Over the years, I've been called a lot of outrageous names by a lot of outrageous people (schoolyard bullies, foreign diplomats, my parents), but nobody has ever called me a "risk taker." Of course, nobody has ever called me the "greatest deep-sea diver since Jacques Cousteau," either. But while I actually am the "greatest deep-sea diver since Jacques Cousteau," I'm definitely not a "risk taker."
Indeed, I've been known to avoid taking a risk even when not taking a risk is a bigger risk than taking a risk. For instance, rather than risk burning the house down by cooking my food, I eat everything (by which I mean ground beef and Famous Amos-brand cookie dough) raw - thus running the much greater risk of contracting a gastrointestinal infection that, if left untreated, will cause my insides to melt. And such an infection will almost certainly go left untreated, because I'd rather risk death by E. coli than death by an escaped circus elephant stomping on my car as I drive to the hospital.
But I'm not here to discuss food-borne bacteria or freak accidents involving runaway elephants. I'm here to discuss gambling. In particular, I'm here to discuss how, thanks to my chronic aversion to taking risks, I almost never gamble. The problem with gambling, of course, is that you might lose - and unlike, say, losing spectacularly and consistently at Dungeons & Dragons, which only involves parting with your dignity and self-respect, losing spectacularly and consistently at gambling involves parting with large sums of money. And while certain people might consider running the risk of personal financial ruin seductive and thrilling, I consider it scary and nauseating.
Notice, however, that I didn't say I never gamble - only that I almost never gamble. On rare occasions, when the stars are aligned just so and I'm feeling particularly self-destructive, I'll pull what I call an "Albany." That is, I'll throw restraint and fiscal responsibility to the wind - which, in my case, entails playing a one- or two-dollar scratch-off lottery game.
One such rare occasion was my 18th birthday, which my father and I spent in the wind-swept, manure-scented village of Canton, New York, visiting St. Lawrence University, where - despite the wind and manure - I wound up attending college. On the way home that day, we stopped at a regional convenience store that, for legal reasons, I'll refer to by the made-up name of "Stuart's."
On a whim, I decided to exercise my new right to waste money on state-sponsored games of chance (known colloquially as "state-sponsored scams"). I cringe now at my lack of self-control - but I was young and stupid, and the siren song of the New York Lottery (with its smugly taunting insistence that "Hey, you never know") overwhelmed my better senses. Trembling with shameful anticipation - I imagined the cashier silently condemning me as a dissolute rakehell - I purchased two "Win $1000 A Week for Life" games.
I didn't actually expect to win anything - the thrill I sought arose from the mere act of buying the tickets. So when I scored fifty dollars on the first game, my entire body went slack with shock. When I nabbed an additional fifty dollars on the second ticket, I almost lost consciousness. Gambling, I realized, might not be the soul-corrupting, obscenely risky activity I'd always imagined it as.
As I turned in my winning tickets for cash at the "Stuart's" in Saranac Lake, I thought that maybe "professional gambler" was a career worth pursuing. I imagined myself lounging next to an Olympic-size swimming pool in the brilliant California sun, wearing a fur bathing suit and an elaborate gold necklace featuring a massive dollar-sign pendant, sipping ginger ale from the Stanley Cup.
To heck with St. Lawrence University! To heck with the guidance counselors' tests, which insisted that I was destined for a long and distinguished career in the field of data entry! I was destined for a long and distinguished career, all right, but it would be in the field of awesomeness; and gambling, not an unmarketable liberal arts degree, would get me there.
So I purchased another couple of scratch-off games on the spot. And when they both revealed themselves as losers, I learned the first important lesson of my adult life: when fortune smiles upon us, as it had by handing me two winning lottery tickets on my 18th birthday, it's usually just setting us up for a fall. Also, I learned that spending the better part of $100 on "Stuart's" brand ice cream is only a temporary solution to existential crises.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at email@example.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.