Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Daily Racing Form

When you were quite a bit younger, still foundering in your first venture into double digit age, you had long, hopeful thoughts about luck, wondering what a young boy such as yourself could do to attract it.  

Somehow, you came into a possession of a rabbit's foot key chain, the acquisition as nebulous as your belief that a rabbit's foot was a magnet for good luck.  If you stroked the rabbit's foot from time to time, the nebulous process would cause good luck to come your way.

In quick succession, you found a key somewhere along the path from your elementary school to your often target for lunch, the Farmer's Market at Third and Fairfax.  Finding the key was important because at the time you had no key nor a need for one.  The key was a sign that there was purpose to the rabbit's foot, a demonstration that luck was something you could turn on as you turned on a radio in order to listen to adventure serials such as "Captain Midnight," "Red Ryder," "Little Orphan Annie."

Your father set you straight, first asking what the key was for and why you had a rabbit's foot.  He listened to your explanation then reminded you that the rabbit's foot was flawed from the start because it had not done much for the rabbit.

Somehow, this vision cheered you.  The rabbit's foot was history. "Besides," your father told you, "luck is related to chance.  Good fortune is another matter."

Up to this point, you'd always associated good fortune with the messages in the fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants.  "Be prepared for good fortune."  "Tomorrow will bring good fortune."

Again, you father listened.  "Being alive is good fortune,"  he said. "If you are awake, eat a good breakfast, and don't dawdle on your way to school, you will discover something exciting.  That is good fortune.  That is not a gamble."

Even at this age, you were aware of your father's authority in such matters as luck.  More than once, when you approached him with difficulties in math homework, he showed you how to remove the factor of luck from the determination of the relative speeds of horses over a course of, say, six furlongs.  He showed you a menu of horses who were about to compete in a race, asked you to pick a horse you thought might win.  When you did, he said you would be lucky if that horse were to win, and just to prove it, he'd give you what a bet of two dollars on that horse would have won.

You were not lucky.  The horse, whose name in Spanish was Little Lizard, which was why you picked the horse, finished sixth in a field of twelve.  But you had the good fortune of having a father who could cause you to see things in ways that caused you   to laugh at things often, whether he was present or not.  He also showed you how to predict with greater certainty if a horse had a prospect for winning a race, which is to say he taught you how to read and use The Daily Racing Form.

"I expect you to understand we are dealing with probabilities.  We are not dealing with luck or magic.  Every horse in a race has a chance.  The Daily Racing Form does not factor in good fortune because that is a variable, do you understand?"

You believed you did.  Years later, when you read the short story by D. H. Lawrence, "The Rocking Horse Winner," you understood once again about luck and ability and how easy it is to conflate the two into a cocktail that becomes more hope and wish-fulfillment than probable outcome.

In some ways, you were lucky to come upon the way you see things, and how, often, they make you laugh, even when you are alone.  Now, all these years away from rabbit's feet, you think there is likely some luck in the ideas for stories that come to you but how important good fortune is when it comes to getting them selected and evaluated using standards you may well have picked up from The Daily Racing Form.

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