Odds on Favorite

by Calendar Hacksaw

A while back, I was down on Skid Row watching a bum shuffle his way along a bank of pay phones, his bloodied right index finger methodically probing the recesses of each coin return slot in search of an overlooked nickel or dime. His face showed no emotion as each search came up empty, and I suspected the blank expression wouldn't change even if he got lucky. I wondered how many phones he would have to finger before striking pay dirt. Maybe one in a thousand? I think we've all had days like that, haven't we?

There's a Mexican kid who sells bouquets on my freeway offramp. Over the years, I've seen him make a few sales. Maybe one driver in a thousand will make a purchase. A guy forks over $5 and hands the flowers to the babe sitting next to him. Talk about "impulse buying." She must feel really special.

I knew a cop who worked graveyard shift, and after the sidewalks rolled up and the bars closed he'd spend the pre-dawn hours in the commercial district, walking from one business to the next in search of unlocked rear doors. Each open entryway fell into one of three categories: a burglary in progress, a burglary already occurred, or just a careless merchant inviting theft. How many doorknobs did he have to twist before he found one that would turn? Perhaps one in a thousand.

When the odds are stacked against you a thousand to one, what are your chances? Pretty damned good, as I see it.

In the early 60s, a London bookmaker offered 1,000:1 odds against a man walking on the moon before the end of the decade. David Threlfall put down $10. Neil Armstrong bounced across the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, and Threlfall walked away with a cool ten grand. I don't think I had $10 to my name that day, stuck in Pensacola transcribing Morse Code at the Naval Communications Training Center.

Let's ponder Jere's friend, Lester, for just a moment. A wildcatter in the Oklahoma oilfields for 29 years until an unfortunate mishap involving a Wilson Super 80 crushed his left hand and removed his right eye, thus ending his career. But Lester didn't give up; a full year of physical therapy taught him to roll smokes with his remaining hand and eek out a meager living off one-armed bandits in casinos, a one-in-a-thousand proposition in itself. It was in the gamblin' hall saloons that Lester really showed what he was made of. Spotting the most attractive woman present, he would approach her without hesitation and ask, "Hey, babe; how about it?" Lester admitted that approach only worked about one time in a thousand, but when it did, the reward was well worth it. The 999 rejections didn't count.

Actor/author Jameson Parker (An Accidental Cowboy, October 2003, St. Martin's Press, $24.95 (cheaper used), 278 pages, with glossary), faced 1,000:1 odds of making it home or even to an emergency room after being gunned down by a deranged neighbor. Later, he faced similar odds in battling the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder. But he survived and grew in ways he could have never predicted, finally landing somewhere in our cattle-addled midst and befriending Lawrence and Judy. Can't get much luckier than that! Welcome aboard, Jameson, and congratulations on beating the odds.

So, where am I headed with this, you might ask. Well, nowhere in particular, but my sixth sense and mental telepathy as a seasoned columnist tells me that a few of you are facing great odds in your own lives right now, some by circumstance and some by opportunity. Whether voluntary or mandatory, the odds are the same, and the choice lies in your attitude: positive or negative. Having a positive outlook doesn't always include a guarantee of beating the odds, but you'll be a hell of a lot more pleasant to be around and it'll give you something to do while awaiting the outcome.

Speaking of "awaiting the outcome," Dan Carlock spent five lonely hours late last month knowing full well that death had the deck stacked against him, probably by far greater than 1,000 to 1. A scuba diver, Carlock was apparently overlooked when the crew of his party boat hoisted anchor and moved to another location 11 miles distant. So, there floated poor Dan, all alone in choppy seas seven miles off the coast of Southern California. If he wasn't a religious man before, he became so very quickly.

Enter 15-year-old Boy Scout Zach Maberry, standing watch in pea soup fog aboard the tall ship Argus, returning to port from Santa Catalina. Scanning the swells with binoculars, Zach spotted something in the water; something waving its arms. He couldn't believe what he's seeing, so he handed the glasses to a fellow Scout. Then, in unison, it was "MAN OVERBOARD!"

By coincidence or not, the Scouts aboard the Argus had practiced their "man overboard" drill just the prior day. A motorized craft was quickly dispatched, and Carlock was pulled from the edge of a watery grave, hardly the worse for wear physically. I imagine it will take a court of law to attach a dollar value to his mental suffering. Perhaps you or I will be so fortunate as to sit on the jury. I suspect Threlfal's $10,000 London payday will pale by comparison with Carlock's eventual winnings. I hope he finds peace.

There's no better time to beat the odds than Springtime; the "Season of Renewal." If you don't feel inspired to help yourself, do someone else the favor. Suppose you're strutting down the sidewalk with a pocketful of jingle when you spot some lonely payphones. I think you know what ol' Calendar wants you to do. Improve the odds. It might go toward a bottle of Eleven Cellars, or it might pay for a long-overdue phone call. That decision isn't yours to make, nor should it be. Go ahead; make someone's day.

Calendar Hacksaw isn't accepting collect calls at calendarhacksaw@highdesert.com, because tomorrow he's making his first exploratory Piute Mountain trip of 2004. Next month's column doesn't depend on beating the odds because he defines "luck" as faith, inner strength, determination, proper training, keeping your focus and finding the right opportunity to deliver accurate return fire.

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