Issue 90, Winter 1983
My wife says it would be nice to win the lottery because then we could pay off the second mortgage, and I tell her that the odds she’s counting on for that are the same ones that malice it unlikely that she’ll be incinerated by a meteor on the way to work or even get hit by a bus or fall on the third rail and get fricasseed, all of which is perfectly possible, but statistics say it’s unlikely so why doesn’t she just relax. She doesn’t seem to be very impressed with this line of reasoning; she says she’s never really been bothered by the thought of being squashed or charbroiled or something just exactly because it is so unlikely, though why I have to put it in those lurid terms she doesn’t know, and she still wants to win the lottery because she sees no reason at all why she shouldn’t be struck by the good lightning and spared by the bad. Maybe I didn’t explain myself very well. To me it’s extremely important— knowing about those odds, I mean—and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve been depending on them all my life, and not just for staying alive in the sense that I avoid accidents, but also as a kind of nourishing jungle of numbers, a saving miscellany. To set about winning money would be to endanger the balance of probabilities, in the same way that building a road through the Amazonian basin (for instance) can have disastrous effects on the delicate layer of jungle topsoil on which the entire ecosystem depends. We saw dramatic evidence of this when we were in Brazil last year, by the way, about 200 kilometers from the beginning of the Trans-Amazon Highway proper, at the little trading town of Hubris; the entire area from the road out has been leached away and blown to kingdom come, along with every palm tree, liana, monkey and snapping turtle in the region; now it’s a wasteland, and all because of the road, because somebody wanted to get from here to there without tears.