It’s because I believe in percentages, not in probability. I took against probability on one of our family vacations to Maine, when we stopped in Washington D.C. on the way there to visit some friends. The newspaper was running an article, I remember, that said that one in ten black men in Washington D.C. had a criminal record, and I could not wrap my head around this.
“So if you take any ten black dudes from Washington D.C.,” I said, “one of them will always have a criminal record.”
“According to this article,” said my mother.
“But what if you happen to pick ten black men who are all not criminals?” I said.
“What if you flipped a coin twice, and it came up heads both times?” my mother pointed out. I think she was trying to demonstrate why my argument didn’t work against what the newspaper had said, but at the time I thought, oh my God, yeah, and that totally happens. And my belief in probability crumbled like badly-kneaded bread. Several years later when I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I was all like, Dudes, you are not special. Probability isn’t true and you just have to accept it.
I don’t have a problem with percentages. If I counted my books and found that 40% of them were hardback, I could accept that. But if I tried to tell myself that it was a four in ten chance any individual book I grabbed at random from my bookshelves would be a hardback, I would feel like I do when I try to trick myself into wanting to wash the dishes. Like, nice try, self. Next time, try bribing me with cookies.
I bring this up because my belief in percentages rather than probability has been causing me some trouble with weather forecasts. Every day before I go to work, I check the weather, and if it’s supposed to rain that day, I’ll take flip-flops and an umbrella, so my work shoes and purse (respectively) won’t get wet on the walk back from work.
The problem arises, I have realized lately, because when the weather forecast says 40% chance of rain, my brain interprets it to mean that if it does rain, and it might, the intensity of the rain will be 40% of the intensity that the sky could manage at full capacity. So I don’t bring my umbrella, because I don’t mind getting a little bit wet. Then it rains really hard, and it is like I have never heard of rain before, and I am outraged at the weather forecast for misleading me. As I try to figure out a way of walking that will keep me the most dry, I compose angry letters to the weather forecasters:
Dear Weather People,
I hate you. My purse is all wet and although I cannot look in a mirror until I get home, I suspect there is mascara dripping down my face. This is your fault for being a damn liar. It was not supposed to rain this hard today. Consider this letter a gauntlet slap in the face, and meet me on the green with pistols at dawn.
They never meet me on the green with pistols at dawn. That’s good because I am a terrible shot and would definitely lose.