in which i enrich my life in small ways

There’s a Stop&Rob convenience store about a mile from where I live. I slide in there once or twice a week during my daily walk/bike ride, mainly because they sell these amazingly good freshly-baked chocolate turtle cookies. Or maybe they’re chocolate tortoise cookies. I can never remember, though I know the difference when it comes to the non-baked goods turtles and tortoises. Regardless, they’re spectacularly good and are a nice reward for having taken a walk or a bike ride (by the way, the cookies are NOT made from actual turtles or tortoises, and as far as I can tell have absolutely nothing to do with the Chellonii (which, I’m told, is the proper term, even though I normally just call them Chellonians)).

This afternoon, as I was heading home from my walk, I stopped in for my cookiie. The woman in front of me at the register was all a-fluster. She’d tried to buy some lottery tickets, but had either asked for the wrong species of lottery or the clerk had made an error and printed out the wrong lottery tickets. Either way, she was rejecting the tickets and demanding the clerk give her the tickets she actually meant to purchase.

Things I bought today that will NOT be laundered

Things I bought today that will NOT be laundered

I occasionally buy a lottery ticket along with my cookie. It’s stupid, I know, but it’s not even close to the stupidest thing I do routinely in my daily life. Maybe every couple of months, based on nothing in particular, I’ll buy a ticket. It usually ends up in a shirt or pants pocket, where I only remember it when I’m about to do my laundry. Or, just as often, after I’ve done my laundry.

Lottery tickets, if you weren’t aware, aren’t designed to go through a laundry cycle. It turns them into a strangely compact and totally illegible wad of paper. Now, by my math (and my math, admittedly, is singularly pathetic math, but I’m pretty confident in this), a lottery ticket that’s utterly illegible only slightly reduces your odds of winning — so it’s no great loss if the ticket is laundered. Consider this a public service announcement.

At any rate, the woman had rejected her tickets and the clerk (a young woman with a tattoo on her forearm that appeared to depict a seahorse being ridden by Batman, though I never really got a very good look at it and it seems really unlikely that she’d have a tattoo of Batman riding a seahorse, so I’m probably wrong about this) was clearly baffled as to what she should do. So I offered to buy them.

The idea of buying rejected lottery tickets has a bizarre but powerful appeal. Well, it does to me. I have no idea what bizarre but powerful thing appeals to you (and knowing some of you, it really doesn’t bear thinking about). A rejected lottery ticket has no statistically better chance of winning, but it has a sort of poetic aura of despair and futility that is well worth four American dollars. It’s entirely possible that from now on I will only buy rejected lottery tickets.

So I’m back now from my walk, I’m in the process of eating the cookie, and I’ve set the lottery ticket aside to prevent it from being laundered. I’m feeling stupidly pleased with myself.

UPDATE: Four separate entries consisting of seventeen unique numbers, and not one single number of those seventeen matched any of the winning numbers. In effect, my ticket said “You lose four bucks.”

Still worth it, though.

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11 thoughts on “in which i enrich my life in small ways

  1. When I teach my probability lessons, I always include the calculation on winning a typical lottery, both the probability of winning the big prize and the expected value on the purchase of a lottery ticket. Students are criminally amazed at how low that expected value is.

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    • Yeah, buying a lottery ticket in the hope of getting rich is deeply moronic. But I’d argue that buying a lottery ticket as a method of cheap entertainment is actually a pretty good value.

      I don’t think anybody who buys a lottery ticket actually expects to win. I suspect only a few really hold any serious hope of winning. I’m inclined to think most folks buy lottery tickets for the idle pleasure of indulging in fantasy. That’s certainly worth a buck.

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    • That’s the difference between statistical probability and emotional expectations, isn’t it. We know intellectually that probability doesn’t care about your friend’s father, be we feel like it should.

      My ex had the misfortune of having a hotel collapse on her in Kansas City, but knowing that always made me feel safer flying with her — because somehow the odds of her being in two separate disasters seemed rather small. Nonsense, of course, but I still felt that way.

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  2. I can think of an awful lot of WORSE ways to have used those “four American dollars” than spending them to make what could have been a bad day for the lady who didn’t like her lottery tickets, but I would imagine she now sees you as “a gentleman and a scholar” for having been so caring and chivalrous. And that, my friend, is worth its weight in gold!

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  3. I don’t buy lottery tickets very often, but like you, serendipity (if, in fact, you would use that word to describe your purchase) guides me from time to time. Such was my purchase of lottery tickets almost twenty years ago. I bought five Michigan Lotto tickets and got a sixth one free (which might have been the draw in the first place). I used various combinations of family birth dates and ages and such, and on almost all all of them, I used my age at the time, 40, as the sixth and last number. Actually, I used 40 on all but one of the number combinations. For the sole deviance, I used my upcoming age, 41.

    I put the ticket in my wallet and didn’t think about it for several days, possibly even a week. One day, it occurred to me to check the numbers, so, I went back to the store to have them print out the winners for the previous several drawings. I put that in my wallet and didn’t think about it for several days, possibly even a week. Eventually, I thought to actually check my numbers against the winners, so, I pulled out my ticket along with the printout of winners and folded over the printout so that the winning numbers appeared at the very top edge of the slip of paper. I then placed it on top of my ticket and compared the numbers row by row.

    One of the rows was a virtual match. All but one number. I looked at the two sheets again, making sure that what I was looking at was what I thought I was looking at. All my numbers matched the winning numbers except for the last one… it was the lone set of numbers in which I selected 41 instead of 40. 40 was the winner.

    Still, in utter amazement, I sat at the table, stood up, sat back down, all the while saying, “Fuck!” repeatedly. A friend came to visit just as this was happening. I opened the door still saying, “Fuck!”

    I won $2500 but oddly felt like a loser because of my decision to not use 40 on all of the tickets. I would have split two million dollars had I not been so clever.

    Like you, while knowing that the probability of winning has no relationship with whether or not I’ve won before, I figure that I’ve had my time… that I will never, ever match more than one or two numbers again as long as I live.

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    • What a wonderful story. Well, a horrible story…but wonderful in its way. Not as wonderful as a chunk of US$2 million, of course, but still pretty wonderful. Although now that I’ve brought the two million into it, it really sort of sucks, doesn’t it. The reality of it — not the story.

      Dammit, now I feel like *I* got cheated too.

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