Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


Hominy & Hash
WHO'S AFRAID OF THE IDES OF MARCH?

by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga, -- It really is much ado about nothing, if I may steal a line from Shakespeare. In his play, "Julius Caesar," the Bard has Brutus saying to Lucius: "Get you to bed again; it is not day. Is not tomorrow, boy, the ides of March?" Whereupon, Lucius responds, "I know not, sir." Brutus dismisses him with "Look in the calendar, and bring me word." And, Lucius answers, "I will sir." Exit.

Although the audience in the Globe Theater that September, 1599, was hearing probable words spoken 16 centuries earlier, they had no difficulty understanding the next day on stage would be March 15th -- just another gloomy day. There were no gasps of foreboding nor concern it might forever alter the course of events.

And, why should it? It meant nothing more than one person's verifying tomorrow's date with another. Where we use the name of the month and the number of the day, in either order, the early calendars added words to signify specific times.

"Ides" merely means the 15th of March, May, July and October; the 13th of the other months. Our daughter, Nancy, was born on the ides of April. Now, isn't that nicer than noticing that four times her birthday fell on Friday the 13th?

Speaking of which: Who's afraid of Friday the 13th? What started the superstition? Which, by the way, is a fear called triskaidekaphobia. The number alone accounts for some players not wearing 13 on their uniforms -- and those who do, successful at their sport or not, are scrutinized, there are those just waiting to see what misfortune follows them.

Friday the 13th is traditional as bad luck in most Western societies, but in Greece, it's Tuesday, the 13th. No one opens a business on this date and if they ignore the wide-spread superstition in the area, they might as well close shop on any Tuesday - no one believing in the evil omen will be browsing that day. This date goes back to the 1453, a Tuesday in May, when Constantinople fell to a tribe known as the Ottoman Turks. A dark day, indeed.

Superstitions die hard. Common among Japanese and Chinese Americans is their feelings about the number 4. Some get so riled up over the approaching 4th of a month, they have a heart attack. Medical professionals certainly attribute stress to some cardiac activity. It may be irrational, but it's a statistical fact.

Irrational to me is the pinch of salt tossed over the left shoulder after spilling a pile of it on the table. There are probably other origins listed in the annals of where these habits begin but my favorite is about sailors in a bar in Bermuda. They had just buried and "old salt" at sea. He had been hefted to the left shoulder of a strong young sailor and sent overboard to his watery grave.

Later, at the bar, the young sailor happened to knock over the salt. One of the men, making light of a serious gathering, said: "You've killed the old salt!" and the young man tossed a pinch of it over his left shoulder. It was a joke, but I've done it myself.

I can no more say that those born in March are crazy than I can say the ides of March is a presentiment of ill bodings. Not at all. I have two children born in March -- no quirkiness there! And yet, without a doubt, every person I've ever met who displays odd behavior, acts a little different, more precise than the norm, more casual than the norm, laughs at the wrong times ... well, you'd have to know one to be with me on this. He's the one who wears the lampshade at a party or posts a "kick me" note on the back of your shirt.

"Crazy as a March Hare," comes to mind. Lewis Carroll made use of it when writing Alice in Wonderland. I can't read into his reasons why but I do know when English Nobles went hare hunting, beagles went along, too. Why? Because hares are in heat the first of March. I can't think of any scene more provoking than being a hare caught between a rifle and a beagle: I have felt as mad as a March hare, myself. However they behaved, the expression lives and we know just when it fits.

If you put on your slip or t-shirt backwards, just leave it that way or it's bad luck. If you see a penny, pick it up. Go out the door you came in. If you have to run back into the house, count to 10 to settle down again or you'll have an accident. Don't step on cracks or you'll break your mother's back. Why do we do these things to ourselves? It's one thing if we respond and laugh at ourselves at the same time, quite another if we're paralized by them.

Can we do that with the ides of March? We perpetuated the notion of its being one really bad day back in the days when we had to mail in our Income Tax Returns postmarked before midnight on the 15th of March, not April, as we now do, or else! No extensions. No delay. No ifs, ands or buts. That was one time in our lives we definitely did beware the ides of March.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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