Monday, February 7, 2011

Lucky For Life

The Lottery: not just a fucked up short story you're forced to read in school.

We were having a staff lunch out at some delicious Chinese restaurant ( I'm not sure, because I was waylaid in the parking lot by someone looking for services and missed the 'Eat Chinese for Lunch' boat) and had gone to the 7-11 across the street to get cash. In order to have appropriate change, I was buying a diet coke to break a $20. The guy in front of me purchased a scratch lotto ticket. I was seized by a desire to do the same. I thought it must be a special sign, because I hate anything that looks like gambling, for the most part.

I didn't always hate gambling. My dad taught me how to play blackjack with cheerios instead of money when I was little, and I'm pretty damn good (this is also the same man who, when asked for a school project what his advice was for his then 16 year old daughter could only reply 'Take the money and run'- thanks dad). And thanks to an ex-boyfriend of mine, I'm still tempted to ask people if they 'want to make it interesting' when playing pool at the pub. He used to tell people I was this amazing pool shark and talk up my skills (which are zero-to-none: I can do a jump shot if I'm the right amount of drunk and ballsy), then bet drinks on the result. The team we played against would be so focused on my playing and be psyched out wondering why I was sucking so much, they didn't notice him quietly running them under the table. It was good times, full of free shots of whiskey.

But yes, I hate gambling. A family member went into a casino-related debt spiral that ruined not only his finances, but his mental health and eventually changed his life in ways I can't even begin to get into here. I understand that gambling can be a disease to some and others can walk away from a night of wins or losses with no compulsion to play again. But the people playing into lottery winnings and casino profits aren't the folks who can walk away. It's the folks who play scratch cards and the lottery week after week, because surely a day will come when the gods of luck and chance and fortune smile upon them, showering them with rewards that will more than make up for years of disappointment. Gambling is an abuser who really loves you, baby, but why do you make it hurt you?

I was shaken deeply by the experience of my family member. I have vowed never again to enter a casino (having entered one once, this is not a mighty life change for me). I am humorless about it. I would be awful to take to Vegas (I don't care if I get to see Bette Midler play the ukulele!), and no, I won't get on up to Tulalip and spend my hours eating at a buffet, drinking, and laughing uproariously at every spin of the wheel (have you seen those commercials? Jesus!). But I do have my moments. Last summer at a bar attached a seedy motel, I found myself playing pull tabs. The pathetic simplicity of the game should be a tip off to its absolute worthlessness. I found myself thinking, 'Oh yeah, I picked a good basket. Oh this totally makes sense. I am definitely going to win $125 right here and right now!'. I won $2. I bought two more pulltabs. And lost.

And that's what gets me. The fact that, even though I've never picked numbers for a lotto, I still find myself imagining what I would do with lotto winnings. It's common- people usually have a prepared list of 'What they Would Do/Buy/Experience' on the strength of a winning ticket, ready to extol their virtues ('Well I have several charities in mind, and then of course I'd put some away for the college education/life-saving surgery of a family member(s), and maybe with what's left over I'd get a lamborghini') to others at a cocktail party. I don't even play and I have this list. Because who doesn't want a fuckton of money? His Holiness the Dalai Lama? Yeah, awesome, HHDL, be all special. We're not. We're the hoi polloi, desperate for a 'Get Out Of Mediocrity Free' card.

And there's a family myth that perpetuates the idea that the women on one side of the family are psychic, have pre-cognitive dreams, and are lucky in many things, including gambling. I have fallen prey to this narrative before, and I see it every time my mom wins a little something at the Casino. When you start thinking you're different from everyone, you definitely shouldn't gamble. Because it's a lie.

And so it was with surprise I found myself asking my regular cashier at the 7-11 (Darshawn- whatup Darshawn? You my boy!) if I could buy a $5 scratch card. The guy in front of me did, and I started feeling lucky. There were many to choose from, and so I asked Darshawn to point one out to me behind the glass. Darshawn and I have weekly interactions involving his very earnest religious beliefs involving Allah, which are awesome and very sweet. This special reltionship that I have made up in my head also made me think he would pick a lucky card for me. By magic. He picked 'Lucky for Life' which is a game that, if you win, pays you $1k a week for life. FOR LIFE. That shit is crazy. As I purchased the ticket and went on my way back to the office, I began imagining how many problems of mine would be solved should I win, which I would totally win, because I am special.

And then I scratched the damn card. I even used a penny from my purse, to make sure there was extra luckiness surrounding the momentous occasion when I won a bunch of money. That's how sold I was on this fantasy. Skritch, skritch, skritch went the penny. Down, down, down went my hopes. I won $5. Which I hope is the universe's way of telling me 'Don't be an idiot. You get this one free.'

And because of this, I was waylaid, and missed Chinese for Lunch.

And that's why momma don't gamble.

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