About a month ago I put my name and phone number on a slip of paper and dropped it in a bucket for a chance at winning a pair of tickets to any concert I desired to see at the local Knitting Factory. I received the news my name was drawn in this raffle and I could pick the concert of my choice. The timing couldn’t have been better as a friend and I are scheduled to hit the Knitting Factory this coming weekend to see Floater.
It’s weird winning something. I know it is nothing more than chance, but it leaves you feeling special. I don’t know the final odds, but someone’s hand reached inside that bucket and plucked my name from those myriad scraps of paper. It’s nice when some random, benign thing like this comes your way. Out of nowhere you get this extra little dollop of momentary happiness. It’s meaningless, but for a little bit it feels good. For me, it has a strange way of ever so slightly twisting reality, where I’m thinking now is a good time to make a stock pic, or just this one time I could buy a lottery ticket. Foolishness, but for a few moments it’s fun mental entertainment. Much better then other bits of randomness that can draw your name from the masses: cancer, heart attack, getting gunned down by a random psychotic killer with a weapon of war…randomness that can leave you feeling the world has unfairly singled you out.
I have an aversion to these kind of things and do not participate in them often. They seem to attract a peculiar impulse, this weird American thing: SOMETHING FREE. This “thing” that makes people put their name in the hat, or the bucket, or whatever it is, whether they’re interested in the “thing” or not.
I have little interest in prizes. I don’t want for or desire much, so chances of winning some other “thing” doesn’t have pull with me. It was out of the norm for me to participate, but winning an experience like a concert felt worthwhile. And I believe this is the important difference for me: it’s an experience versus some tchotchke or other thing I don’t need.
My father participated in Lotto, the great American raffle conducted on a weekly basis. He was a dedicated player. Every week he played his numbers. He spent more than his usual allotment on tickets when the jackpot was exceptionally large. I recall the tickets and the numbers being part of table side conversations, casting a spell over our family, a dreamlike state where greenbacks fluttered like rain and all our wishes and whims were answered, and all this material wealth made us whole and happy.
It was pretty fucking sad. I didn’t see it as a young boy. Lost in these fantasies as well, I dreamed of the day Pop’s would hit the winning numbers and our family had a chance at happiness. I was a teenager before beginning to realize the awfulness of this delusion. This understanding came after my father hit a series of numbers.
On this particular day I arrived home later than usual from school and noticed my father wasn’t around. My mother informed me they hit five out of the six numbers, or some amount of the total (I cannot recall), and he went to claim the winnings. They had no idea what the payout would be, but I could see and feel the hope. It was the hungry wish that the gods would smile down on them and make those numbers pay. I may have even felt some hope myself. Of what my father was experiencing I have no idea, but I imagined the fantasies entering his thoughts, him trying to swat them away but enticed and hopeful, moving just a little bit faster than normal on the way out of work, off to claim his prize, trying to keep calm and rational and level headed. I imagined him mentally picking off the debts one by one, making the material upgrades to home and automobile, telling his employer to kiss his ass, all the freedom those winnings could give.
In the end it was a couple hundred dollars. A drop in the bucket compared to all the money spent on a lifetime’s worth of Lotto tickets. I don’t know what my father experienced when they handed over his winnings, but I’m sure it was bittersweet. I imagine a lot of dreams crumbled that day.
The thoughts and realizations that you could base your happiness on the hope of winning some gigantic pool of money, that this gigantic pool of money was the only thing capable of giving you happiness, has been a guiding impetus for me to stay away from these things. I don’t want to risk centering my happiness around a fantasy. I don’t blame my parents for wanting relief, of hoping. The financial strain and stress of poverty, and seeing no way out no matter what you do – it’s a hard place to be.
I don’t play the lottery. Ok, let me back up a sec: I played a few times in the past, when in an office pool situation and the jackpot was something like a bazillion dollars. In those situations I felt I had to, as I wasn’t willing to risk the chance of being the one unlucky asshole still at his job when all the others instantly retired after winning the jackpot. Outside of those situations I don’t participate. The childhood lessons were subtle but powerful for me.