NOW THAT LEGAL gambling may be coming to Washington, people are thinking about numbers in connection with everything. This became apparent when I talked to a lady in the beauty shop the other day and tried to counter her incessant jabbering about a bizarre story that is making the rounds in some of Washington's black neighborhoods. The story is that some numerologists belive president-elect Ronald Reagan is the devil.
She said it started when the winning number in the Maryland lottery on Nov. 4, election day, was 666. She explained to me that 666 is a very significant number. She even had a small black Bible which she pulled out and read from the Book of Revelation: "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."
"Listen," I said, "I realize what many traditionally religious persons associate with the number 666, and I know that some denominations even pass over that number in their collection envelope series. But I've talked to New Testament scholars and others here in Washington who feel strongly that Revelation is a dated book. Now, I know as well as you that many in the black community at certain levels ascribe literally to the Bible, but I don't think we should encourage this story."
She look solemn. "Poor blacks don't have a pope. We're inclined to believe in the Bible literally. How do you explain the fact that the president-elect has six letters in each of his names?" I tried not to look to patronizing as she spelled out while counting on her fingers, R-o-n-a-l-d, W-i-l-s-o-n R-e-a-g-a-n.
That's six letters in each name," I assured her. "But I do not ascribe to numerology or superstition. I was even against bringing gambling to Washington."
"But what about the stars?" she asked, nervously fingering the rollers as fast as the stylist could pop them in. "The planets were in a strong, unusual configuration at the time of the election. On election eve, Uranus, the unpredictable planet in the zodiac that turns everything upside down, the one that rules violent eruptions, entered the picture, and that only comes around every 20 years."
"Simply coincidence," I answer. "Purely happenstantial. Maybe even amazing." Then I decide to try another ploy.
"Look, the Conservative Christian Right helped vote Reagan into the White House! This is a deeply serious issue for millions of believers."
"She held her head down.
"Look, I'm not about to put down extrasensory experiences," I said. "I'm no cosmic scoff.But politics is like a friend of mine once described life.It's like a slot machine. Sometimes you get strawberries, sometimes you get lemons and sometimes you hit the jackpot.We all must get pragmatic, not retreat to superstition."
"All I know," she said as if transfixed, "is that the winning number on the winning number on Nov. 4 was 666, Ronald Wilson in each of his names, the number 666 connotes the anti-Christ or the devil, and the planets were in an unusual configuration on the day he won." She paused for a breath. "Would you like to live on the 13th floor?"
I decided to ignore the last question.
"It's just because Reagan's a conservative Republican that the talk in the street won't quiet down. Even people who NEVER read the Bible are digging theirs out. Vernon Jordan told you folks to cut out all this sturn and drang and get pragmatic! This is no time to suspend disbelief!
She looked at me so blankly that I thought my elementary German finally had silenced her.
"Did you see "The Omen?" she asked quietly.
"No, I don't like that genre of motion picture because I think it's just cheap thrills and commercializes extrasensory experience, which I happen to think should be understood, not exploited. Besides the critics said it was awful."
She's standing up by now, ready to move to the hair dryer. Her attractive face is without makeup but the curlers in her hair make her look like she is about to receive messages from another planet. Her voice had been commanding at the start, but now there is a slight tremble to it. She leans over and raps the table for luck.
"It's about a baby devil with the number 666 etched upon its scalp who is eventually adopted by the president of the United States, ending up at the White House, where he will lead the world to all-consuming war."
By now I'm really outraged. "This is bizarre, comparing the election to an outrageous movie. Many modern-day prophets are deeply serious about this phenomenon. This tale has to stop!"
She seemed almost comatose as she moved toward the hair dryers lined up against the wall.
Just before the dryer drowned out my counterarguments, she stopped shaking long enough to hurl at me the last word.
And did you know [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] sixth day of February and his [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] an inverted six?"
"Doesn't anybody believe in[WORD ILLEGIBLE] anymore?" I yelled.