This I Believe

Andrew - San Francisco, California
Entered on March 16, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65


I’ve never considered myself to be paranoid, but now I’m not sure.

The latest clue was apocalyptic. I can now spell the word without using a dictionary.

I’ve lived in places that are prone to apocalyptic natural disasters from earthquakes and hurricanes to drought and floods. Tornadoes? Been there, seen that. A 100-foot rogue wave? Been there, seen that. Hell, I even witnessed a plague of locusts.

These experiences made for cool stories for family and friends.

Then I started tallying up what I’ve done … mostly unconsciously … to prepare for the next “Whatever”.

I have an emergency pack in my car with such nifty tools as a crowbar, 50-feet of rope, facemasks and other goodies to survive 72-hours. I have a duplicate backpack in my apartment as well as two fanny packs stuffed with stuff sitting near the front door … just in case I can’t get to the backpack. I keep sturdy shoes near the bed.

My browser is loaded with links to the latest on avian flu, the USGS quake page, the National Hurricane Center, NASA’s asteroid page, NOAA’s real-time sea buoy read-outs, a thinly disguised Mossad site to keep tabs on the Middle-East and bunches of other web pages which lean ever-so-slightly toward eco-paranoia.

I’m playing the odds. It may be in my DNA.

My grandfather was a professional gambler … the only man I knew who owned a custom-tailored tuxedo.

Playing the ponies was his expertise. As a kid, I ate my breakfast as Grand-Dad pored over the paper’s racing news. He took lots of notes and explained in mind-numbing detail which pony could do what under which conditions. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but he sounded so smart. He was my hero; my sensei.

He took me to the track once. I was so excited I remember bouncing around him, babbling nonsense. Grand-Dad grabbed my arm and said: “Shh. Grand-Dad’s working.”

And work he did. He won that day and, as far as I know, he won more than he lost.

The DNA sequence spread to my Dad who was involved in the shady booze “importation” opportunities of the 1930’s. My Mom had a talent as well. She worked the radio horse-racing scams. She revealed her secret after I took her to see the 1973 movie “The Sting”. She laughed through most of it. In the car home, she explained that the scam would never work the way Paul Newman and Robert Redford portrayed it. She then explained in mind-numbing detail how the real scam worked.

My family played the odds. I realize now they did their research and weighed the odds of success versus financial failure or jail. They won.

Fast-forward several decades. I work the numbers as well. Instead of ponies or booze, I research apocalyptic events. What are my chances of surviving an asteroid hit? Zero. How about a gamma ray burst? Earth becomes an instant micro-wave oven and I become a zero. Surving avian flu? Decent. Nuclear terrorism? Pretty good. Global warming? I’ll be long dead before the Mother Nature finally gives up on our species.

Odds are I’ll die from a heart attack or stroke. Actually, I’m betting on that; far better than the Long Good-bye of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, M-S or a melting Artic that drowns us coastal dwellers, fries our fields or turn us into Stone Age survivors.

Meantime, I play the lottery. Stupid, really. The odds are against me. But as any theoretical physicist will tell you, a lottery ticket is always a winner until you observe the results. Odds are you’ll lose. On the other hand, its 100% certain you won’t win without buying a ticket. Buy a ticket and the odds zoom to 50/50 as long as you never look at the results.

Is that paranoia or perpetual optimism? Win and buy your way to a “natural” End of Days or, lose, and hope for the best the next time around?

The best odds are a 17-year-old driver talking on a cell phone will T-bone me at an intersection.

I vote for the lottery.

It’s only a buck. Odds are I’ll win … as long as I never look.