“Yes! Poolsville is open,” I shouted, reading an email on my phone. The news echoed through the hardwood floors in my kitchen.
“Please don’t say that out loud anymore. It’s like you’re waiting for a merry-go-round in an amusement park,” my wife said, passing by without interrupting her stride.
“This is my college football betting pool.”
“It’s even worse,” she called from the small laundry room.
I have been in the same football pool for almost two decades and its beauty is in its simplicity. Playing all season only requires $ 10, and there’s no way to spend more than that. The pool provider is a friend from high school who selects five college games a week and emails them to the players. Players choose the winner of each contest and return them.
There is no top / bottom. There is no spread. It’s just direct picking. A successful outsider choice earns bonus points. The house keeps nothing. A weekly count of points shows who owns the classification and who occupies the cellar.
It’s one of my favorite distractions.
Well-planned moderate distractions are the fuel of a healthy soul. I’m not referring to the kind of distraction that keeps kids from doing their homework or workers from completing their jobs. I am talking about those little pauses in the rhythm of the day which are the rest of tired minds, the sustenance of bodies that need to be exercised differently.
I love college football, but I don’t know the different teams well enough to be a dangerous competitor. I have a simple system: I choose the schools that I like, which usually results in a lower level performance. I never choose Oklahoma teams; I always choose Notre-Dame. I usually choose solid college schools like Duke and Stanford. It’s easy to see why I’m never close to winning.
The swimming pool makes boring games interesting. Why would I care who wins the Purdue-Michigan State game? With the pool, I can’t help but look at it. Is it a game? Am I breaking the law despite my nominal investment?
Then I remembered the lottery ticket I bought the other day.
“Why don’t you just pocket two dollars and throw it out the car window?” It seems like a better plan than buying a lottery ticket, ”said my wife.
“Someone has to win, it might as well be me.”
“You have a higher chance of being struck by lightning.”
“No one has to be struck by lightning. Someone has to end up winning the lottery.”
She imitated taking two dollars out of a wallet, tossing it around and throwing it away. I didn’t laugh.
“If I win, I don’t share with you.”
“Oh my God, that completely changes my mind,” she said, her voice growing deep and deep. “Of course, please use our savings to purchase lottery tickets from now on.” She added a wink and a smile for good measure.
I hate when she flirts while disrespecting me.
With the jackpot whirling around $ 500 million, I just couldn’t help myself. It’s not that I need a better life. It’s not that I even fully believe that a lot of money could create a better life. This is the game. Before you sound like an addicted gamer, let me explain.
Winning the lottery does not require any skill, no strategy on the part of the champion. All you need is the blind chance to buy a ticket at the right time at the right convenience store. It is a pure game of chance. But the little bit of dopamine that seeps into my brain when I play a game of luck makes the whole effort, well, fun.
Yes, I understand that this fact underscores that gambling is as much of a problem for some as alcohol and drugs are for others. It can be addictive, but I tell myself that moderate distractions are healthy. Moderation is the key. And if you can influence the payment by doing some homework, well, that’s just too good to pass up.
Which brings us back to Poolsville.
A big early game in the form of Georgia against Clemson dominated the first week. You can make a pretty educated guess in that one. There was also the Iowa game against Indiana. Now how would I know which team is the best? Simple. Either study in teams or choose the school your high school friend attended. I chose the latter and luckily Iowa came out on top. I chose Stanford over Kansas State because of my rules mentioned earlier. Not a good choice this time.
Dreaming about a lottery score or watching a few college football games are distractions in every sense of the word. We need those in life.
We need those times when the pressures of a rapidly rotating Earth seem out of control and utterly determined to swallow our little lives. We need distractions when images of hate and anger, anxiety and illness fill our waking moments. In fact, a few distractions make us better able to deal with the big thoughts that life demands of us today.
I’ve already picked my Poolsville picks for today and despite hitting a 2-3 weekly record, I’m hopeful. Maybe this is the day my winning record begins. I might even catch the ad for the lottery.
Regardless, I will take advantage of the free time. I’ll take advantage of the distraction.
Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at [email protected] Find him on Twitter @steve_straessle.