Scary money

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Dana D. Kel­ley Dana D. Kel­ley is a free­lance writer from Jones­boro.

To­day is Fri­day the 13th, which is a date of some nu­mero­log­i­cal and su­per­sti­tious no­to­ri­ety. This year has fea­tured two Fri­day the 13ths (the other was in Jan­uary), and while any cal­en­dar year in­cludes at least one, no year can ever have more than three. The last solo year was 2016, and the next will be 2021.

Any year that be­gins on a Sun­day will have a re­peat of this year’s Jan­uary-Oc­to­ber Fri­day the 13ths; the next oc­cur­rence will be in 2023.

When it oc­curs in Oc­to­ber it’s dou­bly fright­ful—All Hal­low’s Eve date is 13 back­wards.

Why the num­ber 13 is con­sid­ered omi­nous and un­lucky is a mys­tery. At least part of the ex­pla­na­tion lies in its leg­endary as­so­ci­a­tion with mis­for­tune as re­lated in The Last Sup­per and Norse mythol­ogy.

As the nat­u­ral num­ber fol­low­ing 12, it also con­sti­tutes a con­trast and break with the com­plete­ness nu­merol­o­gists as­cribe to a dozen: there are 12 cal­en­dar months, 12 Zo­diac signs, 12 Her­culean labors, 12 Olympian gods, 12 Is­raeli tribes, 12 Chris­tian apos­tles, 12 clock hours and (as will be sung be­fore long) 12 days of Christ­mas.

What­ever the rea­son, triskaideka­pho­bia—fear of the num­ber 13—has had sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions in Amer­ica.

Even huge in­fra­struc­ture projects re­flect in­tel­li­gent peo­ple’s pho­bic avoid­ance the num­ber. The ma­jor­ity of high-rise build­ings in the U.S. skip the 13th floor, ac­cord­ing to the Stress Man­age­ment and Pho­bia In­sti­tute. Many ho­tels and hospi­tals shy away from of­fer­ing a Room 13. Air­ports rou­tinely omit a Gate 13.

Matched with Fri­day, the re­sult­ing un­lucky date of­ten thwarts travel, deals, con­trac­tual clos­ings and other ac­tiv­i­ties for mil­lions of peo­ple. The price tag for all the fore­bod­ing of Fri­day the 13th? The Pho­bia In­sti­tute es­ti­mates as much as $800 mil­lion to $900 mil­lion will be lost to­day be­cause peo­ple won’t fly or do busi­ness as they nor­mally do.

On the flip side of triskaideka­pho­bia, how­ever, is a steadily grow­ing Hal­loween ma­nia among Amer­i­can con­sumers. Spook­i­ness is more fun than scary these days, and the crys­tal ball fore­tells record-break­ing num­bers for this year’s Hal­loween hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions and rit­u­als.

For starters, more Amer­i­cans than ever—179 mil­lion—plan to cel­e­brate this year, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual re­search study spon­sored by the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion (NRF).

To­tal Hal­loween spend­ing will be a record high $9.1 bil­lion, which is 8.3 per­cent higher than last year and al­most dou­ble what it was a short decade ago. The largest per­cent­age of that, more than $3.4 bil­lion, will go to cos­tumes, which nowa­days are worn by adults and chil­dren alike.

The NRF prog­nos­ti­ca­tors pick su­per­hero cos­tumes to be the fa­vorite this year, but I dis­pute that. My dark-horse pre­dic­tion is there may be as many Don­ald Trumps as Bat­mans among Hal­loween par­ty­go­ers and neigh­bor­hood trick-or-treaters.

The re­main­der of boo bucks will be spent on dec­o­ra­tions and con­fec­tions. From sim­ple wreaths to elab­o­rate over­sized dis­plays, some $2.7 bil­lion will be spent on pump­kins, caul­drons, skele­tons, ghosts, tomb­stones and other para­pher­na­lia per­tain­ing to all things eerie that might go bump in the night. The candy tab for sup­ply­ing trick-or-treaters av­er­ages only about $25 per house­hold, but mul­ti­plied out across the vast, dis­guised horde of kids on the prowl for sweets, that adds up to an­other $2.7 bil­lion of so in spend­ing.

For­tu­nately, there are still some won­der­ful free­bies you can en­joy as part of Hal­loween.

Au­dio­book ver­sions of clas­sic hor­ror tales such as Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula or Mary Shel­ley’s Franken­stein are avail­able at no charge since those works are in the pub­lic do­main. You can down­load them and lis­ten on your smart­phone us­ing ear­buds or a Blue­tooth con­nec­tion in your car.

Every year about this time, I start lis­ten­ing to the Lib­riVox record­ing of Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing’s “The Leg­end of Sleepy Hol­low.”

On free au­dio­books, a crit­i­cal qual­ity fac­tor is the reader’s skill and tal­ent. This ver­sion was recorded in 2006 by “Chip in Tampa, Fla.,” and his voice, ca­dence and di­alect couldn’t have been hand-picked any bet­ter.

It sounds as if Irv­ing him­self is re­lat­ing the story around a cozy fire­side.

Chip’s tone has a mes­mer­iz­ing qual­ity when de­scrib­ing Tar­ry­town and the nearby coun­try­side; a play­ful tim­bre when de­pict­ing Ich­a­bod’s in­fat­u­a­tion with Ka­t­rina Van Tas­sel (and her wealth) and Brom Bones’ jeal­ousies; and a haunt­ing somber­ness when re­count­ing Ich­a­bod’s cli­mac­tic en­counter with the head­less horse­man.

In the mo­ments just prior, while rid­ing home in the au­tumn dark­ness, ev­ery­where Ich­a­bod turns he sees and hears ter­ri­fy­ing things. Sud­denly his horse stops and he is jolted to acute at­ten­tion.

“Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sen­si­tive ear of Ich­a­bod,” Chip purrs as he enun­ci­ates each of Irv­ing’s splen­did ad­jec­tives.

“In the dark shadow of the grove, on the mar­gin of the brook, he be­held some­thing … huge … mis­shapen … and tow­er­ing.” Chip’s pauses sim­u­late heart­beats skip­ping.

“It stirred not, but seemed gath­ered up by the gloom, like some gi­gan­tic mon­ster ready to spring upon the trav­eller.”

The next mo­ments, us­ing only words and no sur­round sound or spe­cial ef­fects, re­call the power of sheer lan­guage to in­voke im­mense sus­pense. Lis­ten for your­self. I can’t rec­om­mend a bet­ter Hal­loween treat.

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