The happiness of a lottery loser

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Finally, lust for a James Bondian lifestyle has overcome good sense, and I have invested my first two bucks into the black hole that is Powerball. Our staff went together to buy a few tickets, blinded by the lure of a billion-dollar prize.

In the 292,000,000-to-one event that my ship comes in, it's been nice knowing you. This will be my last column, and by the time you're reading this I will be on a warm beach somewhere on a newly-bought deserted island.

There's a better chance I will be appointed Princess of Wales. But I'll be a gracious loser. I can't help but suspect that having a massive amount of money to deal with would be a burden I'm ill-equipped to handle.

I recall writing a story about a couple in the region who won an obscene amount of lottery cash some years back. Nice, regular people. But in the photo gripping the huge check, they already had that deer-in-the headlights look.

They weren't wearing full-length mink stolls or running away with gold-diggers half their age. Yet.

With a Trumpzillion dollars, he said he planned to keep his gig wiping down used cars as the local car lot, and she would keep on working graveyard shift at Walmart.

Personally, if I won 79 cents, I'd be out of here, but you have to play those lottery press conferences by the book:

"This will not change us, or our lifestyle. We may have more money than several major European counties, but of course I will be right back at my job scrubbing out porta-pottys on Monday morning. We will use the money to pay some bills."

Some bills? If you have hundreds of millions of dollars in bills, you've already been living a bit high, hoss.

What the heck would you do with a billion dollars, or even a share of that kind of winnings?

I could use a new pair of socks, since all of mine have holes. That's $1.79 taken care of. I might splurge on theater popcorn instead of smuggling my own into the Vista III inside by coat. What is movie theater popcorn now, a hundred bucks for a medium bucket? So now I'd only have $999,999,898.21. How to make a dent? I'm not sure I need rare vintage Ferraris or castles with families of indentured servants to trim my toenails.

Thankfully, the government will be there to molest - er, assist - the winners. Most of their check will be headed to Afghanistan.

I'm not opposed to filthy richness, but let's look at the tale of the tape here.

Jack Whittaker won $113 million in the lottery. He went to jail for assault and repeated drunk driving. His marriage broke up and his teenage granddaughter was found dead after reports of drug use. "I wish I had torn that ticket up," he muttered.

Michael Klingenbeil was sued by his own mother who tried to get a large part of his winnings, and succeeded.

Paul McNabb won millions, and endured repeated break-ins to his home and kidnap threats to his children, and wound up as a cab driver in Las Vegas.

Mack Metcalf and his second wife, Virginia Merida, shared a $34 million lottery jackpot. They soon broke up amid battles for the cash, then he died of complications from alcoholism at only 45. Her body was found decomposed in her bed. Possible drug overdose.

Many lottery winners have gone bankrupt, ended up cracked out, in prison for tax evasion, or living like hermits, hiding from shirttail relatives wanting handouts, and surrounded by hangers-on they can't trust.

I remember when Hugh Hawkins became Iowa's biggest lottery winner. He seems to have left the grid, but not before the media drug all the dirty laundry out of his closet - how he attended three different colleges without graduating from any, has passed through a string of jobs and professions with little achievement, getting thousands behind in child support payments to a previous wife, running up tens of thousands of dollars in debts on multiple credit cards, and declaring bankruptcy just months before winning the lottery to escape a mountain of debts. He was said to be down to his last $250, but somehow he still had the itch to blow a few bucks of the family grocery money on Powerball tickets.

I wish the next winners well. And maybe, we should be just as glad we're not them.

Handling all that money would be hard work, and if I wanted hard work, friends, I wouldn't be in this job.

A winner needs a team of attorneys, public relations spokespersons, accountants, investment advisors, foundation directors, and then another team of attorneys to fight all those people when they skim off your fortune.

You would probably have to flee your home, if not your country, to escape the thieves, cons, and scurrilous charities that would haunt your every waking hour. You couldn't go out in public without people pointing, all waiting for the lottery curse to nail you.

Worse, there would be no reason to get out of bed and go do what you do anymore. What satisfaction do you get from owning things you know you haven't earned? No need to save for anything, and thus appreciate it.

The best thing would be to unload it on a good charity and hope to escape with your comfortable old life intact.

With that kind of dough, a guy could outfit Mr. Goodfellow's needy children in chinchillas and diamond ankle bracelettes. Nope, that doesn't seem quite right, either.

Money doesn't buy happiness, but darn it, it sure could rent some.

For the rest of us slobs, there is something noble in the act of living simply, making a budget stretch implausibly to cover bills every month, not buying what you can't afford, having to wait to fulfill your wants, and yelling at your kids to turn the lights off if they aren't in their rooms and to save their birthday money for college.

Considering the track record of past winners, maybe we've been the lucky ones all along.