I am not a betting man, but I do like to play the occasional slot machine when I visit a casino. It’s hard for me to part with my hard-earned money on the chance that I might hit big. But like so many folks last week, I got caught up in the frenzy of the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot.
The week had been unusually brutal for me, and by the time I got home one day, the television was ablaze with people across the country caught up in the fever fantasy of winning the big jackpot.
I sat there shaking my head. “What fools!” I thought.
I was just settling into my righteous indignation when something caught my attention. The reporter was showing a montage of people from all over the country delivering the same message: You can’t win if you don’t play.
The message was repeated from every imaginable city, small town and corner store. There were people representing every race, class and gender, smiling gleefully while holding what they knew would be the winning ticket. Something in me snapped! What if I did not play and missed my chance for instant economic autonomy?
I got up and mumbled halfway out loud and mostly to myself in a Yoda-inspired statement, “Tickets must buy now.”
I threw on some shorts and got into my car, focused on my mission to purchase what would be my deliverance from corporate America. I had sat with co-workers earlier that day, pondering what we’d do with our hypothetical winnings. We laughed, pledging to set each other up with paid condos or big wads of cash…lol.
I gripped the steering wheel, cursing at drivers who in my mind had already purchased their tickets, which was why they were driving at a snail’s pace. I begin to panic as I recalled from the news images of long lines of would-be lottery winners suspended in some form of jackpot purgatory.
I finally reached my destination and was pleasantly surprised to find no line. Had I stumbled upon a secret location? With great stealth, I approached the counter and in an almost whisper asked for five tickets, as I did not want to start a stampede. The clerk looked at me and said, “We no longer sale lottery tickets.”
What did he just say? I had barely processed the information before I was back in my car and down the street to another convenience store. I whipped into a parking space and rushed inside, taking my place in a line of about six people.
I observed that there was a strange language and ritual to this process. Some people had cards already filled out and others barked out lottery lyrics like, “Give me ten dollars of pick three and ten on Mega Millions.” It was like some weird lottery Starbucks order.
My time finally came and, like a scene from Seinfeld’s “The Soup Nazi,” I stepped to the counter and asked for five lottery tickets. The clerk asked if I wanted Pick Three or Pick Four? I started sweating because I did not want to seem like a novice, so I just blurted out, “I want five tickets for the big jackpot.” She handed me my five tickets and gave me a pitiful look like, “Here, you simpleton; try not to lose these tickets as you drag your knuckles across the parking lot back to your cave.”
I did not watch the drawing that night but got up early Saturday to attend an open house where I work. I arrived at school extra early, like I usually do, to get set up -- but something was different this morning. This could be the last time I would ever have to work.
Everything was ready, so I laid out my five tickets and looked up the lottery website online. I begin to fantasize how I would make my very dramatic exit into a luxurious exile. Maybe I would leave a post that simply said, “Won the lottery.” Or maybe I would offer a scholarship to the most enthusiastic visitor that morning. I was in the studio and had time on my side. Maybe I could videotape my resignation and have it looping when everyone arrived?
Back on the lottery website, I clicked on a video to reveal the winning numbers. As I simultaneously scanned my tickets and watched each ball drop, my dreams of a Puerto Rican beach house slowly slipped away.
I sat there silent for a while, resigned to my fate. I adjusted a few chairs and buttoned my suit jacket just as the first visitors arrived for open house.
“Good Morning, everyone,” I said. “My name is Charles Easley, and I am chair of the program. Who wants to work in the industry?...”
(Please share your fantasy exit from the working class?)