Around the Bend: Didn’t win lottery, but still lucky

My Saturday morning went south the moment I found out I had not become a multimillionaire overnight.
Oh, I knew a single Mega Millions lottery ticket wouldn’t give me a real chance at Friday night’s record-setting $654 million jackpot.
But I didn’t have just one ticket.
Last week, 20 of my fellow Addison Independent employees and I each threw $2 into an office pool. While one ticket offered only a 1-in-75-million chance of winning, we had 42.
It was all we could do not to clean out our desks Friday afternoon.
Only one coworker declined to play, instead ticking off the infinitesimally small but — compared to winning the lottery — exponentially higher probabilities of dying in any number of exotic and unsavory ways. Party pooper. We lottery players never let statistics stand in the way of our dreams.
If the Mega Millions had gone as we had hoped, the joke would have been on that guy. He would have been the only one in the office this week, alone but for his coworkers’ voices echoing in his head, chanting, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” That would have been awesome.
Instead, he’s the one gloating, his $2 still safely tucked in his pocket. But he missed out on a great workplace bonding experience. Despite the possibility that we wouldn’t hit the jackpot, we chose to band together and share in the outcome, win or lose.
All day we fantasized about what we’d do with our winnings. (After taxes we’d each go home with well under $20 million, but we all agreed it was better than nothing.)
“I’d keep working,” one person said, to gales of laughter.
“I’d pay off all my debts and then spend the rest on making the world a better place,” another said. We howled.
You know what happens to lottery winners. Hand the kindest, most generous people a few million dollars and they immediately start rubbing their hands together, cackling and setting out on a path to rapid self-destruction, usually involving buying six houses and a fleet of sports cars. Within a year, they lose all their money and possessions and are left with nothing but a new appreciation of things that can’t be bought, like health and faith. (These have their value, but they don’t wow people like a fleet of sports cars.)
The mere prospect of staggering wealth can cause people to lose perspective. It even happened to me. Friday, as we jotted down what we’d do with our millions, my list started with buying gym socks that didn’t slide down into my sneakers and getting some new cookie sheets, the kind with the flat edges.
But as the list grew, so did my wants, until I too felt the need for lots of houses and cars. Purchasing several of each made the list just after “Have stuff encrusted with diamonds.” In my excitement, I left off “Fund alternative energy research” altogether.
Not that it matters now. Monday morning I punched the time clock as usual, even though my Google calendar had me scheduled to sleep late, eat breakfast in bed and then roll around in a pile of $100 bills all afternoon. Plans change.
At first, no one in the office had much to say, except to lament that we would not, in fact, be buying that pontoon party boat we had discussed Friday. The “dollar and a dream” hype that had carried us away last week had left us feeling let down, cheated out of money we never had.
Soon, however, we started to talk about what good had come from the Mega Millions mania. The thrill of maybe winning had brought us together as a group. We had momentarily shaken off the chains of reality and freed ourselves to imagine a life without financial limits. We’d had fun.
Had we wasted our money by playing the lottery? Well, despite our positive thinking, it was a losing proposition all along; even with 42 tickets, the odds against us were just too long.
Then again, we reasoned, long odds aren’t all bad. Over the weekend not one of us got struck by lightning, attacked by a shark or consumed by flesh-eating bacteria. Put that way, we agreed we felt pretty happy just to be alive.
If that’s not worth $2, I don’t know what is.

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