The ominous signs were everywhere: No weddings scheduled at Elvira's chapel in downtown Los Angeles. Ouija boards sold out at The Game Keeper in Glendale. Phones disconnected at Psychic Lulu Bookstore in Hollywood.
On Friday the 13th, even the Lucky Place Restaurant on Broadway could not live up to its optimistic name. "No money," lamented owner Obi Offor. "Unusually slow."
Blame it on Freya, the Norse goddess of love. The sixth day of the week, named after her, used to have a good reputation. But, with the advent of Christianity, her amorous ways were considered sinful and Friday developed an aura of foreboding.
The fear of the number 13--known as triskaidekaphobia--has its own history of gloom. The number appears on the Tarot death card and it is said that 13 witches form a coven. The bugaboo over Friday the 13th was probably cemented when Christ, believed to be one of 13 persons at the Last Supper, was crucified on a Friday.
"It was like gloom and doom all morning," said Adele Klate, president of Gulliver's Travel Agency, where customers have been avoiding Friday the 13th travel all week. "People make all kinds of jokes, but there really is a reaction."
All of a sudden, you wonder. Is it coincidence that "Highway to Hell" made its Los Angeles premiere Friday night in Hollywood, or that a San Diego judge chose the day to set an execution date for double murderer Robert Alton Harris, or that former television evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker was granted a divorce from her imprisoned husband, Jim?
It also just happened to be the birthday of the late William Casey, former CIA director.
To be sure, most enlightened Southern Californians thumbed their noses at the implications. At Super Stitches, a garment district sewing shop, stitcher Rita Schouten said she was far from superstitious. "Super stitches, " she said. "It's just a name."
Mark and Deborah McRae, newlyweds from Santa Clarita, did not realize until two weeks ago that they had picked Friday the 13th to get hitched. Their friends had urged them to wait for the weekend, but young love is impetuous.
"We decided to make it our good luck," the 22-year-old bride said, as she waited in the county courthouse for a judge.
"It can't be that bad," her groom, also 22, said.
But later, when asked to recite her vows, Deborah seemed to blank out for a moment. Amid peals of laughter, she apologized for her lapse.
More than 7,000 new citizens chose the day to be sworn in at the Los Angeles Convention Center. About 200 Irish-Americans, their luck already legendary, packed the City Council chambers to kick off a weekend of St. Patrick's Day festivities. The Perris Valley Parachute School in Riverside County was bustling with unfazed sky divers.
"A couple jumpers have said: 'Let's see if we can live through today,' " said Melanie Conatser, manager of the airport. "But everybody just laughs and they don't hesitate to get on the next plane."
Most experts believe that bad things seem to occur on such days only because people come to expect them. In fact, Ed Helin, a Canoga Park astrologer and numerologist, contends that 13 usually bodes well.
"It's really an aggressive, fun-loving number," he said. "Action-oriented and good for parties."
Even Dr. David Viscott, the KABC-AM talk radio psychiatrist, snubbed the superstition and instead devoted his afternoon show to a discussion of reported UFO abductions.
"Friday the 13th, like all superstitions, is an attempt to take the fear of the unknown and attach it to something highly trivial, but manageable," he said in an interview. "So you avoid ladders, because you can avoid ladders . . . We all know it's a game."
Still, for many, it was not a day of good fortune.
An alleged robber was arrested at an Eagle Rock bank during an apparent holdup attempt after the teller recognized the suspect's voice from a previous robbery and sounded an alarm.
And in Palos Verdes Estates, a woman who allegedly had been drinking with a male companion suffered minor injuries after she fell about 50 feet off a cliff.
"Friday the 13th is steeped in lore and superstition," said Donald Reed, president of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, which held its 18th annual award ceremonies Friday night. "Isn't that a great day to do our show?"
At the Horseshoe Store in Burbank, which normally sells its wares to horse trainers, manager Juan Diaz had one customer Friday who wanted a shoe just for luck.
"I let her pick it out, then just gave it to her," he said. "That way her good luck starts today."
Let us hope it lasts until November, the only other time this year that the 13th falls on Friday.