Aug. 13, 2010

Death of a Window Washer

by X. J. Kennedy

He dropped the way you'd slam an obstinate sash,
His split belt like a shade unrolling, flapping.
Forgotten on his account, the mindless copying
Machine ran scores of memos no one wanted.
Heads stared from every floor, noon traffic halted
As though transformed to stone. Cops sealed the block
With sawhorse barricades, laid canvas cover.
Nuns crossed themselves, flies went on being alive,
A broker counted ten shares sold as five,
And by coincidence a digital clock
Stopped in front of a second it couldn't leap over.

Struck wordless by his tumble from the sky
To their feet, two lovers held fast to each other
Uttering cries. But he had made no cry.
He'd made the city pause briefly to suffer
His taking ample room for once. In rather
A tedious while the rinsed street, left to dry,
Unlatched its gates that passerby might pass.
Why did he live and die? His legacy
Is mute: one final gleaming pane of glass.

"Death of a Window Washer" by X.J. Kennedy, from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, 1955-2007. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Friday the 13th. Twenty million Americans are feeling unlucky today — people who suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia. It's a 99-year-old word made up of a combination of the Norse and Greek roots words for "fear" and "Friday" and "13."

Folklorists say that the phobia itself is a combination of two separate superstition-induced phobias — 13 is unlucky in much of folklore and so is Friday. Whenever the first day of a month is a Sunday, there's going to be a Friday the 13th that month.

The number 13 has been unlucky for a long time. Numerologists point out that 12 is a complete number in Judeo-Christian culture: There are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a standard clock, 12 Apostles, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 days of Christmas, 12 eggs in a dozen, and so on. There's something unsettling, even repugnant, about going just a bit "beyond completeness" — that's how academic folklorists rationalize the superstition, at least. The vast majority of skyscrapers have no 13th floor, and room number 13 is missing from many modern hotels as well.

As for Friday, it's unlucky in a handful of ancient cultures. In Christianity, it's the day of Jesus' crucifixion.

There have been 12 films in the Friday the 13th series. The 13th is due out on Friday the 13th of July in 2012.

There are always the traditional folk remedies to ward off bad luck today: burning any socks with holes in them, or eating some gristle while standing on your head, or climbing to a mountaintop. And here's the good news: There's only one Friday the 13th this year and one next year. Some years can have up to three of them.

Today is International Left-hander's Day, a day in which left-hander advocacy groups remind you that left-handed scissors, school desks, and computer mice are nonexistent in many places and hard to come by in others. The holiday was first celebrated on this day in 1976, started by Left-hander's International, with the guiding mantra, "Lefties have rights."

The group also puts out bulletins with information like this: "Did You Know? Right-handed people operate in the left side of the brain. Left-handed people use their right side. Therefore, only left-handed people are in their right mind."

Between 10 and 15 percent of the world's population is left-handed. While we don't really know why a fraction of the world is left-handed, we do know that it is genetic. Scientists have recently discovered what they think is the gene that allows a parent the possibility of procreating a left-handed child.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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