The Daily Heller: What Makes Seymour Run?

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This week's 90th birthday celebration of Seymour Chwast continues: What makes Seymour run? His imagination takes him on many journeys into the worlds of popular culture. Among the passions we share are what the author George Orwell called "solid objects and scraps of useless information." Orwell went on to write, "It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us."

Seymour is an expert at researching, collecting and transforming the objects and scraps into informative guides to and interpretations of the world we live in. He founded The Nose in 2000, a series of self-published periodicals that covered a wide swath of his many random interests. I helped him edit, and wrote the editorials in a dozen or so of the issues. If you were not a subscriber when they were initially published, some are still available here.

Here is the last issue of The Nose, which never came out. And below is the introduction from one of my favorite issues devoted to cult and phobia—fear by any other name …

I am a triscadecaphobe. I am terrified of the number 13. Being afraid of the 13th of any month is an example of triscadecaphobia. Then, of course, there is fear of Friday the 13th. In fact, anything that adds up to the number 13 fits neatly into my ring of terror.

Wondering about Triscadecaphobia’s origin? In ancient Rome, the sixth day of the week was devoted to the stunning goddess Venus. Eventually this day became what we know as Friday, and was considered to be the luckiest day of the week. Romans were not alone, but for different reasons: Muslims say Friday was the day Allah created Adam, and legend has it that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit on a Friday, and later (hopefully as a coincidence) died on a Friday. The tipping point comes because Christians determined Friday was the day when Christ was crucified. The Last Supper was when Jesus said farewell to his apostles before being crucified. There were 12 apostles, including Judas, at the table—13 total if you count Jesus. Get the picture, Michelangelo?

Triscadecaphobia is, of course, one of many phobias, some born of sects and cults. But it is my phobia. I would not edit The Nose if it were 13 pages. If you think that’s crazy, I know many people who will not fly on the 13th of any month, or during a year where all the numerals add up to 13, or when their age adds up to 13. I can go on.

This issue of The Nose is meant to be an antidote for anyone too obsessed with a cult or phobia. And as a form of therapy, I was told I should find another focus to subsume triscadecaphobia, if only for a while.