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Triskaidekaphobia: Never on a Friday

by John Grant

Far be it from me to voice any criticism of my good friend Dave Knuckle, but I must confess I had my doubts when last night, on my way home from yet another unsuccessful foray to the local singles Burger King, I noticed that he'd not only returned to this country but hung up his shingle:


General Practitioner

**FREE!!** Gynecological Exams and Topless Massages

Now, I happen to know that good ol' Dave doesn't have a medical degree — such courses not being an option at the Top Security University of San Quentin — so it struck me that he was perhaps flaunting the law a little.

What purpose could he have in so doing? The question echoed around inside my mind, but I could not answer it — and indeed I still can't . . . although undoubtedly fleecing a gullible public will play its role.

Still, it is the duty of friends to support each other in their new business ventures, and so I went in through the gleaming plate-perspex doors to find myself in a vast, green- marble-and-stainless-steel lobby spotted with pots full of giant bunches of verdant plastic orchids. Blue-dyed water tinkled merrily from the eight-foot fountain in the center that was shaped like a sort of Britney W. de Milo, and indeed the gentle strains of that chanteuse's tender ballad "Oops-Da-Boops Got My Finger Stuck up My Nose" tastefully filled the space from hidden speakers.

Nestling underneath a large umbrella beside the fountain was the reception desk, and behind the desk was a blonde receptionist with "Pamela W. Knuckle" embroidered on her lapel.

She paused a moment from polishing her nails with an industrial sander.

"So what's your problem, sir?" she courteously inquired.

"I haven't got any money," I replied.

"Then fuck off," she cooed.

"But, but, but, but, but," I said nonchalantly, "it says outside about these free gynecological exams and topless massages and things . . ."

"Dr Knuckle only gives you the free topless massage if you're over 21, under 30, and you qualify for the free gynecological exam," she said. "And you don't qualify for the free gynecological exam." She squinted at me. "At least, I don't think you do."

I tried a different tack.

"I'm an old friend of Dave's from way back," I said.

"'Dave W.'s,'" she corrected, eyeing me up and down. "OK, I guess I believe you. You look moronic enough. However, you'll have to wait until he's finished with his current patient."

"That's fine," I said. "Another friend of, er, Dave W.'s?"

"No, some politico I didn't recognize, although he obviously thought I ought to. Said something about how I'd have voted for him in Florida, whatever I believed I'd punched on the ballot. But he didn't give me any name, just said his wife wanted him to have a few tests run on what she apparently likes to call his Axis of Terror. I thought he looked a bit Muslim, so I fingerprinted him." She sighed. "That didn't go down well. He got so angry he was like to toss his cookies except they got stuck in his throat."

"'Axis of Terror,'" I mused knowledgeably, wishing to impress this exquisite creature. Perhaps I'd been lucky to miss out at the Burger King. "That's that bone in the inner ear, isn't it?"

"I think the one you're referring to is called the skull," she said, revving up the sander to return to work.

I sat down on one of the chrome chairs and leafed distractedly through the magazines that had been left lying around. I was interested to note that the selection on offer in Dave's reception area was quite different from that to be found at my dentist's, and covertly stuffed a few of the raunchier items — things like Modem-Tweakers' Monthly and HTML Users's Digest — up the front of my sweater.

At last the door at the rear opened, and the politico the receptionist had been talking about emerged. I thought for a moment I recognized him as someone I once bought a used car from — well, it looked like a used car to me, only when I'd finally finished carrying it home my landlord said it was actually a fire hydrant. Anyway, it wasn't the same guy. This one had his arm in a sling, so presumably he really hadn't wanted to be fingerprinted.

"Alan W.!" cried Dave in a boisterously welcoming tone when he saw me. "How good of you to call! What a shame I have an urgent house-call to make in Tierra del Fuego."

"Just before you go . . ." I said.

"Well . . ." he said, his face showing duty at war with personal preference. In the end he decided on personal presence. "Come on in, Alan W.," he said. "I can spare you fourteen seconds and then . . . gotta go!"

He muttered something to the receptionist that I couldn't quite make out. I think he was reprimanding her for not having given me shots on sight.

Ensconced in his office, I realized I'd better thing up some symptoms fast. Good friend he might be, but he was also a medical doctor, and I shouldn't waste his time just sitting there wondering where he'd hidden the spittoon.

"It's like this, you see, Doctor . . ."

"'Doctor W.'" he corrected.

". . . Doctor W. You see, I have these symptoms . . ."

"Yes? Yes? Can't you see I'm a busy man?"

"Well, I think it's stress. I'm no longer interested in my Buffy W. the Vampire Slayer inflatable action figure. I've used all the usual excuses — headaches, that kind of thing — but she sees right through them, of course, just looks at me all sort of deflated, if you know what I mean . . ." It was a funny thing but, as soon as I'd started talking about these symptoms, I realized I really did have them, and full blast. "As you can see," I added, pointing upwards, "even my propeller beanie has wilted."

"You think you might be suffering from an attack of stress- related imbecility, you mean?" He steepled his fingers together the way Quincy used to in the tv series. "Well, it could instead be a physiological disorder, in which case Electric Shock Therapy is the preferred treatment . . ."

"I'm pretty certain it's not physiological," I said from the doorway.

". . . but I prefer to think," he continued smoothly, "that you're actually suffering from a severe case of triskaidekaphobia."

"What's that?" I gasped, aghast.

"Something you should go and look up in the dictionary," he said. "Now — I must be on my way. Urgent. Tierra del Fuego. Or was that Istanbul? Somewhere you'll not be able to find me, anyway. Safe journey home. Don't forget to walk under a few ladders, cross paths with a few black cats, that sort of thing, on the way home. Jumping in the path of a speeding locomotive is another sure-fire cure for triskaidekaphobia, you know — hey, don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Byeeee!"

With that, he blurred out of the room.

Well, I did all the things he said — I couldn't find a speeding locomotive but decided a lamppost was just as good — but my newly acquired symptoms didn't disappear at all. Disconsolate, I sat in my bijou apartment and began counting the purple cabbages in the wallpaper.

Wait, though. There was something else he'd said.

I finally found my copy of the Webster's Barney the W. Dinosaur Pre-School Dictionary under the unopened packet of Goodyear condoms my father gave me for my 18th birthday — must remember to stick 'em up on eBay as collectibles some day and make a fortune — and feverishly leafed through the pages until I found the entry for "triskaidekaphobia".


I think Dave W. was wrong in his diagnosis. It seems that triskaidekaphobia is irrational fear of, well, a certain number whose precise value I won't trouble you with here for fear of alienating my less scientifically minded readers.

Hah! I'm almost insulted. Did Dave W. really think I could be so downright stupid as to be frightened of that number? Even if I were suffering from stress? As far as I'm concerned, it's just the same as any other number: no better, no more dangerous.

My trip had not been entirely wasted, however, because now I'm able to pass on to you readers this thing I've learned, my new slogan for the years to come:


The End