WHENEVER I look in the mirror, the face staring back belongs to a man who has never won a raffle in his entire life.
He has never won a late-model Cadillac. Never won a 27-inch color TV. Never won three matching pieces of Samsonite luggage. Never won a basket of cheer.
Never even won a turkey.
Think about that for a minute: Here's a man who NEVER EVEN WON A TURKEY. EVERYBODY wins a turkey. I know 6-, 7-year-olds who have won so many turkeys they have to stuff them under their beds because there's no more room in the freezer.
My mother wins so many turkeys, I think she's grabbing a rifle and going out in the woods and shooting the damn things herself.
Not me, though. Thirty-eight years old, never even won a turkey. Pathetic.
Understand, it's not like I never win a raffle because I never buy a raffle ticket. Are you kidding? I buy more raffle tickets than anyone else on the planet. I walk into a room, 20 people automatically reach in their pockets and whip out raffle tickets.
People who run raffles as far away as California, Michigan and Texas say to themselves: ''That guy in Baltimore, he's a sucker. He's good for a few tickets.''
Priests, rabbis, Muslim clerics, school teachers, Scoutmasters, Little League coaches and bartenders badger me to buy raffle tickets that will help their church, synagogue, mosque, junior high, Scout pack, team or saloon.
It's funny, I used to think I never won raffles simply because of fate. I'd stand there at the grand prize drawing, holding my plastic cup of fruit punch and watching as the Caribbean cruise for two went to someone else and think: Some people have all the luck.
Now I know better. I know it's part of a larger conspiracy. Say what you will about Wedtech or Defense Department spending or this S&L business, you want to see a massive cover-up, try this: Why has a 38-year-old man in the richest country in the world, in a country where they run raffles morning, noon and night, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, NEVER WON SO MUCH AS A FREAKING TURKEY!
Believe me, we get to the bottom of that scandal, it'll make Watergate look like a clerical error on Nixon's part.
The conspiracy angle might sound far-fetched until you actually watch me buy a raffle ticket. The people who sell the ticket KNOW I'm not going to win. You can see it on their faces.
Oh, they go through the charade of pretending I have a chance, even going so far as to say "Good luck" as I fill out my name, address, phone number, etc. in another doomed attempt to win a trip on American Airlines to anywhere in the country or a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
But the conversation is a little too breezy, the laughter a little too forced. You can see the ticket-sellers (at least I can see them) thinking: This guy has absolutely no shot at winning the grand prize. Or the runner-up prize, either. Come to think of it, he won't even win that stupid turkey.
It happened again the other day, when I was coming out of church and a man asked me to buy a raffle ticket for a 1990 Chevrolet Lumina van.
"'Mister," I said, "part of the reason I go to church is to pray that -- just once -- I'd win a 1990 Chevrolet Lumina van. If you people weren't always selling me raffle tickets, believe me, I could cut way back on my praying. I could probably get by with a few Hail Mary's instead of breaking out the rosary beads and pleading to win, say, a $2,000 Kenwood stereo system." This did not go over very well with this fellow, who apparently had never considered the possibility of divine intervention to win a raffle.
''God doesn't care who wins raffles,'' he said quietly.
Which is undoubtedly true. I'm sure God has more important things to do than worry about who's going to win a 1990 Chevrolet Lumina van, even one with automatic transmission, AC, tinted glass, power windows, AM/FM stereo, and so on.
But my thinking is this: Maybe if you bug him enough through constant prayer, God just might throw up his hands and say: ''OH, ALL RIGHT! STOP WHINING! THE VAN IS YOURS!''
At least, that's what I'm hoping for. Personally, I don't see what the big deal is for God to rig a simple raffle for a devout, hard-working and humble newspaper columnist.
It's not like I'm asking to win the Pulitzer.
A man can't even win a turkey, he doesn't shoot for the moon.