I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of finding out, first thing every morning, that I'm a loser.

I open the flap of the cereal box and it announces "Sorry--you are not a winner." Now I'm very well aware of the fact that I am "not a winner," especially not at 6:30 a.m.. I'm not even fully human at 6:30 a.m.. But what I most certainly am NOT is in need of having it confirmed for me by the cereal's marketing department that I have already LOST a contest before I've had coffee.

Not that it stops in the morning. That would make life too easy. I twist off the cap to the seltzer bottle and it tells me to "Please try again." I buy a candy bar only to have the wrapper announce "Are you kidding? Why even bother to look? You did not just win a Ford Explorer. Trust us, you're not even on the short list. Get a life."

You must understand one thing: I DO NOT CHOOSE TO PLAY these games. I'm just after the tacky product--corn flakes, beverage, chocolate

You can't help but sneak a look just in case you've been lucky.

It's not that I want to win what they're offering as a prize; I just want to win--period. They could be giving away giant dust balls for all I care. Losing is rotten experience, even when you don't particularly desire what is being offered. I don't know what a "Playstation" is and I don't want one, but naturally enough I am bothered by the fact that I have just lost one.

With God as my witness, I do not want to win a trip anywhere--my dearest, fondest wish at the moment is to be permitted a week at home without travel--but it irks me to find out that some other cereal-eater is going to Hawaii. Why not me? I don't want to be on a plane for eighteen hours; for me that is a form of penance, not a desirable prize.

But when I rip open the box and look for my fate as it appears printed on the inside of the cardboard, I want to be one of the elect, of the chosen. A mixture of competition and imagination-- with maybe a touch of blind greed and lunatic vanity thrown in for good measure-- informs my desire. Reason and need have nothing to do with it.

A couple of years back, when my youngest stepson was still in high school, I used to buy us lottery tickets. I'd pick them up when I was at the grocery store or the pharmacy and put them next to our plates at dinner. It was just a silly affectionate gesture. Well, I stopped making this particular gesture after I realized how genuinely appalled both my stepson and his father were when they did not win.

They'd have spent time discussing how great it would be to suddenly be in possession of a couple of hundred (or thousand) bucks and then, having scratched off the silvery stuff covering the numbers, fly into tirades at the unfairness of fate when they lost.

They simply could not believe it.

Although I was thrilled to win even a two-dollar bet, it wasn't worth the emotional expenditure of being in the company of guys who've been cheated by the universe. (It was around that time I began suggesting that we go to the movies after dinner. Watching objects get blown up is more calming than dealing with the heartbreak of Lottery Defeat.)

I shouldn't admit it, but it is the very idea that SOMEBODY out there wakes up one morning to find out that he or she IS a winner that's really irritating. The "Nyahh, nyahh, if I can't have you it, you can't either" doctrine kicks in. Oscar Wilde, bless him, has a wonderful line illuminating the corner of human nature which dictates that we would throw away much of what is unimportant in our lives except for the terrible certainty that, once discarded, someone else will immediately pick it up. (I am aware of several long-term relationships firmly based on that very principle.)

"You can't win if you don't play," the slogan teases, but obviously we can now LOSE without playing. Marketing Folks, listen up: some of us are sore losers. We'll just take our ball and go home, or take our money and eat toast. It's hard to lose at toast.

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