Most Americans, when they say an exact phrase or word at the same time as someone else, know the folklore formula they need to follow:
1. They must point at the person and shout “JINX!”
2. The person who is jinxed cannot speak until they perform some pre-specified action, which is usually “Buy me a coke.”
There are places and times, though, where instead of conjuring a pretend evil-spell that profits only one person, you linked pinky fingers and chanted, “Needles-Pins!”, which calls the universe to send good luck each of your ways.
I’m not sure where that comes from. Probably from Little Red Riding Hood, which in the French version had the werewolf waylaying a young girl on her to her grandmother’s house, asking her which path she was taking–the needle path or the pin path. She proclaims her choice of needles, and the werewolf tries to give her a false sense of security, claiming he would then take the pin path.
(Taken from http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html)
There is some debate about what this means, but I suspect that it is a cautionary tale of morality (always present in folk tales) of a young girl who is making choices that will define her life.
Yesterday I was at my favorite restaurant (Schlafly)and my sister Carrie, glancing at her Twitter feed, gasped out the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died.
Like everyone else, I’ve always liked him.
Sixteen years ago, I first saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness. I was a movie nerd then (were movies better back then, or was I just cooler?), and well, it was too scandalous a movie to play in Omaha, where I lived at the time. I was planning a vacation to LA with some friends and while we were there I snuck off to see it. From that experience I decided on three opinions which I still hold: one, LA movie crowds are amazing (at least they were in the 1990s), two, LA movie-house popcorn is better than Missouri or Nebraska movie-house popcorn (at least it was in the 1990s), and three, Philip Seymour Hoffman had guts of steel. Honestly, that was one of the saddest characters and creepiest performances I have ever watched.
Two years later, in 2000, I was in New York on vacation and my sister Julia and I bought tickets for True West on Broadway. I was excited to see Philip Seymour Hoffman again.
OK. I’ll be honest. I don’t remember much about the play except that it was about two brothers. (Note my Twitter post to the right!)
But I do remember that Julia told me that Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly often switched roles. Julia said that when they played their roles, no matter who played whom, it seemed impossible to imagine them as any other character.
And it was true: Philip Seymour Hoffman, especially, lit up the room with the force of his acting. I remember that he played the older brother, and as I left the theater, I was thinking, “There’s no way he could be as effective as the younger brother. He’s not subtle enough.”
But apparently he was. If I had waited a day or two I could have seen for myself.
Needles-pins, Mr. Hoffman. Everyone was speaking about the same thing at the same time yesterday, did you know that? We were talking about talent and we were talking about robberies.
And today its needles-pins, which is so much more glamorous than cursing someone into silence and asking for a Coca-Cola product. It’s two forces calling on the universe for something pure. Something good. Something lucky. Or maybe, sadly, nothing more than something manageable.
Needles-pins, Mr. Hoffman. I wish the universe, or your heart, or your demons, or whatever it is that you were chasing away, had been kinder to you. Needles-pins on wherever you go next.