Monday, August 25, 2008

On Bananas

“…so it's easier for me to cut the stupid banana."

Woody Allen

HANK: Did you read the article in Newsweek? It’s haunting me. Woody Allen (and we can pick cinema favorites later) says he cuts his banana into exactly seven slices each morning. According to Newsweek:

‘Six slices, or eight, and something bad might happen. "I know it would be total coincidence if I didn't slice it into seven pieces, and my family were killed in a fire," he says. "I understand that there could be no correlation, but, you know, the guilt would be too much for me to bear, so it's easier for me to cut the stupid banana." ‘

Here’s Woody Allen, okay, notoriously neurotic and sometimes a little creepy but certainly talented and inarguably successful, who relies on banana-cutting to make himself feel in control.
Silly stuff first. This means there has to be a banana every morning, which in our house would be problematic. Did you get the bananas yesterday, honey? Either of us might say it. And it’s just as likely that the answer would be “no.’

But banana requirement aside. Let’s talk about superstitions.

Oh, yes, I have them. But (and I’ll somewhat afraid to bring this up because it might jinx everything) it trying to catalogue them today, I’m discovering that I have fewer than I used to. What does that mean? Would I walk under a ladder? Huh. Probably. It would cross my mind, I admit. Put shoes on a table? Yeah, if there was a reason to. Step on a crack? Do it all the time. And I have a beautiful glazed black papier-mâché raven in my living room.

My darling step-father, gruff and hard-nosed, corporate lawyer and all that entailed, would have told you he was absolutely not superstitious, that such things were idiotic. But try putting a hat on a bed. He’d whisk it off, appalled. “I thought you weren’t superstitious,” I remember, so clearly, how perplexed I was. “I’m not,” he insisted. You just don’t put hats on beds.”

Okay. I do throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it. And I have two little carved rocks on my desk, one says ‘patience’ and one says ‘imagine’. And I recognize them every morning before I start writing. But is that superstition? I don’t think something bad will happen if I don’t look at them. But why find out? I could write if they weren’t there. And I sure don’t have to cut my banana, if I had one, in exactly seven slices.

Do you have superstitions? And why?

(And oh, my faves are Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Bananas? Hmm, now that one has hidden meaning.)

JAN: The worst superstition I had -- and I'm told this is an Irish thing -- is that I used to believe that worrying about something prevented it from happening. Conversely, if I didn't worry about something, and it happened, it was my fault for not worrying. This superstition is not good for cortisol levels -- especially when you have children. Not to mention when your husband has a small plane (gone now, thank god) Luckily, I went to see a cognitive behavioral therapist about five years ago in my ongoing battle with my plane phobia. He was Jewish, not Irish, and had an effective way of poking fun at my thinking. He didn't completely cure the plane phobia (that came later, another therapy, another story) but he did an amazing job of getting under the hood of my car/brain and fixing the faulty wiring. The biggest wiring problem was this particular superstition.

I also have a pair of tiny gold guardian angel earrings that the kids bought me for Mother's Day when they were still little. I believe these are good luck and still wear these whenever I fly or play a tennis match.

HALLIE: Can you even imagine living with a man who has to cut his banana into exactly seven slices each morning? Two-year-olds have fixations like that (Mommy...cut the bread in TRIangles). No wonder he and Mia never shared an apartment.

The one thing I do is knock wood whenever I take pride in my beautiful (knock) smart (knock) daughters' accomplishments...or my own (knock, knock). It's like the Jewish expression that my grandmother used, Kineahora, and then she'd spit to distract the evil eye.

I also imagine the worst most terrible scenario (baby born dead...with two heads...) that could possible happen. That way I can't be disappointed. Is that being superstitious? I think psychologists would say it's being "well defended." Fer sher.

HANK: But it's universal, isn't it maybe, the search for control?

Hallie, you knock wood (and I do, too, okay, I admit) almost as a motion of gratitude, you know? A recognition that something, whatever, has more power than we do and tht anything could change at any momoent. (Rosemary is off at Glacier National park, one of my favorite spots, a place where the sense of something like that is incredible and immense.)

Jan, did the therapist call worry a superstition? Interesting.

We wouldn't think Woody was weird if he couldn't go to work in in the morning without meditating. If he said: every Monday, I simply have to meditate for fifteen minutes. That would be--a coping strategy for an unpredictable world.

And yet, if he said the reason he did that was to prevent his house from burning down, then we'd think: whacked.

Why do we feel that if the universe is keeping score on us somehow? Oops, Hank didn't throw salt. That's a minus. But she said rabbit-rabbit on the first of the month? A plus.
How about you all? Step on a crack, anyone? Cross fingers, it won't matter.


  1. Never open an umbrella in the house. This was supposed to bring bad luck. (But how do you dry the thing, otherwise? If you don't dry it, you could get a killer mold growing in there.)

    Yes, I still knock on or touch wood--which gets harder and harder to do in this synthetic world.

  2. Yes, Sheila, that's a dilemma. I think the umbrella defense is that you don't put it over your head. Open is okay.

    I've actually said: touch Formica. And I think that's okay, It's the principle of the thing.

  3. Hey Hank,
    Worrying isn't a superstition. But worrying as a strategy, so SOMETHING BAD doesn't happen -- that's a superstition.

  4. The Scots say 'name the thing you would claim' [would have happen], and I do that quite a bit.

    Like this: "Cooler temperatures by the second week of September."

    Or ... "Earn out and then some."


  5. Okay, I didn't think I was supersitious until I read Hallie's bit and now I think, okay...maybe. My grandmother didn't do the Kineahora or spit, but she did minimize many of the good things in her life (until the great-grandchildren came; then it was just too impossible for her not to adore them out loud!). And I do exactly that, Hallie, figure the worst is going to happen, because then I'm rarely disappointed. Or so it goes in my mind. I think pessimists may actually be the happier people!

  6. HA! Absolutely, Becky. Pessimists are definitely happier. Grateful for every scrap of good luck that somes our way. Revelling in every happy moment because the winds could shift...

  7. Susannah,
    I do that in tennis, tell myself the score I want it to be. And it is oddly effective. I never thought about applying it to real life.
    But I'm definitely going to try it!

  8. Hey Jan -- interesting that it works in tennis.

    I'm absolutely AWFUL at tennis, so I wonder if I named it and claimed it if I would ever actually win a point?

    Speaking of points, that's another Scots thing I do. You cut off the pie point when you get a triangular piece of pie (as opposed to a square cut of some meat pie or something), and you scoot the point to the back of the slice, eating the point last and making a wish on it.

    Here in the US, this does draw comment from some waiters. Ma'am, does it not taste good? They don't understand the marginalized pie point and worry over it.

    I try to explain that's the part with the wish in it, but that only makes them back.away.slowly.

    I used to not say 'MacBeth" in a theatre, of course, did the whole 'Scottish play' sidestep, but now I say it liberally in all contexts, just to make the theatre people twitch. MacBeth,I'll say. MacBeth. But just in case they want it, I'm glad to leave, spit, turn around three times and say 'pisspot' -- as Albert Finney did in The Dresser before knocking to come back in.

    Actually, it's just a good excuse to say pisspot.

  9. susannah,
    I once worked with a woman who told me her fantasy was to order an entire pizza for herself and only eat the tips of the slices.

    And I don't even think she was Scottish.

    I made a decent amount of pies during a year -- and I'm now going to get some wishes out of it!