I remember as a kid the question was always, what would you do with a million dollars?
But it’s 2016. We grew up. A million dollars is chump change these days. Milk costs $5 a gallon, for fuck’s sake. Houses are… well, they’re expensive. Our dreams have moved on, into the multi-millions. The billions.
I just left the gas station not too long ago. It was like a scene from a movie, maybe post-apocalyptic, maybe pre-apocalyptic. Teenagers barely old enough to buy tickets whispering the word to the cashiers, who spit out random numbers that may or may not be controlling all of our lives. The Powerball, they say. How much for a ticket?
If this were a fantasy world, this is the part of the story we would all be laughing at. All of these people crowding in to these tiny shops, throwing their grubby, crumpled up dollar bills on the counter for a chance to become one of the elite.
It’s like the Reaping from the Hunger Games. Except instead of death, you’re assured fame and glory.
Well, not really. We all know that though, don’t we? That so many lottery winners blow through all their winnings super quickly, some of them are killed by themselves or someone else, they post millions of dollars in bail for loved ones they probably should have parted ways with. Whatever. Winning the lottery is more of a hassle than a blessing in the stories we know.
Except everyone was crowded around. Their dollars, their whispers. The Powerball.
All hail the randomly selected (but possibly fixed) numbers.
It’s strange, though. This country is Big. The United States is huge, and full of so many different cultures. And yet this one stupid thing, this way to waste our money, has united everyone in the entire country. We all want a piece of the pie, the winnings. We want our randomly selected numbers to be called and we want to be pulled up to the elite.
Maybe that’s the American Dream still at work. The part of us that, in our veins, wants to know that we’ll be rewarded at the end of the day. That even though it’s difficult to keep the heat on or put gas in the car or groceries in the fridge, we could toss $2 down and get back $200 in return. $2000. $200000. The zeroes just keep coming.
It’s stupid to try and debunk it, to make fun of it, to remind people that they’d have a “knapsack full of jack after taxes,” (thanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda) — because that’s just it. I’m not sure I know anyone who expects to win, we all just want a piece of the dream.
“I’d buy a drink for everyone from my graduating class,” one Facebook post said.
“I’m clearing out all my friends list, and everyone who’s left is set for life,” someone else said.
“Passport, Pizza, Plane Tickets, in that order,” was my response.
It isn’t about the winning, though. It’s about the drab feeling of day to day life, and about trying to make ends meet (or not) or trying to work toward something you feel like you’re never going to reach. Statistically speaking, the odds of actually winning The Powerball are nuts. And I mean, like, insane. It doesn’t matter how many tickets you buy, you’re unlikely to win anything. There’s just too many possible combinations of numbers, too many people participating.
But you could win.
Buying that ticket means you have an equal chance. You don’t, of course, but that’s what it feels like. The numbers are chosen at random: that means Joe Millionaire with his ticket he bought at the Rich People Citgo, or something, on the good part of town… he bought numbers the same as the guy who laid down his last couple of quarters at the bodega on the corner.
Chance, luck, whatever. It’s a great equalizer. We all want a piece of the dream.
I think dreaming is good. I have big dreams, and I’m trying to make some of them real. $1.5 Billion Dollars (or whatever we’re up to now) would go a long way toward that. So would the $100 chump change prize, or even the $20 that lets me buy a few extra groceries this week.
But even if you don’t win, you still get to think about what life would be like if you did. There’s hope: the debt you owe doesn’t seem so big anymore, the things you need don’t seem so expensive. Your goals finally seem in reach, and you don’t feel quite so overwhelmed
And that’s what’s worth it: sometimes that glimpse into what things could be like is exactly what you need to keep pushing. Because so what if you didn’t win The Powerball? You can still do this. You can do the work, you can be lucky in some other way, you can win. You can figure things out.
Nick and I bought five tickets.
And then I sat down to get to work, because that’s how you really make things happen. But it’s nice to dream about what I’ll do with the money, just in case. Just in case I get there, whether it’s from a bunch of random numbers being drawn or from putting in the hard work to become a billionaire on my own.
I’m going to order so much pizza.