Wednesday, April 03, 2013

My Problem With the Thirteenth Floor

Does it strike anyone else as being especially quaint that high-rises in the western world still pretend that they have no thirteenth floor? Christmas holidays have become winter breaks, Halloween now celebrates candy and costumes rather than pagan rites, yet the power of the number thirteen endures, just because it’s vague and secular enough that no one gets to be offended by it. The superstition trumps basic counting: You can stand on the sidewalk and number the windows from lobby to penthouse, but when you walk into the elevator, you usually find some alternative math on the buttons. And, of course, you usually don’t see a thirteenth floor.

via flickr user iseethelight (CC license)
The buttons are sometimes arranged so that you’d be less likely to notice the gap, and I can’t decide if I prefer it displayed in this sneaky manner or just with the twelve and fourteen right next to each other, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Either way, just remember your numbers — in order — and you’ll find that it takes the same amount of time to get from the eleventh to the twelfth floor as it does to take to get from the twelfth to the fourteenth.

And all this math-defying silliness just because of an irrational fear that thirteen of something will more likely bring about doom than eleven or twelve of something, even though we obliviously we come across thirteens all the time in our lives and manage not to die from them. You’re just as likely to die on one floor as another, and the number thirteen will probably play no more centrally into your death than will the number two (say, the number of ice cream trucks that hit you), the number 107 (say, your body weight when that eagle carried you away), the number ten (say, the number of poison darts they shot you with before you stopped singing), the number thirty-three (say, the number of Red Bulls your assistant estimates you drank that weekend) or the number five (say, the age of your assailant).

Here’s my legitimate question: If people are really all that worried about the undefined misfortune that will result from this number, can I spend the night in hotels’ thirteenth floors for less money? Clearly, it’s a huge safety risk — why else pretend it doesn’t exist, San Jose Airport Marriott? — but I’m brave enough to say that it’s no more dangerous than staying on any hotel floor, save for the ground floor in a motel, which is a guaranteed sentence. No, let me stare misfortune in her creased, sun-damaged face. Make it fun. Make it the death-defying package. Go and Final Destination up those hallways to make a night in the hotel a night of living on the edge.

I understand that hotels and our taller apartment buildings may worry that people won’t find undefined misfortune all that comforting. That’s cool. You need to make money, vertical buildings. But if you’re set on keeping us from living on these floors, instead placing non-residential, non-overnight facilities there such as maintenance rooms, restaurants and pools, then consider this: Doesn’t the undefined misfortune you’re anticipating stand an equal chance of taking our janitors, diners or swimmers? You must admit: Each role poses a risk that non-janitors, non-diners and non-swimmers don’t have to worry about. (For each, it’s E. coli.)

Clearly, I’m right. So please allow me to offer the best solution to this dilemma. Build the thirteenth floor. Label it as such on the elevator dial. But then populate it with whatever combination of murderers, black cats and grease fires seems appropriate so that when the elevator does stop there, people can say, “Hey, it’s not just a superstition. See? The thirteenth floor really is bad news.” And everyone else in the elevator will say, “Yes, it’s true. We live in an advanced society.” And then the murderer’s hookhand will snag whoever’s closest to the door and drag them out, but everyone else will nod in agreement and how far we’ve come as a society. “To think,” they’ll say, “our ancestors once feared the thirteenth floor for no reason at all!”

No, that’s not better, but it’s sensible, you know?

And speaking of, would it not be sensible to fear the number twenty-six more on account of it being two thirteens?


  1. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Fear of 13 isn't secular. It's unlucky because of the number of people who attended the last supper. So it's a Christian thing.

    1. Nope. We actually don't know why it's unlucky, says Wikipedia.

  2. Maybe those buildings DO have a thirteenth floor, but what goes on there is a secret.

    1. That is apparently the theory among the conspiracy- and/or feeble-minded. Literally, they think there are arcane rituals being performed there that we're not allowed to see.