Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A lily trifecta

Once upon a time, I was too young for the two main industries in the town I lived in. The horse races and hotel. I suppose I could have gone to the races, it was about a 5 minute walk across and down the road. But I didn't. I'm pretty sure I was drinking in the bars before I ever went to the races.

Once there, someone explained many of the various bets to me, and I was appalled. The odds of winning were terrible. Not that I knew anything about horses, but I watched for a while, making a note to myself of which horse I picked, but not actually placing a bet. The first night I went none of the horses I "picked" finished in the top three. I was really pleased, since I had saved myself about $20, which was real money back then, enough to fund 3 or 4 nights of drinking, depending on a number of factors that I need not go into right now. (Beer was 95 cents a bottle and if you didn't hand the waitress a one dollar bill and tell her to keep it, you were thought to be cheap and might get slapped.)

Then one of my buddies was on about the trifecta. All he could talk about was the huge payoff for a not big bet. I kept my experience firmly in mind, namely my complete lack of success in picking any of the top three, let alone all of them in the correct order. I did bet a few times, since I was told that made the race more meaningful, but meh. I don't remember winning anything more than trivial money, and I suspect my total bets was on the order of $20.

Fortunately I didn't lose too much money playing poker with groups of friends that included people I didn't know, before taking a math course that taught me how to calculate such odds. (They start at terrible and get worse, in case you hadn't known.) Typing and business math, taught in the same room, and probably the two most useful courses I've taken in my life. One to teach me how to type, and one to truly understand what a bad deal gambling was. If that wasn't bad enough, there were lotteries.

I clearly remember lotteries being a new thing while I was in high school. The prize was a million dollars, and the draw was a half hour televised extravaganza. My brain melted when I calculated how long I would have to work to earn a million dollars. It melted again when I calculated the odds of winning. It was quite literally all the money one could possibly ever need. I mean, the very definition of millionaire was that you could buy anything you wanted.

As I think of it now, winning a million dollars in the late 70's would have been a catastrophe for me. Sure, interest rates were sky high then, and a normal bank account would have paid out interest to fund an extravagant lifestyle. But then interest rates went down, and down, and down. By the late 80's it probably would have been funding a very modest lifestyle, and it only got worse. Once the principle is tapped it all goes downhill really quickly, and there you are, no relevant work experience, and unless you were extraordinarily disciplined, not much to show for what got spent.

I think of myself as fairly good with money, but in many ways I was a feckless youth. I probably would have spent most of the income on wine, women, and song, or the moral equivalents thereof.

Since I didn't have much, I was far more careful trying to spend where I would get an actual return. Or better yet, once I was in a position to do so, put the money to work by going out and making friends, then bringing more buddies like itself home.

Here's a trifecta of lilies for your amusement, though I suppose a trio is a more accurate term. I just happened to be thinking trifecta today, for several reasons.

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