Living in Boston, I am surrounded by devoted fans of the Red Sox and Patriots. I don’t really follow sports, and I am always caught by surprise when I see lots of people wearing sweatshirts with the Patriots logo or Red Sox t-shirt. It then soon dawns on me that there must be an important game that day, which I would have known if I followed the teams.
What most often surprises me is just how fanatical many people are. On game days, my Twitter and Facebook feeds becomes jammed with endless posts about the minutia of the game. People are acting as though everything in their lives hang on how a random group of a dozen guys perform in a sporting match. I don’t really understand it.
One thing I do get, however, are the superstitions. People tell crazy stories about how they are convinced that some silly thing they do is affecting the outcome of the game, and then they go out of their way to do (or not do) this special act to ensure more wins for their team. Things like, “Every time I wear my white Red Sox shirt, they win, so I am going to wear it every game day.”
I get it. I’m very superstitious myself, with good reason.
Anyone who has worked with computers or supported production systems knows what little devils they can be. Programs that worked fine will suddenly start showing freak bugs. Application servers will mysteriously lock up in a way you have never seen, causing an outage. It’s like the computers are just saying to themselves, “Let’s find some creative way to rile everybody up today.”
Just like sports fans who somehow think their small decisions affect the outcome of the games, I get the same feeling sometimes. In particular, I get really worried about jinxing things by what I say. The following terms are on my list to never say out loud, because you are just asking for trouble:
- I think that we are out of the woods now.
- That must have been what caused the bug.
- What are the odds of ___?
- It’s fixed.
Unfortunately, I know that my superstitious nature makes me do some weird things sometimes. Like this past weekend’s incident with the filing envelope.
Each year, I buy a 13-pocket folder from Staples. I assign each pocket a category: bank statements, credit card bills, utility bills, etc. During the year, I put all the bills into the appropriate folder. This way, when I want to refer back to something, I know just where to find it. Then, when the year is over, I stick it in the crawl space in the attic where my wife agrees we can keep useless stuff like this (in other words, out of sight). Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder.
I like the folder, so I always buy the same one at Staples. It’s blue, it has customizable tabs, and the bottom expands so that it can accommodate lots and lots of documents. One year, they did not have it in blue, so I bought it in red. But in general, I get the blue one.
New Year’s is just around the corner, so it’s time for me to buy a new one for 2015. This past weekend, I stopped in at a Staples to buy it. I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find it. They had various types of folders, but not my color, and not with the expanding bottom.
Then, I noticed that another woman next to me looking at the pocket folders had a shopping basket, and right on top was the very blue 13 pocket folder I was looking for. I asked her where she found it, and she pointed down to a bottom shelf. The folder wasn’t there, but when I moved another product out of the way, I found my style hiding behind it.
There were two left. One in red. One in yellow. None in blue.
I was in a quandary. Should I buy it in the wrong color? Should I search elsewhere?
Now my full superstitious side came out. What would happen if I didn’t have a blue one? One year I bought a red one. Was that a good year? What if it was a bad year, all because I bought the wrong color?
And what about the woman buying the blue one? Did she need a blue one, or was that just the first color she picked up? I even thought about asking her if she would mind trading colors and letting me have the blue one, but I recognized how ridiculous this sounded.
Finally, I grabbed the red one, paid for it, and left.
But even so, it nagged at me. Enough that the next day, on my way to work, I stopped in at a different Staples to see if they had blue ones. Sure enough they did, so I exchanged it.
I am the first to admit that this behavior is ridiculous. I love science, and I love mathematics. I try to be pragmatic and think about the likelihood of various outcomes when I make plans. So why do I feel that my filing folder must be a specific blue model from Staples?
I have no idea. But, fortunately I live in Boston, the heart of Red Sox Nation. I am surrounded by superstitious people. I may not be able to convince myself that my quality of life hangs on the outcome of a ball game, but these are still my people.