There was a long line to buy lottery tickets today at the Gas 'n' Go Away. The jackpot this week was $455 million. Last week, the jackpot was "only" $58 million. There was no line for tickets then. You could have walked right in and bought as many as you wanted. But it seems that gas-station gamblers don't have much use for $58 million.
"Chump change," says the guy in line in front of me. "If you think I'm going to stand in line for 10 minutes for $58 million, you've got another think coming. You couldn't even quit your job for that kind of money. When you split it up between me, the wife and the seven kids? Why, it comes to hardly anything! If I was the kind of person who didn't mind living on next to nothing, I'd get a job."
Me, I'm just here to buy a half-gallon of 1 percent milk, but the line is out the door because of the lottery. Lucky me -- I'll be done with this five-minute errand in about a half-hour! Meanwhile, my line buddy fills me in (and everyone else in earshot) about the finer points of the lottery.
"Now, I'm taking a big risk, buying $200 worth of tickets for the $455 million drawing," he says. "What if I have to split it with someone? That would make me crazy. When I think of the time I've spent coming up with these numbers, and then to have to share the prize with somebody who just reached up and pulled the numbers out of thin air? I don't think I could handle it, splitting the pot with an amateur. It would practically kill me.
"And then there's the taxes. That's the government for you, always sticking their hand in your back pocket. I do all the work -- picking the numbers, standing in line, buying the tickets -- and then they want to take half the money. It ain't fair!
"So between the taxes and the bum I have to share the prize with, I'm down to about a hundred million. A hundred million! Is that supposed to make up for all those years I went without? Well, I didn't do without much, but the wife and kids sure did. I'd hate to think they went without shoes and food all those years for nothing."
At this point, my milk is room-temperature. It's turned into some kind of liquid, gooey cheese. I would go back and get a new carton, but the line's gotten even longer. Plus, it's 1 percent milk; who's gonna know the difference?
In the time I've been standing here, the jackpot's gone up to $470 million. My line mates are starting to argue about the best way to spend their winnings.
"Do I take the lump sum, or spread it out over 20 years? The lump sum is a lot less cash, but then I can invest it myself instead of the state doing it."
"What do you know about investing?" another guy sneers. "If you know so much about the stock market, why are you in line here with us? Take the yearly payments, and you'll never have to worry about money again."
"Either way is fine with me," chimes in another guy, "as long as you don't tell my wife that I won!"
It turned out that none of them needed to worry about any of this. The winning ticket was sold a thousand miles away, in another state, to a guy buying his first-ever lottery ticket on a dare from a friend.
Contact Jim Mullen at email@example.com