I walked up to a total stranger on Monday and said, “I have a poor grasp of probability, and believe that magical intervention will settle any doubts I have about paying for my retirement.” But the words came out as “One Powerball, please.”
Of course I didn’t win. The Powerball is like a race where every runner but one at the starting line is shot dead by the starter’s pistol. The moment you buy the ticket you know the winner will be 58 years old, flannel-clad, wearing a mesh DEKALB CORN cap with a frayed brim, and he will live in Mulebreath, Okla. He’s been playing once a week for 16 years, and he got his ticket at the Pump ’n’ Gulp out on Hwy. 62, where he goes for coffee in the morning ever since the Cozy Cafe on Main shut down.
He is deliriously happy, unaware that he has about 48 hours to give all of his friends a million dollars each or the whole town will turn against him.
So be glad you lost! The lottery rarely brings happiness, we’re told. You hear cautionary tales of guys who managed to squander $100 million — “Toward the end, he was having escorts delivered by helicopter through a hole he blew in the ceiling with a gold-plated bazooka” or stories like that. They always have stupid friends who convince the winner to part with money to fund a business. We’ll sell pianos online, and here’s the twist! Free shipping!
Three years later, the winner is living on ramen and ketchup packets from McDonald’s.
What you’re buying, of course, is the possibility of being lifted out of your life and hoisted up to that rarefied world of Super Money Galore. You have a few days to dream. That’s why the lottery is drawn on a specific day, at a specific time: to give you an interval of fantasy where you confront the fact that you’d change just about every aspect of your life, if you could. I mean, you’d change everything. You’d change the way you buy socks. No more getting three-to-a-pack at Penney’s: We’re talking private plane to New York to go to a special Sock Tailor where they bring out samples on bone china, pick them up with tongs and spray your feet with lavender water before you try them on.
But then your better self takes over. You would be wise with your money. (Say, fly commercial to the New York Sock Tailor.)
What would I do? Well, I would set up a foundation. And then I would build a really big house on top of it. Also, some sort of charity that did Noble Work, so I’d be invited to all the international gatherings, and sit next to Bill Gates and swap rich-person chat.
“Oh, Vesuvian pumice is good for exfoliating, but I prefer rubbing caviar all over myself and sitting naked in a room with 100 cats.” Or, “You’re the only guy I can tell this to, Bill, but the other day I opened a 1879 Bollinger champagne to make mimosas and the cork blew off and took out two Faberge eggs.” He’d get it.
They wouldn’t get it down at the Pump ’n’ Gulp.
You would, of course, quit your job. No one can go back to work after winning $400 million unless you’re a guinea pig for Tasers, and even that would get tense. OK, tell me when it really stings, Moneybags.
Leaving your job for a life of leisure might be difficult for some, especially if your personal identity is bound up in your work. You spend your whole life in a certain profession, defined by a skill or a place in an organization, and all of a sudden you’re cast out from the world you knew, no longer hearing the familiar sounds of the factory floor, the roar and clatter of the machinery, the squeal of the forklift tires. The banter of your co-workers, the smell of oil and rubber — all these little details that made up your life, put food on the table, clothed your kids. Something’s missing, you think, as you glide down the canals of Venice in a private gondola, your servant feeding you slices of strawberry.
Right: The strawberries were supposed to be dipped in chocolate. That’s what’s missing.
Which brings us to recent attempts to rein in the Minnesota lottery. Last year Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill that would have halted lottery sales on the Internet and gas pump islands, and that’s too bad; walking from the pump inside the store to buy a ticket is the only exercise some people might get.
Expect the issue to come up again, because some people think gambling should be a bit more rare, and it’s not like banning the sale of tickets at an ATM is like digging a moat around Vegas and filling it with crocodiles.
There’s also a push to put warning labels on lottery tickets and billboards, to warn that this thing the state came up with in the first place is dangerous and addictive. You know, like cigarettes. It’s only a matter of time before someone markets Vapor-based, Scratch-Off Lottery Tickets, which have zero chance of winning, and just vanish in a puff of scented mist the moment you buy one.
Confession: It would be nice to get the occasional Powerball ticket from my phone, though. It’s just embarrassing to buy them. Hello I am bad at math and want half a billion dollars without working for it. Maybe the app could just send a message to my phone after I lose: Sorry, tomorrow everything will be just the same as today.
When you think about it, though, sometimes that’s the best thing you could imagine.
Makes a fellow feel … lucky.