The following is the first installment of a three part Blues From Down Here serial on the great American dream, the dream of blindly cashing in on a preposterous sum of unearned money.
Part 1: The Ticket
On February 22, 2008 I answered the call. Every corner store in Manhattan had been proudly boasting the New York Lottery's 270 million dollar Mega Millions Jackpot during the previous week, drawing in hordes of passers by with the hopes of life changing coin. Around 11 that morning I walked through the lightly falling snow with a spring in my step, irreverently crossing the street before the intersection, wasting no time en route to the deli on Hudson. Standing behind a mountainous black guy at the counter I overheard his banter with the Asian proprietor. He made an expected joke about the kickback she would receive after he won the looming lotto prize. We briefly made eye contact as he slowly turned to leave. I saw the same glossy and hopeful look in his eye that I had undoubtedly adopted upon entering the deli. Strangely, I resented him in the moment. What if he wins my prize? What if this guy, the guy in front of me, that plays the numbers that (by any number of small twists of fate) could have been mine, wins the money? My asinine resentment faded as my opportunity to step to the counter to claim my numbers arose.
One dollar purchases you five numbers and a bonus number, all of which you must match to receive the jackpot in its jaw-dropping fullness. My plan was to really put the screws to fate. I intended to purchase one ticket that, after I hit the jackpot, I would be able to refer to as my ticket, as my 'lucky numbers'. Of course, cradled in greed's aggrandizing palm I elected to devote half of my twenty dollar bill to ten tickets. Ten sets of numbers giving me a little insurance if "my lucky numbers" didn't pan out. The machine spit out my numbers and the ruddy faced clerk handed me my ticket. I turned to walk outside and examine my numbers when the woman called out to me, alerting me that I had forgotten my change. She extended the bill towards me, and I don't think I'll ever forget her look and accompanying statement.
"You can bring this back to me tomorrow for more numbers", she said*, her lips curling to a devious and knowing smirk.
I hurried back to the apartment, my feet leaving deep recessions in the mounting snow. I sat down on the couch and examined the numbers. I was looking for patterns, signals, digits that held significance to my life. As my gaze rolled over the ticket I began looking for a front-runner. I wanted a set of numbers to latch onto so that, when i won, I would be able to say with a clear conscience, "Seriously guys, I knew it would be that set".
Gradually the matrix of light grey digits faded into the deepest and most engrossing daydream that I can remember. An opulent rolling cavalcade of luxuries and dreamy impossibilities began to materialize in my mind's eye.
I visualized the spacious apartment that Ashley and I would fill with avant-garde furniture in the coming weeks. I began planning to itinerary for the cities that the newfound fortune would deliver us. I, in very rational and real terms, began weighing out the benefits of the lump sum vs. monthly installment payment options. Intermittently, great ideas for the gifts I could give my friends and family would disturb my hedonistic flight. I imagined the hunting lease in Montana that I could provide for my dad and brothers. I visualized cutting a check without any hesitation to pay for Justin and Michael's med school expenses. I elected to buy Trevor a vineyard in Argentina. And a slow smile came to my face as I decided I would use my considerable monies to arrange for JD to have an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil/bbq wing dinner with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.
My spirit began to feel remarkably light as the joyous thoughts of providing those that mean the most to me with anything and everything that they could desire. I inhaled deeply as the anxiety of figuring out what I'm meant to do with my life melted away amidst a string of zeros and commas. I felt the deep satisfaction of a life without complication or fear. I spread my arms wide, set free to explore, to learn, to create, to live without inhibition. Surely I would not be deprived of these joys.
As the afternoon carried on I enjoyed a few more daydreaming sessions. My mind warred with my heart as I convinced myself that I wouldn't win. Beneath the umbrella of this understanding I lowered my expectations, but must admit that I did the responsible thing and continued on to planning out what, precisely, I would do immediately after my numbers were drawn...
*Cue the sound of a balloon being punctured and it expelling air as it wildly exhales its contents.
10 months ago