Tumbling Dice

Cuz we zig and zag between good and bad
Stumble and fall on right and wrong
Cuz the tumbling dice with the luck of the draw just lead us on

I didn’t buy it, this Camper Van Beethoven lyric—fate, luck, but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I. For thirty-five years I interpreted this lyric as faulty thinking. The wistful musings of a down-on-his-luck ne’er-do-well accepting no responsibility for his lot in life. Historically, I’ve been a bootstraps guy—meaning you ‘pull yourself up’ by them. To borrow a phrase from the Terminator movie franchise, No fate but what you make. The idea that I might not be in charge of my destiny appalled me.

A solid career; nice house; awesome, loving wife; phenomenal kids; good mind; healthy lifestyle—I made that all happen—so I thought. If there was any luck involved, it was simply a return of karma earned though my lifetime of positive actions.

For the past eighteen months, I’ve been thinking about privilege. After the country’s so-called racial reckoning, I reexamined my own situation. I’m not a newbie to the concept of privilege, I once worked in a domestic violence nonprofit—a company otherwise made up of only women. One of my boss’ favorite phrases was “Jeff, your privilege is showing.” In training exercises, we played a game. We lined up against a wall. The moderator asked us a series of questions: Do you have a relative in jail? If no, take a step forward. Are you white? Are you male? Did you go to college? Are you in a relationship? I crossed the room quickly—near the front of the pack—held up only slightly by my neurological disorders.

And what is privilege other than luck? My childhood was idyllic. House in the suburbs, a large forested swath of land fifty yards away. My parents read me books at bedtime. We sat down to a family meal each night. Went to movies. Took an annual trip to the beach. No one beat me.

Early in my marriage to Susan, my sister-in-law once commented how easily everything came to us. Her proof: we bought a couch in just one trip to the store. A trivial example, but it must have been her final straw after seeing us successfully negotiate a litany of adulting situations. I took offense. I felt that every step we took in life was well planned and carefully orchestrated. If it looked easy, it’s because we put in the hard work. Now I’m rethinking that.

The Song Lyric Sunday prompt this week is to write about a song discussing luck. Weeks ago, when I saw this prompt, I immediately knew I wanted to write about When I Win the Lottery by Camper Van Beethoven. David Lowery, the primary writer, has an uncanny ability to paint a picture with words. In my opinion, this song is his finest effort. I wanted to contradict the protagonist’s misguided thinking that no one has control, everything is based on luck. As I pondered the song, my essay, and my life, I changed my mind; I decided he’s right. It all comes down to luck… or fate… or providence.

Absolutely, I make positive things happen in my life, but my privilege is a giant factor (possibly the giant factor) that makes it possible. I feel silly for not recognizing this sooner. Last week, I wrote about a rough communication exchange that left me feeling vulnerable and embarrassed. I wrote how Susan propped me up, telling me that others understand me and likely stuck up for me after the fact. In a comment, a blogger wrote “It’s awesome how Susan has your back.”

Yes, it is. In this world of eight billion people, it’s blind luck that I met Susan, I didn’t make that happen. The tumbling dice and the luck of the draw brought us together. And my privilege put me in the right spot at the right time for us to meet.

When I Win the Lottery

Well I lost an eye in Mexico
I lost two teeth, where I don’t know
People see me coming and they move to the other side of the road

I robbed a liquor store or two
I made myself at home a few times
Borrow myself a car when I need it

I got me a shack at the bottom of the road
Fixing cars and giving tows
I spend all my money on the lottery

When I win the lottery
Gonna buy all the girls on my block
Color TV and a bottle of French perfume

When I win the lottery
Gonna donate half my money to the city
So they have to name a street or a school or a park after me
When I win the lottery

Never ran a flag up a pole
Like Mr. Red White and Blue down the road
But I never call myself a hero for killing a known communist

Now I could walk into any old bar
And find a fight without looking too hard
But I never killed someone I don’t know just cuz someone told me to.

And when I win the lottery
Gonna buy the house next to Mr. Red, White and Blue

And when I win the lottery
Gonna buy post 306 American legion, paint it red with five gold stars
When I win the lottery

When the end comes to this old world
The righteous will cry and the rest will curl up
God won’t take the time to sort your ashes from mine

Cuz we zig and zag between good and bad
Stumble and fall on right and wrong
Cuz the tumbling dice with the luck of the draw just leads us on

And when I win the lottery
Gonna buy all the girls on my block
Silver plated six shooters with a quart of the finest highland scotch

Cuz when I win the lottery
The righteous will shake their heads and say
That God is good, but surely works in mysterious ways

When I win the lottery.

Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

28 thoughts on “Tumbling Dice

  1. great post, and a great song, such poignant words.

    and I couldn’t agree with you more. Where we are in life is a combo of some decisions we consciously made as well as a great deal of luck. Warren Buffett refers to it as the Ovarian Lottery, and I’ve written about it a few times.

    and I woudn’t mind winning the lottery…


    • Ovarian Lottery is the exact term. A combination of genetics and a variety of other factors completely out of our control. I wish people so quick to point fingers at others would take a minute to consider most of what they have is based on the down payment that their ovarian lottery offered them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm, I find it comforting to know that I’m not responsible for my own fate. You know, so I needn’t take the blame when it all goes to pot. I’m okay with not taking the credit when it all goes well. It’s all no-pressure and zen and stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It really does take the pressure off, right? Unfortunately, I think we still need to focus our actions to make the most of what we’re given, so a total withdrawal and you’ll wind up like the guy in the song.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I talked about this idea with Declan recently. He was the one (the only one) to profess how happy he was that I was his mom. I thanked him of course and reiterated the sentiment to him. But then I made him think about how different our lives could be. We could have been born in another country, our family could be a lot different. Mean, abusive. But instead, here we were, together and very happy. It really is mind-blowing!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post, Jeff. I am far more aware of my privileged life now too. So much of it is relationship driven … having a loving and supportive spouse, family, and circle of friends … but skin color, gender, orientation, religious beliefs, gainful employment, etc. are huge determining factors. I think everyone can benefit from feeling like an outsider in some way, because it builds human empathy … a quality that is sorely lacking in American culture.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree. A little strife in your life can make you far more empathetic of others. Unfortunately, it often becomes a reason to point fingers and hate. Don’t know what causes some of us to go one way and not the other.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Privilege is definitely a determining factor. I never went to college, but I am intelligent, fairly attractive, and white. Those are privileges… Even with all the things against me, I know my story could be very different.

    I believe our choices definitely make a difference, but I also believe that luck, fate, our spiritual plan… Whatever, has a part too. Like Chaos Theory… what I understand if it anyway😂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t understand chaos theory. Despite my obvious privilege, something I lack is book smarts. I have a really hard time reading and comprehending. I’m useless assembling stuff with directions. Usually, I’ll just stare at an unassembled item long enough for it to make sense.

      Do you think it fair to still create a pingback for this post on Sunday even though I posted it on Wednesday? It was truly written for the prompt. I just wrote it too early.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I recognize how lucky/privileged I am having good health care. I had a suspicious something biopsied this afternoon, and several growths frozen hoping they will disappear. With Medicare and a supplement I can afford, I get great health care that some people can’t access but should.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ooh. Good luck with that biopsy Brian. We just got back from a few days at the beach. We all got a little sunburned and I’m feeling guilty about not doing a better job controlling my kids. They are fair skinned like their mom. It’s like planting a bomb for the future.


  7. Growing up in white privilege, it wasn’t until I undertook the work of representing the underprivileged in the legal system that I grasped how lucky I was and how birth and early childhood circumstances play key roles in determining the adults we become. We must not only recognize the privilege, but act to level the field for others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, that leveling the playing field part is tricky. As usual, I’m good at complaining but not so good at action. I guess one positive thing I’ve participated in is that my kids understand their privilege much better than I did at their age.


  8. Hi Jeff you’ve given me plenty of food for thought…. I didn’t have time to go into my reasons for my song choices this week…and frankly I think you have brought me up short to think.
    Love your song choice it is brilliant and the lyrics are spot on.
    We are are where we are mostly by luck and a little engineering! Have a good Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Awesome post! I love what you’ve written about luck…and what a cute story about the couch! It’s true, some people can get really lucky… it’s the proper haggling or not needing to haggle at all… I can’t even win in an Ebay bid!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. They did the same exercise at work only instead of a step you put down a finger. My son was all jazz hands at the end. Or maybe he put one finger down when asked a socioeconomic question. Privilege indeed. It was eye opening.

    Liked by 1 person

      • This part here … “We lined up against a wall. The moderator asked us a series of questions: Do you have a relative in jail? If no, take a step forward. Are you white? Are you male? Did you go to college? Are you in a relationship? I crossed the room quickly—near the front of the pack—held up only slightly by my neurological disorders.”

        They did the same questions but without taking steps. It demonstrated privilege.

        Liked by 2 people

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