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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Is 13 Unlucky?

Bounce - one artist's active wish for a child

“Why is there no 13th floor on that building?” my 5-yr-old son asked, his head tilted back. Sure enough, spray-painted on the side of the tall, fancy, under-construction hotel were large, red numbers for each floor level. They skipped from 12 to 14.

“Some people believe 13 is an unlucky number, so some buildings don’t have 13th floors,” I said. “But why?” my boy pressed. Another vexing inquiry from the objective observer.

I’m not superstitious. I’ll swagger under every ladder you put in front of me. Black cats? Love em. Broken mirror. Whatevs …

What I wanted to tell my son was that superstition is the bastard step-child of hope, a force whose power is so great that it compels 21st century, gazillion dollar hotel developers to play prehistoric numerology games. 

Our Magic Houseboat

Our Magic Houseboat

BUT …  there was a time when I too open-mouth kissed superstitious rituals.

In 2006, after three miscarriages in 12-months, my heart and mind were desperately scrambled by the thought that we might be childless forever. In light of our repeated losses, we’d received a handful of special gifts and talismans from intimates eager to sprinkle over us whatever magic dust they could. A makeshift fertility shrine emerged in the kitchen of our Sausalito houseboat: an African fertility statue, a pyrite egg, heart-shaped stones and even little baby sandals.

One morning, in the throes of our emotional recovery, as we both stepped off our gangplank and past the garden I tended, Jodi asked, “Hey, what’s that?” In the potted jade, before two bride/groom figurines, stood a small, grey elephant.

Trunk Up!

“I found it at the end of the dock. He’s protecting us.” I said. Most of you know that elephants are my thing, symbols of fierce loyalty, rough-hewn beauty and ongoing playfulness. The wedding figures I’d quietly placed in the garden months earlier, so I could keep a symbolic eye on the two of us. “I like how you put the trunk up,” said Jodi. “Shows that he means business,” I said, scratching her back with my fingernails.

Silly as playing with these toys may now seem, desperation takes us to funny places. I was ready to kneel before whatever spirit might intervene on the most critical journey of my life.

In fact, the painting above is one of a series designed solely and exclusively to bring a child. It features balls of joy falling from heaven into the pathways of our lives.


You know how this story ends … very happily … with a beautiful, healthy 5-yr-old asking me why there is no 13th floor.

Did our actions manifest our child? I try to avoid question that have no answers. At the end of the day, I believe life is one big string of random events. But there is comfort in believing we are doing SOMETHING to tip the scales in our favor. Perception is most certainly reality. There’s a valuable saying in New Orleans, “DON’T MESS WITH THE VOODOO.” I guess a little magic never hurt anyone.

Here’s to an epic, fruitful and supernatural year for us all. FINGERS CROSSED!

Are you superstitious? Please tell me about your own magical experience or rituals that enhance your well-being.

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