I Was Just Talking About A Balaclava

I was lucky enough to work at the Crest Theater in Sacramento,
California recently. I talked to a woman who described herself as a,
“full time activist.” I felt tired just thinking about it. It seems so
active. I’m so glad I’m a stand-up comic. I travel a lot, but I mostly
just have to sit on a plane. I don’t have to flap. I learn a lot from
everyone that I meet, although I think I’m still behind, overall,
because I didn’t apply myself in high school.
I asked the crowd one night, as I sometimes do, if anyone
bisected angles in their work. A gentlemen about halfway up the left
side of the audience said that he did. He was a structural engineer,
although he didn’t seem to know it right away. His wife, or girlfriend
seemed to be coaching him, I figured out. At first, when I would ask
him a question, her voice would come back to me from the darkness. It
was jarring, given the publicity surrounding the Chaz Bono story, a
man whose courage I very much admire, by the way. Upon further
questioning, the structural engineer told me that his work involved
floor joists. Despite all of my travel, and use of many floors along
the way, I had never heard of floor joists. I sleep on the floor, but
it never occurred to me that there might be joists somewhere beneath
my exhausted frame. That same night, while packing, I came across a
Public Television documentary about the San Francisco earthquake that
collapsed the Bay Bridge. One of the fire fighters, who went back into
a building, while people on the outside told him not to, in order to
rescue a woman just before the building collapsed, mentioned the
“floor joist” in his description of the ordeal. Had it not been for my
job, I would have gotten the broad strokes of the documentary, but
missed the technical details. I can’t help wondering how many times
that has happened.
I’m a proud Atheist, but when this sort of thing happens, one
does get an eerie feeling that there is some sort of a plan.
Last winter, for example, I came across the word “balaclava” in a
book I was reading aloud to my son. Using the text around the word, I
guessed that it was a hat of some sort. I then looked it up, in order
to set a good example for my son, and, bingo, it’s a warm hat with a
face mask. The next day we heard an NPR piece about the the band
Vampire Weekend, and in one of their songs that they played, there
again was the word “balaclava.” Are you getting tingly? There’s more.
The next day we were shopping at REI for our snowy adventure
backpacking trip, and found an entire rack of what I at one time
thought to simply be warm hats, but were in fact labeled “balaclavas.”
Is that a freakish coincidence or what? We bought two.


  1. Heya Paula,

    Freakish coincidences like the ones you experienced are called instances of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It happens because we tend toward things we already know and (often subconsciously) steer away from things we don’t know. Once we’re alerted in some way to a new thing or word, it’s now within our realm of things we’ll pay attention to. It’s common among people who have just met someone they’re quite taken with in that they’ll see the person’s type of car or some other distinguishing feature all over the place. The younger person often mistakes this as a sign from the cosmos that the new person in their life is “the one.”

    Incidentally, as I read your post I thought, “A ‘baklava’ is a pastry. Who told her it was something you wear on your head?” Alas, we see and hear what is most familiar to us (or sometimes what we want to see and hear, which is why I’m off to the bakery now).

    I love your comedy and have for a long time. Hope all is well with your career.

    Sincerely, Diana Hartman

  2. parker sheaffer says:

    I love those strange coincidences and yes they are a little creepy. They happen to me quite often. I wish I could harness that magic and make it work for me.

    One day I was watching a movie and I fell in love with a particular song and replayed it several times. A few days later I rented another DVD and there was that song again by a different artist. A few days after that I popped in my copy of Shrek and was amazed to hear the song again by still another artist.

  3. lifesver says:

    There really is a logical explanation for everything & that gives me more comfort than religion. It bothers me when people thank god for good fortune because often times it is the result of our good natured fellow homo sapiens. My niece posted a thank you to Jesus on facebook when her financial aid came. Excuse me? As a tax payer I will be colllecting your gratitude thank you very much. BTW I am happy to offer the aid. We should be more grateful for each other.

  4. atwinfan says:

    A baklava and balaclava are not interchangable. Wearing one on your head is NOT the same as wearing the other.

  5. weaver says:

    Hah! Talk about coincidences with balaclavas! I also bought TWO balaclavas, not because I really wanted two, but because they were at a consignment store and were packaged together. I feel that I should add that were not used balaclavas since they were a Christmas present for my husband. We live in New England, the winters are tough and you can never have too many balaclavas. Or for that matter baklava.

  6. bluesteelapd says:

    I too thought Paula was referring to “baklava” and thought surely (and don’t call my Shirley) she’d heard of this wonderful pastry that far out shines Pop-Tarts? Well, I realized I was wrong and have now learned a new word myself! Never stop growing.

    Can’t wait to see you at the Lanis Theater in Vineland, Feb 24th! Be there or be square. Until, “I’ll see you on NPR”

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