I don't usually buy lottery tickets.
I remember watching my old man go through this when I was a kid. Dad had set numbers that he played each week. He got his tickets and kept track of them. Then, as the numbers were drawn he would announce with a touch of melancholy in his voice, “We lost.”
Often this was on the first number drawn. As the second number popped up he would say, “We lost again.”
Ah well, back to the grind.
However, a week or two back, the news started doing that thing it does periodically. “People are going crazy as the Powerball jackpot reaches $500 million.”
“With that kind of money, we could pay the oil bill,” I told Christine.
I figured, why not? It would be fun and only cost a couple bucks.
Into the convenience store I walked and asked for two Powerball tickets.
“But only if you can guarantee one will be the winner,” I said, lamely, but the cashier was friendly and we had a good time talking about it.
“I can't anymore than I can be sure mine wins,” she said.
I told her to just have the machine pick the numbers at random. I always warned Dad that he was taking a risk in using the same number each week.
“Suppose you forget to buy your ticket one week,” I said. “And that's the week they pick your number. You'd never get over it.”
Of course, both Dad and I know that the idea of him forgetting to do something that has become part of his routine is insane.
The cashier always asks me all these questions I don't know the answer to. There are special Powerball terms I didn't learn in school. Do I want to play it this way or that way? I told her to just do it up proper to give me the best chance of the biggest reward.
Ended up costing $6.
At work, everyone was playing and imagining what they were going to do with the winnings.
“I would buy several houses,” one co-worker said. “I'd have one some place warm and one here.”
“What's Dave doing?”
“He's looking at islands for sale online.”
Now that's optimism.
My friend Peter says, “The lottery is a tax for people who can't do math.”
They said on the news that my chances of winning the lottery were less than that of winning an Oscar. That's not really a good example. Of course I'm not going to win an Oscar if I'm not even an actor. The people who win the lottery go on TV and they're just regular people with regular jobs and three-bedroom houses if they're lucky, people like me. If they can win, why can't I? Seems reasonable enough. In fact, once I talked about it long enough, it seemed downright probable.
What would I do with it all? I'd buy the house where I grew up in Hampden and restore it, I figured. I would landscape the old yard, bring back the blackberry and raspberry patches and let the kids frolic where once I played. Christine thought that was “lame.”
“If we had $250 million, you would begrudge me that?” I asked.
We should buy a better house and do charity work, she said. We haven't even won yet, and already we're arguing. Money changes everything, even when it's imaginary.
I got thinking about a scholarship program to help local kids pay for college. How many kids could you send with that kind of money?
Maybe I could get my name on one of those lecture halls at the University of Maine — Dunkle Hall. The college students for generations would wonder, “Who was this lover of the English Department, this Dunkle man? He must have been brilliant and rich, successful and handsome.”
Such are the dreams of the new money wannabe.
On the evening of the drawing, I said to Christine, “We could be millionaires already.” I thought about it for a second. “I don't feel like a millionaire.”
She went upstairs to check the computer.
“We literally got no numbers,” she said. “Not one.”
Just like that, up in a poof of pink smoke went the Dunkle homestead and Dunkle Hall. All that was left was a man and his little family and his little house, just as happy as he was a week ago.
Only six dollars poorer.
Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children, and entertains dreams of one day being a multithousandaire. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.