I was just thinking about… optimism
By K.B. Sherman
In a scene repeated over and over, I was recently in line at the check-out counter at a local convenience store. Two men were in line ahead of me. The first, a middle-aged looking guy, bought $40 worth of instant lottery tickets, then, not wanting to wait until he got back to his car, stood aside and patiently scratched them off. He did not win. The next guy in line paid for his gas and then bought twenty dollars of scratch lottery tickets. He did not scratch them immediately and left the store.
Everyone knows, in some recess of their minds, that the chance of winning on a scratch ticket is in the hundreds of thousands. They know that their chance of winning on Powerball is in the hundreds of millions. But we keep buying lottery tickets.
Desperation? I think not. I think that for most people it’s pure, good old American optimism. Americans believe that they are, or will become, winners. Massachusetts wouldn’t make several billion dollars a year selling tickets to pessimists.
Despite an arguably long run of really bad news on the economic and international fronts, we Americans remain optimists – perhaps irrationally. Most adults have been through dozens or scores of bad storms during which electricity is out for hours, days, or even weeks. So how many of us own small generators? Less than one percent, even after sitting in a dark, cold kitchen for three days, cursing the bleak darkness while trying to open and close the refrigerator in less than three seconds when we want something to eat (cold, of course; the electric stove is out, too, and we didn’t bother to get a few propane cylinders for that camping stove we never actually used and is hidden somewhere in the basement behind the Land of Lost Jurassic Lawnmowers). Even after Hurricane Egor has formed, has grounded the C-130 weather airplanes, and is barreling down on you from the Caribbean, we never quite, really believe we will lose electric power until the wind is passing 50 knots and the roof is on its way to Maine, one shingle at a time. Similarly, we vote for someone who has let us down before, believing somehow that this time, things will be different, like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football held by Lucy.
We keep putting-off that car tune-up, never really believing that we’ll break-down until that cold, rainy night on Route 128, standing by the side of our car at 2:00 in the morning, our shoes full of water, water running down our neck, trying to hold a dead flashlight in our teeth (we can’t believe flashlight batteries don’t last 50 years) and using Navy Words on your dead cell phone. In that moment, our sunny optimism briefly gives way to snarly pessimism. But the next day, safely home, the car in a garage for repair, we resent not being able to drive to the Quick Mart to buy some more scratch tickets. Hey, we KNOW we’re gonna be lucky this time!
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