Stroke of good luck

Author asks people to describe their concepts and symbols of luck.

Dirty Harry put the perfect menacing inflection on it: “You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

With a far gentler tone and intent, artist-photographer Mark Menjivar of San Antonio has been asking people the same question for the nearly four years to collect his Luck Archive, more than 500 stories, photographs and objects all having to do with that elusive, beguiling, capricious thing called luck.

He includes dozens of these stories and photographs in a book, “The Luck Archive: Exploring Belief, Superstition, and Tradition,” (Trinity University Press, $24.95), which he’ll sign and read from on Sept. 10 at BookPeople.

Menjivar says he’s been “slightly obsessed” with luck since he found some four-leaf clovers pressed inside the pages of “1000 Facts Worth Knowing” in an antique bookshop in Indiana in 2008.

“That really made me intensely curious about the concept of luck,” he says. Three years later, he started asking friends, family and just people he ran into on the street or on an airplane about their experiences with luck. The book offers various philosophies about luck as well as photos of things some consider lucky, from rabbits’ feet to dandelions to eagle feathers. The full collection is in his studio and, he says, he’s still collecting.

“Luck is one of these concepts that almost everyone can connect to, whether you believe in luck or not,” Menjivar says, and some of his interviewees don’t. The book includes a photo of a man who had just won a Toyota Prius at a Chicago Cubs game. The text notes that the man “does not believe in luck due to his religious convictions.”

Those who do believe in luck ascribe various properties to it. Some feel that it can be cajoled: “Luck, be a lady tonight,” pleads Frank Loesser in the “Guys and Dolls” song popularized by Frank Sinatra. Others think it’s a hopeless cause: Blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Booker T. Jones and William Bell moans, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

Luck comes in clumps. You lose your job in the same week your air conditioning goes out and you have a car wreck. Or, you get a promotion on the day your property appraisal is reduced and the cable guy actually shows up on schedule. That’s a run of good luck.

Sometimes, luck can be downright fickle. Menjivar talks about a woman who sent him a photo three weeks ago of some money she’d found on the ground. That was good luck. She bought a lottery ticket with it. Bad luck: She didn’t win. But, a few days later, she found a $100 bill on the ground. Good luck! Then she went to a bank to break it into smaller bills and found out it was counterfeit. Bad luck.

“Something like that kind of complicates things a little bit,” says Menjivar, who says he carries no good-luck talisman but, “I always put my left shoe on first.”

Near the back of his book, Menjivar includes a photo of a dead skunk in the middle of the road. There’s no text or context.

“I wanted the viewer to bring their own thoughts to it,” he says. “Maybe it’s bad luck the skunk got hit. Maybe it’s the bad luck of the person who hit it. For me, I live in a neighborhood in San Antonio that has a skunk problem and … I’m just lucky it’s dead in the road and not under my house.”

The idea of luck, he says, “is about making connections, and I think it’s also about control — to shape the future to get an outcome that we want.”

So, go ahead and carry your rabbits’ feet, horseshoes and four-leaf clovers. Dodge your black cats and don’t walk under ladders. Maybe it’ll work for you; maybe it won’t. Good luck — from the Texas Lottery.

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