The Lottery: I get it now
I wasted my money on lots of stupid things in the past. But I always looked down on the behavior of buying lottery tickets as if it was a giant, incomprehensible waste of money. Only the poor getting poorer. (Yes, all those candy bars and sodas I bought as a teenager were a much better investment.)
I remember buying a few scratch-offs when I turned 18, was slightly amused when I won free tickets or a dollar or three, and pretty much gave up after losing ten bucks or so.
It was with mostly nonchalance that I noticed the line at the gas station growing today for the $1.5 billion Powerball. Big deal. No chance in hell those folks are gonna win.
I went to work.
I left work. On my way out the door, my boss asked me if I was going to get in on the Powerball action. I laughed. He said he might snag a ticket before the sales stop at 10 pm. I mentioned the long line, eight or so people, I saw waiting at the gas station.
Yet for some reason, on my way home, I decided to stop at the gas station and buy a damn lottery ticket.
There were more people in line than before, so I patiently waited for about twenty minutes. I read this article about David Bowie on my phone. A woman behind me asked me what the biggest bill the machine could take was. I told her I had no idea since I never bought a lottery ticket before. Another guy in line talked on his cell phone about the chances of so-and-so sports team winning such-and-such game.
I put ten bucks into the machine. I didn’t even know if I was doing it right. It spit out a ticket. I stuffed it in my jacket and tried not to think about it.
One of those mysteries of the universe, a Schrodinger’s Cat-kinda thing, that goes back to me as a child waiting for the Nintendo Power magazine in the mailbox. If I open the box at the right time, will it be in there? If I eat my vegetables, will it be in there? Maybe it’s not in there right now, but if I do a good deed, time will re-write itself and it will end up in there. But the possibility of it being in there is in flux until I open the box and look.
So I tried to forget about it. I went to the gym.
And man, I thought about winning the lottery the whole damn time.
I wasn’t thinking in terms of my own personal gain. Yeah, it’d be nice to have a new car, buy a home, pay off the money my parents put up for my college education with a nice chunk of interest. But nothing really came to my imagination that wasn’t potentially feasible with lots of time and hard work in my current position. I don’t want to move or live in a giant house or drive a sexy car (although one that’s much better for the environment would be a big plus.) And I wouldn’t quit work, because I love where I work.
But what really got me thinking was how I could give it away.
I could set up an endowment for my current place of employment, to help ensure future generations get to experience our services for many many years to come. I could walk into work and hand everyone ten thousand bucks. I could take them on a retreat to Hawaii. Easy. Wouldn’t even be a dent in 1.5 billion, even if I took it all up front. (And I know lots of people have done the math on taking the money up front, because the tiny text on all the muted TVs at the gym had something to say about it.)
Then I started getting a little more creative. I could set up a studio for film production. Get in touch with my old film school pals who I refuse to spy on on Facebook. Hire Woody Harrelson or somebody for whatever amount of money he wants for a funny short. Make all the blog headlines. Rinse, repeat.
I could start up a video game studio with my incredible friend in Washington, an absolute genius. Hire some artists, some chiptune musicians, some level designers. Get that film studio to make an awesome trailer.
I could start up a brewery in my hometown with my cousin. We’d take over the soon-to-be-empty hardware store building and do something industrial and awesome. I’d take a week off work to do graphic design for the first series of brews. Or maybe I’d hire my good pal in New York City to do some design work.
… The point is, I started thinking about things I actually wanted to see happen.
I’ve been sailing through life at a leisurely pace, lately. Yeah, hard things happen, and I see them all the time. Sometimes it’s tough for me to look more than a couple years in advance, to really commit to long-term projects. Things seem to fail so easily. Projects that receive a lot of energy don’t always catch on. Money doesn’t really go far. But I have friends, and that’s all I really need.
The bad part about being in a comfortable place in life is that it can be hard to be all that ambitious.
Thinking about this lottery ticket got me thinking like a kid again. Or at least a high school age kid. One who didn’t know the context of how far a salary would get you, what kind of home X-thousand amount of dollars affords over thirty years. It got me thinking about the future that could be. (Even though the futures I dreamt up today hinged on millions and millions of dollars.)
But buying this lottery ticket got me thinking about what I want to happen in my life, and in other people’s lives. It’s a mode of thinking I’ve neglected, lately, and it felt exciting to imagine a bright future for people I love. Maybe I can’t just give them the money to succeed straight away, but at least it gives me a sense of direction, in a weird, weird way.
I didn’t win.
… maybe I’ll try again sometime soon.