings have 13 steps, then a 180 turn and another 13 steps. I generally count "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, AND 12."

(b) 666 -- From the Book of Revelations, this is supposed to be represent Satan or some such hooey (although in some translations it is apparently 616). I will tend to steer away from this number when possible. I recently bought some maple syrup and one brand was something like $6.66 an ounce while its competitor was $7.59. I bought the higher price brand.
Radio rituals -- I have two rituals involving the radio:
(a) I like to change stations right at the end of a sentence rather than in the middle. This can be a difficult achievement with some commercials that speak very fast.
(b) If a song on the car radio ends just as I reach my destination (ideally to the exact point of putting the car in 'Park"), then that is an extremely auspicious sign worthy of great happiness.
Other than the clock reading 12:34 which I've already written about, those are the only ones I can think of right at the moment.

Guess what?


Angela said...

funny, Bill. passing under a train is my biggest weird fear. Marc thinks its so cute when I cringe down in my seat. you can imagine what living in Ohio was like.

Angela said...

forgot to say chicken butt. we do that too. and punch buggy (although we say slug bug). and "you owe me a coke"

in our family the time 11:11 has a ritual. If we ever see it, Marc and I say "I love you." If anything happens at that time, the boys get big eyes and say "wow. that was lucky"

Hophead said...

My mom taught me to say, "Rabbit, rabbit," on the first day of the month. Supposedly it guaranteed good luck for the entire month. It has to be said upon wakening on the first of the month, and it must be the first words uttered. If you say something else beforehand, it doesn't work.

Passing under a moving train is a fortuitous circumstance (again according to my mom) because you are granted an opportunity to make a wish. Of course you can not tell anyone what the wish was you made. I have found out recently that this actually works. Sometimes.

Other than that, you have WAY more rituals than I!

Anonymous said...

My daughter says no punchbacks but I punch her anyway which makes her complain bitterly which has become part of our version of the game.

And "chicken butt" is my response to the kids asking
"Guess what?"