Don’t Give Him a Canary

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Every culture has its superstitions – black cats, broken mirrors, and walking under ladders are all bad luck where I come from. I’m sophisticated enough to scoff at these, but one I grew up with sticks with me, even while I laugh at myself for halfway believing in it. It’s the Evil Eye, bane of Jewish mothers (of which I am one, sort of) and grandmothers (ditto.)

Non-Jews know about jinxes, but the Evil Eye is a jinx to the tenth power. Jinxes happen; the Evil Eye walks around the world looking for trouble.

You’re waiting at the deli counter with your two-year-old daughter and the woman waiting next to you strikes up a conversation by admiring her. “What a smart little girl. How old is she?” the woman asks. “Not three,” you answer, craftily thwarting the Evil Eye, who might think you were bragging and snatch the child away if you said she was only two.

And any Boston Jew can tell you that the reason the Red Sox didn’t make it to the World Series this year is that there was too much kvelling (gloating) when they made it to the playoffs. The Evil Eye smells kvelling the way a mouse smells cheese.

When I was eight I landed the lead in the class play. I didn’t have to try out for it. I was by far the tallest kid in the class (taller, even, than all the boys) and my hair fell naturally into a shoulder-length pageboy, which was the way Miss Weinstein, the third grade teacher, must have thought William Penn wore his hair. This was in Philadelphia, and the play was about how the Quaker William Penn bought a tract of land from King Charles II and established the colony called Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods, we were taught.)

After school I burst into the house shouting my good news. My mother was appalled that I was bragging. “Don’t give yourself the Evil Eye,” she said, only she said it in Yiddish: “Kain ein ha-RAH.”

Her warning came too late.  The Evil Eye heard me and, a few days before the play, struck me sicker than I’ve ever been since then. I missed my moment in the spotlight, and a classmate was recruited to play William Penn.

Don’t ask me how, but in my non-Yiddish-speaking generation “kain ein ha_RAH” has morphed into “canary.” Hence, when you don’t want to jinx someone you say, “I don’t want to give him a canary.”

Last night on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow (long may she wave) played her interview with Barack Obama. Less than five minutes into the first segment came this exchange:

MADDOW: And so, you have the opportunity to say John McCain, George Bush, you’re wrong. You also have the opportunity to say, conservatism has been bad for America. But, you haven’t gone there either.

OBAMA: I tell you what though, Rachel. You notice, I think we’re winning right now so —


OBAMA: Maybe I’m doing something right. I know you’ve been cruising for a bruising for a while here, looking for a fight out there. But, I just think people are tired of that kind of back and forth, tit for tat, ideological approach to the problems.

My heart skipped a beat. I said to my husband, “He just gave himself a canary.”

Maybe that’s why, Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod being no stranger to the Evil Eye concept, the Obama campaign had an early-morning press conference today to tell how hard they have to work for the next four days if they’re to win the Grand Prize on Tuesday. Specifically, the message was that the campaign has gone back into Georgia and North Dakota, two states they’d just about written off, with the “Rear View Mirror” TV ad, which you can see below.

What’s more, campaign manager David Plouffe announced they were taking the campaign to McCain’s home base, Arizona, with an ad called “Positive” (also below), which features the endorsements of Colin Powell and Warren Buffet.

Plouffe had positive things to say about numbers they’re seeing in those three states and the other “battleground” states, but he stopped short of saying he expected a win in any of them (no canary here.)

Fact is, even if Obama doesn’t need Georgia, or North Dakota, or Arizona to get to 270 electoral votes (Note to Evil Eye: I didn’t say he doesn’t need them; I said even if he doesn’t need them) it would be really nice to have a convincing majority of the popular vote as well as a majority of the electoral college. That would make getting his policies and values established as the government’s working principles much easier next year.

Here’s “Rear View Mirror,” playing now in Georgia and North Dakota:

And here’s what they’re seeing in Arizona:

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4 Responses to “Don’t Give Him a Canary”

  1. […] Don’t Give Him a Canary MADDOW: And so, you have the opportunity to say John McCain, George Bush, you’re wrong. You also have the opportunity to say, conservatism… […]

  2. It’s Halloween — the Goblins are all cute as buttons and several moms were wearing Obama buttons on their jacket lapels. It did my heart good and makes me feel we might (note to the canary, I did not say will), we might just witness history.

  3. […] on a regular basis.  When (if) the book sells … well, I don’t want to give myself a canary,  We’ll deal with that when (if) that glorious day arrives. Share and […]

  4. That’s a great read. I will be coming back again to see what else is new. Keep it up

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