CHELSEA — David Jelinek's odd habit — some might call it an obsession — of collecting discarded scratch lottery tickets began after he had a very bad week three years ago.
Within a few days, he and his wife decided to divorce and he was struck by a car, sending him to the Intensive Care Unit at Bellevue Hospital for five days and leaving him with a cracked skull and deafness in one ear.
Now the 49-year-old artist, author and teacher's collection of tens of thousands of used scratch-off lottery tickets is on display at his new exhibition at the Andrew Edlin Gallery, "Money Down."
"After that set of traumatic events, you appreciate everything once more," Jelinek said while sifting through a duffel bag of the lotto cards.
"I saw these used lottery tickets sitting on the ground outside of a bodega — it struck me as something very beautiful."
In the exhibit, the tickets are strewn across the floor of the gallery at 134 10th Ave., arranged loosely by color. But like cards scattered on the street, visitors are encouraged to kick and stomp them as they walk through.
Jelinek collected the cards around the city with the help of his two sons, age 12 and 7. They range from single $1 scratch-off cards to $20 cash-for-life tickets.
"I told my sons not to pick up the ones with urine on them," he said. "My family grew a little concerned about me — I had a small corner of my apartment covered in them. Now, a lot of them are at my parents' house upstate."
The losing cards are meant to symbolize hope, loss and quirky habits for the thousands of people who dreamed of a better life, 49-year-old Jelinek said.
"There are different scratchers: Some buy two or three tickets at a time, some buy an entire roll," he said.
Others, he said, do away with the game aspect of the cards entirely — simply scratching off a section of the bottom to reveal a bar code, which is scanned by a store clerk to determine if the card is a winner or loser.
The tickets also embody repetition: The players will likely play the scratch-and-win game again and again, rarely winning.
"Even the ones that do win a few bucks, that money's immediately re-spent — you've got them hooked," he said.
The exhibit kicked off with a reception on Wednesday night and runs until Aug. 17 at the gallery.