I’ll admit it. I play the lottery. I do. Whenever my brother-in-law has tickets from the Legion and I have a couple of bucks, I try to be the good neighbor and buy at least one. Then they disappear and I don’t find them for months, well beyond the redeem date. I usually don’t win anything, anyways, so no big loss there. It was only a couple bucks and even though a hundred dollars is nice, it’s not the end of the world if I miss out on it by some act of sheer laziness on my part.
However, on occasion I do play the big jackpots and I do pay attention. Around here, that’s Powerball and Megamillions. A few million dollars is quite different than a hundred dollars. Of course, after taking the lump sum and giving the government the assist for their [sarcasm]effort [/sarcasm], I would probably end up with that same hundred dollars I overlook on the local punch tickets. Yet, whenever the jackpots for either big ticket lotteries inch over $100 million, I will walk into a convenience store and put a few bucks towards the tax on the stupid, as it has been called.
‘A tax on the stupid.’ That sounds about right. Considering the odds it takes to actually win one of those jackpots I could die from being in a plane crash more times. And I’m not talking about being on the plane. I’m talking about being in my car on the way to work and a plane falling out of the sky and landing on me. Still, whenever that jackpot rolls into three digits to the left of the leading comma, I will play.
But, I am not a die hard. In the world of lottery players I am a poser. I’m a cherry picker. I’m a fair weather fan. I am the office schlub who throws two bucks into a football pool, of which I may know nothing about, and will win the whole shebang. Those are the people you truly despise, right? You do all your research, watch Sports Center, look at the injury reports, the weather reports, the psychological state of the teams and then consult a psychic before making your picks. Then Bob from accounting goes home and asks his cats to pick a winner between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers and ends up taking home $400 for little to no effort. Of course, I can’t equate my luck in office pools to winning the lottery because I’ve actually won office pools.
Truth is I don’t make a habit of playing because I know what the odds are. Then again, I live an hour away from Jack Whittaker. In fact, there are several small to medium jackpot winners in the area of which I live with Jack being the King of jackpot winners. Yet, that went horribly wrong for him. Still, regardless of how many people say, ‘Money can’t buy you happiness,’ I would be happy for the chance to disprove their theory.
So, I go into the Gas and Sip or local Kwik Stop and will throw away my money on the chance that I can say, ‘You know what? I’m not coming into work today and I don’t think I’ll be in tomorrow, either.’ That’s usually when my trouble begins.
You see, I am a casual player, as I said before. I don’t want to spend a great amount of time in the store making my purchase. I’ve got places to be. I want to go in, give my money and get out. I’m not there to consult the stars and fill out Scantron sheets or remember all the birthdays of everyone I know, their anniversaries and social security numbers. I want to go in and say, ‘Give me five dollars on Powerball, please,’ and walk out. And I have a system of spending, too. When both the Powerball and Megamillions jackpots are real close to $100 million, I’ll put five dollars on each. When either jackpot goes over $100 million, I’ll up it to maybe $10 for tickets. If they get into the $200 million range, I’ll spend $20. If I’m lucky, I may win a few dollars which just goes towards my spending on the next drawing. If someone hits and the jackpots reset, I quit until they get back up there.
So, I don’t spend a lot of brain power on this. But, man, there are people who are crazy about playing. They play every day. They spend unseemly amounts of money on lotteries. They come in with a list and a purpose. They take 20 minutes to go over each and every ticket as they buy it and have their own language for doing it. They are usually in front of me.
Awhile back, I stopped into a gas station on my way home from work to spend five dollars on a weekend drawing. There was no one else in the store besides me and an older gentleman. I took a couple of seconds to check my tickets electronically, only to find out I had won nothing from the last drawing. Meanwhile, the older gentleman got in line next to me and then pulled out a piece of paper. He then proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes rattling off numbers and combinations of plays that would have made John Nash say, ‘Can you stop for a second while I grab another calculator and an MIT grad student?’ I couldn’t even understand what he was saying except that I think there was a niner in there somewhere. Meanwhile, the cashier continued to type with fingers of lightning as if they had some kind of psychic bond and she could anticipate his every move. I’m guessing because this guy probably comes in a lot and does the exact same ritual every time. Mid way through his display of mathletic abilities he starts turning around to see the line which has now formed behind me. Then he starts calling out to various people. Give me a number. What day were you born? What’s your anniversary? He asks the other cashier for a number and they rattle one off without missing a beat. The whole time, the original cashier works the register like an account with an adding machine in a spending montage on Brewster’s Millions.
Finally, the guy finishes and it’s now a half hour later and I’m late. I walk up and say, ‘Five dollars on Powerball, please.’
She then asks me, ‘All on one ticket, OK?’
I froze. She was speaking some foreign language to me. She repeated it and her voice became all slo-mowy and distorted. I was asking for an apple and she was asking if I wanted a motorcycle horn and urine sample and it was all in a language with clicks and whistles and niners.
‘Um? Yeah sure.’
The entire time the old guy went on predicting the next solar eclipse and forming a string of numbers that mathematically explained LOST seemed effortless. I get asked a simple question and totally blanked.
This guy was Jeopardy and I was Wheel of Fortune.
‘All on one, OK?’
Mind blowing. It was the equivalent of saying the true name of God and having your head explode. I went home and trepanned myself with a power drill. Now, I don’t worry about such things. I just stare at the trees and watch the leaves blow in the wind. At peace.