Unlucky for life

By Kris Ferrazza | Mar 09, 2018

Spring is just around the corner, but that doesn’t mean the winter was without its challenges.

For many long, dark weeks my family had movie nights, game nights and paint nights. We went sledding and skating, built snowmen and had snowball fights. But by mid-February the three of us were so bored we succumbed to watching reality shows, old reruns, and even the cable TV show, “Lottery Changed My Life.”

Now, lest ye judge, allow me to say it actually was quite interesting in the beginning. There was the episode about a large group of coworkers who won a huge jackpot, split it evenly, and lived happily ever after. Then there was a huge group of coworkers who won a large jackpot, started fighting immediately, and all sued each other.

There were nice people who upgraded their homes and bought a luxury car. Then there were not-so-nice people who dumped their old friends and bought multiple mansions and a dozen sports cars. Some hoarded their money, while others shared it all, then had to go back to work. One poor guy was victimized to the point he went bankrupt, while another ended up dead.

But the story that stands out in my mind most of all was the tale of an elderly man who asked a store clerk to check his lottery ticket. He was told he had won $4, and happily took the cash, but later learned the clerk had lied and fled to Nepal with his millions.

We were outraged. I think it offended my 11-year-old most of all. She railed against the crooked clerk, asking how a person who knew the old man from daily visits to the store could possibly do such an awful thing. I had no answer, except to say money truly is the root of all evil.

Personally, I do not play the lottery. Years ago, I heard someone refer to it as “a tax on ignorance,” and it stuck with me, so I never could bring myself to fork over even a dollar to play. I also seldom buy scratch tickets, unless it’s a couple to tuck into a birthday card for family or friends.

Last month we were visiting extended family outside Maine and they asked what we’d been doing all winter. I told them about our new favorite show, and related the story about the man who was conned out of his millions. They were horrified, and not only because we’d clearly been watching too much trash TV.

They actually looked a bit guilty themselves. Fortunately, unlike that elderly lottery winner on the show, I can smell a con from a mile away.

“What gives?” I demanded.

They didn’t even attempt to lie. It turns out they had been holding onto winning scratch tickets from the Maine State Lottery for years and had never cashed them in.

“You are kidding me,” I said. “All of your birthday tickets?”

They were not joking. They said they kept thinking they’d bring them to Maine someday, but never did. The next day they emerged with a sheepish grin and a huge stack of winning tickets. The winners ranged from a dollar or two to as much as $5 or $10.

“I think they’re mostly expired,” came the confession. “But just have them run them through the machine and keep whatever you get.”

Grudgingly, I took the tickets, thinking this was typical of my family: even when we win, we lose. How much had I spent on these useless tickets over the years, anyway? I didn’t even want to know. I stuffed them into the zippered side pocket of my purse and forgot about them.

After I returned home, I was pumping gas one day and noticed a lottery sign in the store window. A lightbulb went off: the tickets. The store wasn’t busy, so I gave the clerk the stack and explained the situation.

“Yeah, these are no good,” she said immediately, rifling through the pile.

Wow, that was quick, I thought. I told her I knew there were at least a few good ones mixed in, so maybe she could put them through the machine. She explained many of the games on the tickets had been discontinued, and others couldn’t be read by the new machines anyway.

Suddenly alarm bells went off in my head. “Suuuure, they can’t, “ I thought to myself, remembering the lottery scam on TV. Then I immediately felt guilty for suspecting her. See what money does to people?

She began separating the tickets into various piles, flipping them over, scratching off various sections, and muttering to herself.

Part of me felt bad for putting this lady through this, but the rest of me couldn’t stop thinking she was going to make off with my millions.

“Well, the good news is you have $32 here,” she said, holding up one stack.

“Mmm-hmmm,” I said, trying not to sound suspicious. “And what’s the bad news?”

I waited for it.

“These are no good,” she said, patting the other pile.

As I pondered whether I should take my “losing” tickets with me, she picked the pile up and started ripping them all in half, then quarters, then eighths. I watched my fortune disappear before my eyes, and knew there was no way she could reassemble and claim those tickets. They were toast.

“I’m destroying them just so you know I’m not going to cash them myself,” she said, tearing and tossing them into a nearby wastebasket.

“Oh gosh, no, I’d never think that,” I said.

And the beat goes on.

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