I feel the loss keenly. A billion dollars doesn’t seem like much to some people. Bill Gates makes that much every time he brings out a new, even more infuriating version of Windows, and Mark Zuckerberg, who has apparently made a buck every time someone has clicked “Like” on Facebook, probably likes being worth 47 billion greenbacks. The Pentagon buys ships that don’t float and planes that don’t fly very well for a billion bucks each, sometimes.
But to an average American like myself, a billion dollars is real money. And don’t tell me that I’ll really collect only half of it after taxes, and I acknowledge I have to split that with my Significant Other or else cover myself with Kevlar instead of blankets when I sleep so as not to get stabbed to death while I’m catching some z’s. Reality denial is all part of winning the lottery, because everybody who plays knows they have a better chance of being attacked by a shark, or struck by lightning, or adopting a rescue dog that they later discover speaks fluent Romanian than of winning the big prize.
I also play the lottery badly, by letting the machine pick my numbers for me. Experts on winning the lottery poo-poo this lazy strategy. They advocate picking a set of “lucky” numbers and playing them consistently, although it seems to me the odds in both situations are exactly the same, which is hopeless.
But while the nation is in the grip of lottery mania, I’m going to run something here that I wrote during another episode of Powerball fever many years ago.
Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire recently won one of the second place prizes, $853,000, in the recent record, $340 million Powerball drawing. Gregg is already worth at least two million dollars. (News item)
Let's start by pointing out the obvious: No one buys a lottery ticket and fantasizes about winning second prize and the Senator wasn't, either. He wanted the whole 340 million. He was dreaming like the rest of us dream when we buy lottery tickets-of buying our own island, or maybe a sports franchise, or the company we work for and firing our boss, with enough left over for a decent shot at Elizabeth Hurley. The Senator is letting us know something, and that something is: Being a multi-millionaire with a seat in the world's most august deliberative body sucks!
Bad news, you're thinking, especially if your job is saying "Thank-you for shopping at Wal-Mart" four thousand times a day, or crawling down a coal seam, or any job where it takes you more than an hour to earn twenty bucks. "Why bother with wealth and prestige? It doesn't make Senator Gregg happy, so why should I complain about my inevitable future of carpal tunnel syndrome and credit card debt?" you wonder. We don't want you thinking that. That makes you a quitter, and America doesn't want anybody to quit, unless they're in rehab or belong to a band of Muslim insurgents, so our job is to convince you that an ultra-wealthy white male who basks in electoral approval every six years and who never has to pay a postage on anything, wallows in a prison of existential misery every day. Easy.
(A press conference. Senator Powerball speaking. He has never looked happier. He is polishing off several small liquor bottles, the kind they sell on airplanes, as he speaks)
"First of all, I want to assure my constituents and all of the American people that they will continue to enjoy my best efforts as their Senate representative despite the fact that I am now one-third of the way towards being a billionaire. I have only redoubled my efforts on their behalf. My recent emergency measure, making lottery winnings free of all federal, state and local taxes, retroactive to last week, is a prime example of my ceaseless efforts to improve their quality of life. I'll take your questions now."
UNDERPAID REPORTER: But Senator, won't you yourself benefit enormously from this bill?
SENATOR POWERBALL: Only incidentally. Future lottery winners have to be able to spend their entire fortunes tax-free. That's supply-side economics. Taxing lottery winnings is what's keeping our economy from taking off. (Giggles uncontrollably)
POVERTY-STRICKEN JOURNALIST: What about your relationships with your fellow legislators?
SENATOR POWERBALL: I doubt they will change much. Many of my colleagues are quite wealthy themselves, although for sure none of them have quite as much cream cheese on their bagels as I do. There's gonna be a new Big Bluffer at our Senate poker games, though, and if those party caucuses start to drag, don't be surprised to hear a loud burp or well-timed burst of flatulence from yours truly. (Burst of flatulence) Whoop! There it is!
UNPAID POLITICAL BLOGGER: You belong to important sub-committees studying global warming, nuclear proliferation and steroid use among foreign field-hockey players. How do you think being insanely wealthy is going to affect your attitude towards these problems of pressing concern to the United States and, indeed, all humanity?
SENATOR POWERBALL: You're a reporter, so I assume you know where to place the apostrophe in 'rat's ass.' Next?"
DEBT-RIDDEN OP-ED WRITER: Has your windfall affected your family?
SENATOR POWERBALL: Tragically, the news that we were suddenly, unbelievably rich caused my wife of thirty years to become mentally deranged. She is currently confined to a sanitarium on an island off the coast of Newfoundland. Only armed guards, sharks and menacing rip tides protect her fragile mental health from being torn apart by the pressures of the outside world. I pray for her recovery. In her absence, however, I will be accompanied at all times by a twenty-two year old lap dancer that I met fifteen minutes ago, named Tawny.
MENIAL POOL REPORTER: How are you going to relate to your constituents now that, instead of being merely five or six times wealthier than most of them, you are now hundreds of times richer than any of them can ever dream of being?
SENATOR POWERBALL: Thanks for asking that question. I want to answer it right now. Can the TV cameras focus in on my face? Thank-you. To all of my constituents watching, please go get a sheet of blank white paper. Place it on a flat surface. Place your left hand with the middle finger upraised, on the paper. Yes, that finger-the one you use to express yourself when you are cutting my limo off in traffic. Take a black marker. Trace the outline of your hand and finger. Flip the paper over. Using the marker, trace the outline on the opposite side. That's right. Now tape the paper underneath my image on your TV. That, my constituents, is my message to you. I'm never groveling for your votes again. I've shaken the last of your filthy hands; I've kissed the last of your sickly babies. I've taken my last poll to gauge the depths of your ignorance in order to adjust my political positions to reflect your abysmal prejudices. I've attended my last prayer breakfast, power lunch and fund-raising dinner with all of you. In the most simple and sincere way possible, I want to say: Screw you! I'm rich! I'm rich! I'm rich! Ha! Ha! Ha! (Stumbles offstage, hiccupping, calling loudly for Tawny off-microphone}
There you have it. Be grateful every day you are not a Senator, a Powerball winner, or worst-case scenario, both. Be content with your lot in life. By the way, we'll have fries with that.