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Behave stupidly, win big — maybe not

There is a certain degree of mantra one must envelop oneself in when indulging in stupid behavior. I’m sure the pious – if hapless – nutjobs at Jonestown really did believe there was a spaceship to heaven at the bottom of that cup of Kool-Aid – actually, it was Flavor Aid, for the record.

I bet Mary Kay Letorneau really thought there was a verse somewhere in Leviticus that would cover all her bases. Former President Bill Clinton probably still imagines a vast right-wing conspiracy rendering him powerless against the charms of both interns and the McRib, and Vice President Dick Cheney probably did really think the Iraqis would greet us with candy and flowers and magic beans; because he’s just that guy.

The mantra I have been using for a number of months now is this: “I am a scientist. A social scientist. This is quality, empirical research. The rest of these people – they’re losers. Me? I’m doing a controlled study here.” This is what I tell myself, because you need a good, solid mantra when you get an eyeful of the typical citizen who’s likely to join you in playing the Florida Lottery – particularly, the regulars.

Sandwiched between a guy who is no doubt on the Pinellas County All-Star Carp Fishin’ Team and a mother of two wearing a halter top that was probably sexy 40 pounds ago, you had better have something to hold on to. Power animal. Happy place. Something.

I don’t remember why, but at some point last year, I blew 10 bucks on a handful of lottery tickets and, despite winning nothing, convinced myself that I had “a system.”

Most crackpots do. Howard Hughes’ involved investing in casinos and storing his urine in milk bottles – mine is somewhat simpler: I play the same numbers every time. Assuming that the lottery will never select the same six-digit winning combination twice, each time my number doesn’t come up, we grow that much closer to the day it will. What this means in practical terms is that week-to-week, my odds of winning increase from about 1:22,957,480 to about 1:22,957,470.

Increasing my chances of having to subsist on Ramen noodles for the next week to, oh, 50-50, is pretty sweet.

State lotteries in general are often referred to as a “stupidity tax.” Fittingly, Florida’s state lotto is used to fund our school system, which, thanks to the horrible No Child Left Behind curriculum mentality, will eventually turn out new generations of vaguely sad, low-browed button-pushers who will purchase mass quantities of lottery tickets in hopes of escaping their dead-end, low-wage jobs. So we’ve got that going for us.

I have no idea why I’m so drawn to this form of gambling. It is moronic in every sense – it combines the poor investment sense of the Reagan-era Savings & Loan structure with the sheer boredom of televised NASCAR. It is antithetical to everything that has proven successful or worthwhile in my life. I am a believer in IRAs, endurance sports and modern literature – and yet here I am, metaphorically doing whippets and drinking PBR in the 7-Eleven parking lot at three in the morning.

The other side of this pursuit, of course, is the hypocritical indulgence in the “money mentality” – the idea that an immediate landslide of cash would make my life “better.” Which, frankly, is ludicrous. I breathe without mechanical assistance, and still have all my original parts. All my drug use is elective, as opposed to necessary. I don’t have to siphon gas just to start my car, and I live in a house that the bank lets me pretend I own.

You laugh when I say it doesn’t get much better than this, but really, it doesn’t. Twenty years from now, you’ll just end up paying more property tax, letting someone else change your oil, voting Republican and scamming sadly-unnecessary refills for your Viagra prescription. Winning the lottery will change none of this for you.

But still, I play. It’s just that tiny taste of emotional methamphetamine that not only makes the chance of winning tangible and “not crazy,” but also impossible to walk away from. Because, of course, the one time you don’t play those magic numbers, you know what will happen – even after you’ve played them for 342 weeks in a row; or for that matter, 343.

Ryan McGeeney is a senior majoring in political science.