Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mysteries of the Universe

I've been struck by a few puzzlements recently. To wit:

Why is it so important for drinkers to get non-drinkers to drink? From my uncomfortable, feeling-the-need-to-conform days in college to my jaunty professional life cocktail party pretense that a club soda with lime was actually a vodka and tonic to my current "No, thanks, I'm really not a drinker," I feel as if I've spent my life fending off the proselytizing benevolence of people who want me to share the joy they find in booze. Apparently, I lack the taste buds or enzymes or whatever it is that makes this stuff taste good to people. I can be talked into an occasional margarita or a celebratory glass of champagne, but most alcoholic beverages taste to me like what I imagine nail polish remover would taste like. I've been drunk precisely once and it's not an experience I care to replicate. (If I remember correctly, there was about an hour of wonderful, dizzy, barely conscious buzz, then several hours of actual unconsciousness, then headache and nausea.) And, hey, I can be fun sober.

How is it possible for readers to read and enjoy a book when their grasp of what actually happened in the book and who the characters are is so tenuous that...well, if their actual grip on things were equally shaky, they'd be perpetually surrounded by dropped objects. I know we all bring our own experiences to the table when we read and that the hallmark of a good book is the way it creates its world while leaving room for different readers to take different messages from it, to respond in their own way and get what they want and need from its plot and characters. Fair enough. But I continue to be amazed by people who miss key character descriptors and plot points, or who want to know who Julie is two paragraphs after Julie is introduced, or who never even noticed a theme you found overbearing. Makes me wonder if our entire experience of books - and, probably, everything else - is virtually all about what we bring to them and very little, if any, about their intrinsics.

And finally, why in double-deck blackjack is it so common for all the players at the table to get a poor hand while the dealer gets a great one? A few days ago, on the first hand of a new shuffle, every one of five players was dealt a 15 (four pictures and fives; one eight and seven) when the dealer got a 20 in the form of two tens. This wasn't even close to the first time I've seen this; it happens far more commonly than the laws of probability would seem to dictate. The next hand saw another pair of tens for the dealer and five more crappy player totals - including, unbelievably, another picture and five; there are only eight fives total in the two decks! I understand how the game operates in favor of the house, but that has everything to do with how you have to play and nothing to do with the likelihood that you'll be dealt two cards totaling 12-16. The dealer theoretically has the same odds of getting an unpleasant hand as the players, right? Hmm.

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