Money can change everything -- even your toilet-handle covers

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2008 - 9:38 PM

Money changes everything. Even if you're a supermodel glitter-applier.

No doubt you felt a surge of Gopher Pride when you learned that a Waseca couple hit the Powerball. The big lottery jackpots always seem to go to people in far-away Cooter County. Bufus! Put down the banjo and git out of the tree, your daddy done won us some Britney-size money!

They end up blowing through $150 million in a few years, which isn't surprising: You take an ordinary feller, give him unimaginable wealth, and he will justify building a catapult that throws Ferraris in the air so he can shoot them down with a shoulder-mounted missile launcher. Sure, he'll have an accountant who begs him to do this once a month, twice tops, but you know, Ferrari Skeet is like eatin' peanuts.

A local winner piques our interest. First, where did they buy it? Because that store's luck is all tapped out. Second: Is it one of those 16-ladies-at-a-pork-plant deals, where everyone gets enough to buy a car and send a kid to college?

Because that's about as inspirational as learning that someone found a 3-ton bale of unused Gold Bond stamps.

Most important: Will they keep their jobs? We cannot imagine why they would. It's like being given the gift of flight and announcing you'll still fly coach.

You could understand if the person had some incredibly cool job. "Johnson, who sprays body glitter on supermodels at fashion shows, has said he will keep his job." But no: the winner in Waseca is a heavy equipment operator, and says he'll keep doing it.

You can understand why he thinks he will, of course. We are what we do. This is why retired men end up sitting at Denny's, staring out the window, eating suicidal quantities of bacon, longing for the days when they meant something. We take pride and pleasure in our work and the community of co-workers -- right up until the moment when money spoils everything.

Imagine if it happened to you. Imagine the break-room conversation. So, moneybags, how's it going?

"Oh, we got the contractors in, and it's one thing after another. The architect wanted the solarium to rotate so it's always in the path of the sun, and the weak dollar's pricin' up the computer controls. How about you?"

"I caulked the shower. The plastic came away from the wall so I went down to Menards, and -- "

"Yeah, that's a bear ... hold on ... jeez, it's the architect again. Hello. Helmut? Hello? What? Oh, I don't care -- Corinthian leather on the toilet handles is fine, I don't care. What? Yes, organic leather is fine too. Right. Gotcha. Bye now."

(Closes phone.)

"Heh. Sorry. So. How's the family?"

"My wife's sister's friend's kid needs braces."

(Horrible silence)

"That's one degree of separation too many, Al. I got a rule."

"I understand. But you also have leather toilet seat handles."

(Silence)

"Well, I'd better be getting back to work."

We all want $59 million, but we rarely think how it would sunder the bonds between us and everyone else. How it would change everything, reveal the hidden currents that reside in the human heart, and lay bare the difficult, fractious nature of our interpersonal relationships.

I think I speak for most when I say: That's a risk we're willing to take.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 What would you do with the money? Add your thoughts at buzz.mn

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