Asian temples guard themselves with the menacing scowls of Fu dogs which can be seen usurped in the tigers on the steps of Nassau Hall—tigers the color of greened pennies as though an ode to jade, to a culture from which they are aware they’ve robbed—the Chinese have the knobbed lime sticks of bamboo, and the Greeks sport a marriage of indigo, baby blue, cream and navy in their protective Evil Eye. Buddhists believe in smiling statues, Americans walk under doorways hung in horseshoes and gamblers carry cat’s eye stones to guard their pockets with insurance against unforeseen losses. Where the Irish cling to clovers and mathematicians the austerity of the number 7, I stoop over a plate of average pancakes as means of protection.
While I’ll admit I’d checked the occasional horoscope and had, at a friend’s insistence, once thrown a pinch of salt over a shoulder, I never bought in to the good luck charm mania. What fortune could a severed rabbits foot dyed the color of Windex hold for someone who would otherwise have failed? What energy could a desktop bamboo spring bring to a William Street wolf? (Surely the Microsoft employees who shared an office with my father and who wore their successes in tangerine-glass years-served commendations and family photos, couldn’t be so enlightened.)
As far as I was concerned an Evil Eye, a bit of cobalt glass sold by street vendors, could ward off harm no more effectively than the average Bay Alarm sticker. This winter’s pancake superstition was one born out of no previous superstition. As a theory it carried little logic, but I believe it was this quality through which it appealed to me; the act of eating breakfast outside of its designated hours presented itself somewhere between an evening shower and the morning as a sacrilege capable of deriving a net positive effect in the universal order.
The first time was a local diner, the results of a writing competition, the company of a friend. The pancakes were thick, butter-bogged saucers which worked exactly as what they’ve ever since come to represent for me: a charm. Though I’d planned them as a buffer-zone to mop up either celebration or reconciliation, as a location becomes aggrandized through the triumphs or failures it witnesses, so pancakes took on for me an exaggerated and likely coincidental importance. When I prepared for the score release of my January SAT a month later, it was not so much a question of whether to as it was a question of when to bust out the buttermilk mix.
It wasn’t until 2:00 AM that the scores were released, 5AM EST transferred that distance in space and time which so obviously severs the East Coast from the West; I spent the night’s majority in a pancake colored chair, a monstrous family thing tucked into a reading corner and laced with a laurel gold the color of sunlight on oats. As I prepared the pancakes at 1:50 I didn’t inwardly ridicule those who rely on rabbits’ feet or clovers or Fu dogs instead of more scientifically supportable aids. I was one of them.
Though this time the pancakes weren’t large plateaus or alien ships morphed from grain, but rather failures with hard exteriors and an inside the consistency of drying concrete, I settled before my laptop with three sorry excuses of pancakes stacked before me with no debate over the merits of office bamboo sprigs of which to speak.
I was one of them, I thought, as I ate the silver-dollar sized atrocities with a newfound hunger and an inappropriate amount of butter, and I was. It’s been a week since the pancakes delivered me my percentiles, and I’m wondering, along with the Costco-sized box of Bisquick I listed under the line “necessities” on the fridge, whether I should condescend to search Amazon for one of those hideous severed appendages the color of punch or highlighter or an over-infused green apple cocktail as are rumored to sell for south of ten dollars.