Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Know When to Hold 'Em. Know When to Fold 'Em. Know When to Go Online and Buy from Someplace in New Jersey.

Bear with me. One thing always makes me think of another.

I gamble on some things, and other things I don't gamble on. I am trying to tease out the difference between the circumstances in which I take risks in the hope of reward and the ones in which I don't. I mean, am I a man of principle or am I not? When we go to Las Vegas, I am willing to go right up to my limit and lose every cent. But that limit is $20. In Las Vegas I'm no gambler, and that's in the first best meaning of the word: to determine the probability that something will happen, to find the point of advantage in that knowledge and to find someone who will take the other side of the probability, money to be exchanged in the aftermath of the event.

I don't do that.

As far as my health is concerned, I'm not sure how my conduct should be described. I do love sugar and foods infused with oil. But I have just enough self control to keep myself, oh, unpleasantly plump but still something less than obese, so I do qualify my risk. And I do go to the doctor every year or so. And I have been walking on weekdays to try to get my blood pressure down. I'm not as diligent about my health as I could be, but I'm not in denial about the danger to it, either. Oh yeah. I gave up my beloved pipe and cigars several years ago for health reasons. So I'm not sure what the appropriate vocabulary would be to describe the degree to which I flirt with death or disability in the way I live my life. I'm not relying on megavitamins or esoteric herbs to keep me healthy, in blind hopeful defiance of the best medical research to the contrary. In summary, I would say that I am not particularly prudent, but I would draw the line at saying I'm "taking a gamble" with my health. When it comes to describing my moderately risky health practices, if we use "gamble" I'm thinking that's moving rather far down the list of common definitions of the term. I mean, I'm not putting something at risk in the hope of later gain. I'm choosing a series of small pleasures now -- a chocolate doughnut, sitting quite still for long periods on my broad behind -- in the hope that something does NOT happen in the future. I mean dying earlier rather than later, more rather than less debilitated as the end approaches. Of course, I could get run over tomorrow. How many strips of bacon is that possibility worth?

I go great gobs of time between pieces of bacon. I'm not exactly gambling with my health, am I?

But oh oh I am drawn to another kind of conduct that is a kind of gamble. I wrestle with it even as I write. We are finally ready to buy a digital camera, and -- to save $50 or less -- I am drawn to these online operations that Froogle or Yahoo or PC.com make it so easy to find. Butterfly. Digital Foto. Buydig. I'm not sure if they are reliable. There are these other websites, like reseller.com and pricegrabber.com that rate them. But how do you tell if the rating websites are themselves reliable? Why take the risk? But possibly because of some essential male pleasure in having dominance over gadgets, I want to extract a bargain from the whole anguished process of deciding which gadget to choose among many gadgets. The pleasure of being able to brag about a low price! The satisfaction of not being forced to line up with the suckers and pay a premium, i.e., full "manufacturer's suggested." Common sense tells me that some of these online businesses are cons or, at least, cheats, peddling gray market or refurbished goods. But I am drawn to the gamble, to taking the chance, not only to save the money but to find if it could be true. It's epistemological. Could these businesses be honest? No, that's not the question. The question is are any of these businesses honest, and is there adequate information on the web -- in chat rooms and search engine feedback -- for me to determine which is which?

It strikes me as something man should know, like knowing where you can save a nickel on a gallon of gas. Is it possible for me to be a canny shopper? Of course, I might not learn anything. I might simply get lucky. I'm assuming some of these outfits are a kind of Ponzi scheme, by which I mean some customers will be cheated and others won't. I'm drawn to the risk, and a risk it is even if you pay by credit card since disputing a bill is a laborious and unpleasant job.

I have at least twice in my life run out of gas because I declined to buy gas at a certain price and then been horrified to pass station after station offering it at a higher price. I had to keep going until a found a price that did not call my initial judgment into question. Stupid. I could have been killed. For a total cash accrual of 75 cents.

OhOh. I understand. It's Russian Roulette. Gee. I'm daring God to prove he exists and that he likes me by letting me buy a really nice camera at slightly above cost, the evidence of a cruel indifferent universe consisting of my $300 and getting nothing. Turn right at Masochism but stop before you get to Death Wish. Gee.

Man, I am crazy. Or as my wife sometimes says, "You are a man. Crazy."

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