“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”—Groucho Marx
Okay, so what the hell is happening on 93rd Street?
Ever since I was liberated from my post-surgery leg braces, I’ve been walking about two miles nearly every day.
In the last few weeks I’ve been slowly getting back to the gym with 30-minute cardio workouts and some basic weight training exercises, but the long walks around my neighborhood in Bay Ridge are still a major part of my recovery.
On Saturdays I sometimes deviate from my usual route to cut over a few blocks to a local fruit and vegetable store to pick up my weekly supply of healthy stuff.
Now for the last two weeks I’ve been walking up Oliver Street off Shore Road and heading up 93rd Street.
And that’s where everything goes to hell—literally—because when I get to the block between Marine Avenue and Ridge Boulevard I keep running into black cats.
I know the old bit about black cat’s crossing your path is a ridiculous superstition, but being Irish and Italian it’s hard not to believe in magic—especially the bad kind.
And ever since I hit the deck back in December I’m even more prone to pay heed to omens, portents, premonitions, and a whole slew of spooky stuff that my logical side dismisses as horseshit, but which my pre-Christian DNA fearfully follows.
This latest lunacy started a few weeks ago when I was walking up 93rd Street and I ran into not one, but two—count ‘em, two—black cats on the same block. It was like they were having a lodge meeting, for Christ’s sake.
“Are you kidding me?” I silently implored the sky. “I don’t have enough misery with the double-knee surgery, you’re directing the very symbol of bad luck into my path?”
I was fervently praying that one evil omen would cancel out the other, but I’m not holding out much hope for that one.
And I had even calmed down enough to a point where I could laugh at the silliness of it all—until this past Saturday when I was walking up the very same street and ran into another black cat.
Apparently, his buddy had taken the weekend off, but one black cat is still one too many for me. By this time, I was so deranged that I actually followed the poor kitty up the street in a desperate bid to see if he was indeed noir to the bone.
“Buddy, lift your head,” I said to him, going full on Dr. Doolittle. “Please tell me you’ve got a spot of white under chin.”
The Devil’s on His Way
The stray feline obliged and I think—I hope—I saw a few strands of white fur amidst all that darkness, but I doubt it.
God knows what the poor cat was thinking, but I suspect it was something like “get the hell away from me with your stupid medieval beliefs, you bald-headed son-of-a-bitch.”
I later confessed my fears to my sister, a card-carrying cat lover, and she dismissed this dark age delusion.
“Where did this idea that black cats are bad luck start?” she asked.
I had absolutely no idea, so I did a quick jog around Wikipedia and I found that the folklore around black cats varies widely, with some cultures believing that they actually brought prosperity.
In Germany, some people thought it was a bad omen when a black cat crossed your path from right to left, while a left-to-right stroll is a sign of good times.
Pirates believed that you’d have bad luck if a black cat walked toward to you and good luck if they walked away from you. I guess it’s a good thing that cats can’t moonwalk.
Black cats were feared and hated by the Pilgrims—and we all know what a barrel of laughs they were.
And this is where superstition takes a very bad turn.
The Pilgrims thought black cats were familiars for witches and they’d punish or kill people who owned black cats and black cats themselves were slaughtered in great numbers because of this nonsense.
It doesn’t take much of a leap from murdering cats to burning people as witches, which is why Stevie Wonder warned us that when you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer—and so do a lot of other people.
The cats aren’t the problem, people are. They’d rather believe in some satanic fairy tale than accept responsibility for their own actions. Why admit you screwed up when you can blame your problems on some poor animal?
I think maybe it’s time I let go of these crazy notions.
And while I’m not going to go around breaking mirrors or walking under ladders, I’m willing to give black cats a break and acknowledge that these beautiful creatures been maligned for far too long.
Hell, maybe I’ll even celebrate Black Cat Appreciation Day on August 17.
But I’m also going to stop walking up 93rd Street.