"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, June 28, 2024

Mary, Queen Of Hearts - Despite Vegas, God, And Good Breeding Her Luck With Men Was Very, Very Bad

Mary Stuart had always been lucky.  She won stuffed animals at the state fair, played the scratch-and-sniff daily lottery and won with regularity, and always seemed to get flushes and straights when she played poker. 


Scientists explain this 'hot hand' phenomenon as nothing unusual, just strings of good luck which over time will always turn out bad; but however defined, designed, or measured, she was a lucky girl; unless of course it involved choosing a partner and then more often than not she was left on the curb or a crying mess in the girls bathroom.  'What is wrong with me?', she asked herself time and time again. 

To salve the pain she played cards with her roommates all of whom were mathematicians like her, and all of whom tried to beat the house in Vegas, not quite counting cards, but calculating the odds.  Brenda, Mary's best friend, a girl with no looks, no charm, no personality but with a gift for instantaneous calculations, risk assessment, and canny betting.  Whenever they went to Vegas or Mohegan Sun, Brenda always came home with sizeable winnings - again, not break the bank fortune, but enough to pay for the round trip. 


Blackjack was simple - every number over fifteen carried an absolute stochastic value - i.e. the chances of winning with sixteen showing was always X and every other card dealt either increased or lowered the odds by a given number. Poker of course was more complex, more reliant on collective reasoning (how other players reacted to every card played), but still learnable.  There were odds for everything, absolute, unchangeable, and unforgiving. 

Mary felt good after these trips.  Not only the gambling - which of course was the principal reason for going - but the whole glitzy, showy, garishly exciting sound and light show that never disappointed.  She of course had been hit on by any number of young men, but there was something about Vegas and its defining rules that insulated her from the world of incalculable odds - her problem in the first place. It felt good to be in such a well-ordered, predictable place, so why disturb the peace?

Vegas of course was only a temporary respite from the bad choices she constantly made - she always bought the wrong size, underestimated or overestimated the weather, and found herself sitting next to men who always turned out wrong. 

Take Lucas, for example.  At first glance he met her basic criteria - tall, fair-complected, engaging, and classically handsome - but she couldn't see beyond the flowers and candlelit dinners, or their modern equivalent, and ended up with them pawing and grabbing at her before she knew it.  Or the men whose switches were never turned on, dead wires, hopelessly clueless, chargeless, and spent before the evening got rolling. 


'Maybe if I rolled the dice', she said.  'Conflation' was the term used in philosophy for the subtle merging of discordant elements, and making both of them part of the same paradigm; and perhaps there was something to it.  Oh yes of course, choosing men was a different kettle of fish, but perhaps...She slapped her wrist. 'Bad girl!' she said. 'There you go again', and primped and rouged and reapplied her lipstick as she made her way back to the  bar. 

Vegas was all about absolutes.  Either you beat the odds or you didn't.  There could be no regrets or  arrière-pensées because the odds were fixed and immutable. If you played your cards right, always with the odds in mind, you would win. The bar - this one, any one - was a crap shoot.  Rolling the dice had no such perceivable, understandable odds.  They were always the same.  The chances of rolling a six or an eight were always the same. There was nothing to suss, contemplate, or mentally adjudicate.

So Randall from Gaithersburg could either be a jerk or a nice guy.  Savvy girls knew immediately which it was because they could read men. They were experts in deconstructing facial expressions, cant of the shoulders, tonality and tone of voice; but Mary was clueless.  All the statistics and advanced mathematical theory did her no good at the bar.  

There must be some odds that governed sexual relationships. In any cohort group of 100 there had to be a number of good matches, regardless of the chooser's personality; and there must be serial odds - after so many tries, Mr. Right would turn up.  It was after all the age of big data - if you asked enough people how many gum balls were in a large jar, someone without any calculating skills (circumference of the jar, volume, distribution) would hit on the right number and there had to be a precise formula for that process.  In her case all the men in the bar were gum balls in a jar and she would have a one in...hmmm...how many? chances of getting it right. 


What about trial and error? That was not exactly serial odds, but somewhere between Las Vegas and the gumball jar; and so she gave that theory a try.  After too many times to count pawed and groped and drooled over, she was learning nothing.  Artificial intelligence built on odds and big data learned from trial and error and it took only a few mistakes to get the issue spot on and make sense.  Not Mary who remained stuck in her stochastic world of probability.  

There remained another possibility - do nothing, be an empty vessel, wait for Lady Luck to come calling. If she could not make sense out of variability, then why not let someone else to the calculation and come to her? 

Needless to say that option was as much of a dud as all the others, for in order to sort out the wheat from the chaff, she would have to be alone with her suitors and put up with the pawing and fondling yet again. 

She knew from women's magazines how to get a man, but that only got you through the door.  Human nature being what it is - predictable but indecipherable on an individual basis - there was no telling what insects the roses and honeysuckle would attract. 

How did those other girls do it, Mary constantly wondered.  Even drab, humorless Brenda had a beau albeit a dorky, dweeby MIT student.  Adam and Eve were the ideal couple because there was no one else around, no games, no sussing of intent or motivation, just two meant-for-each-other people bedded in a lovely place.  Nothing went right after that of course and women were forever consigned to trickery.

Shakespeare knew that little paradigm well as his heroines ran rings around their deaf, clumsy suitors in every Comedy he wrote. 

'Maybe I should become a lesbian', she thought, possible in this era of gender choice.  That must increase the odds - single sex partnership meant instinctively understanding the woman on the other side of the bed - but the whole idea was off-putting to say the least. 

It would be a nice ending to the story to report that Mary found Mr. Right, they married, moved to the suburbs, had two children, and lived happily ever after, but what were the odds of that ever happening in the best of circumstances? 

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