Published Mar 7, 2007

I’m not a big winner — in fact, given my average luck I’m surprised that I ever try anything risky. The only thing I can ever remember winning (apart from the odd board game, which victories I of course attribute entirely to my skill) is a raffle at a company picnic.

It’s actually good that I won that raffle, because I wasn’t doing so well at the picnic. When interning at a petroleum company, it’s generally required that you be pretty manly. Most readers of this periodical probably know that “manly” isn’t one of my strongest suits.1 I think I spent the first 45 minutes of the picnic trying to prove my manliness by getting the barbecue lit. Not only did I fail at that, but I didn’t even pour on the lighter fluid. Some might say I failed because I didn’t pour on the lighter fluid, but those would be the ones who like burgers that taste like lighter fluid. Anyway, I should’ve anticipated that a bunch of people who work for an oil company would like their dinner to taste like a distillate of their product, but instead I lit nothing and then stood by as a big guy from exploration sprayed a whole can of lighter fluid on the pile of charcoal and lit the thing with a medium-sized fireball and the distinctive smell of solvent.

Not only did I screw up the barbecue by not lighting the grill, I also managed to win the raffle over a bunch of guys who had been there longer than, oh, say, three weeks. Only my boss congratulated me for having the ticket that won the logo-adorned Mini Mag-Lite that was my prize. That flashlight is still in my office, awaiting the night that an earthquake knocks out the power and it can lead me to safety (my batteries will probably be dead).

Saying that I generally lost at other games of luck, however, is no exaggeration. I learned about board game strategy quickly, because I could never count on a lucky roll of the dice to save my bacon. As a youth, I spent an uncommon amount of time in Monopoly Jail. Later, in my early teens, I played a lot of Risk, but never launched an attack with even odds because I could never win with just a 50-50 shot. In my poker phase, my lack of luck paid off for me — I never had to learn to play tight, since I never thought I could draw to an inside straight. If anything, I folded too many straights, figuring my opponent had a full house. Trips to Vegas ended with me losing a couple of hundred dollars, pretty reliably.

Except one time I did break even. This was because I won $150 on the first day. Actually, I won $150 in the first five minutes after I got to my hotel. Dropped off at the luxurious Frontier casino, I waited in line quietly to check in. When I finally reached the head of the line, two very self-important women pushed ahead, impatiently, complaining of their rush.2 I was too entranced by all of the flashing lights to really put up a fight, so they checked in, and I dropped a dollar in the nearest slot machine while I waited. Of course it lost, but I had saved up a handful of Sacagewea dollars just for the slots and thought now was as good a time as any to play them. So I put in another dollar, pulled, and the flashing lights and bells went off and I grabbed for a little bucket.3 Befitting their self-described busyness, the two women didn’t notice, but the lady checking me in said “must be karma for having them cut in front of you!” I thought it would do for karma, and I ended up the weekend up $25.4 The clerk was right — that was the universe making the big picture even, not my own personal good luck.

It’s ok, though, not being lucky. As Pasteur said, “luck favors the prepared mind”; since I’m only moderately lazy, I’m intermittently prepared. And I did win that Mag-Lite once. That’ll do, pig, that’ll do.

1 One college girlfriend did refer to me as “the most stereotypical guy she ever dated.” That alone makes her my favorite ex, although it may say more about her than about me. She did date that sailor, however, so maybe there’s hope for me.

2 If anything — really, anything at all — about these women had actually been important or rushed, they would’ve stayed somewhere other than the New Frontier.

3 I got a Luxor bucket. Explain that.

4 Do the math.