Short Story about dangers of playing the lottery
You wake up one morning and find that your life has been completely, totally, and utterly altered. Reinvented. A single piece of paper, that’s all it took.
* * *
It was one of those stories you find buried on page 27 in the lower left hand corner. If you’re not one of those people who still reads the newspaper cover to cover, and there are few of us left, you would have never seen it.
According to the article, a man in Los Angeles has been showing up at street corners handing out one dollar bills to anyone who passes by. Reportedly, he has given out thousands of dollars, one at a time. He refuses to speak to reporters and constantly moves around the city. Nothing is known about him. Witnesses report that he says only one thing. He makes people promise not to use the dollar to buy a lottery ticket.
It sounded like one of those urban myths.
I know who he is.
* * *
A lottery ticket is a powerful thing. A simple piece of paper, and yet it has the power to harbor dreams, to change lives, to bring happiness, to destroy worlds.
A siren’s song for the modern age. As the jackpot grows larger, the song gets louder, insistent. Lotto Fever grips the city. Normally sane people stand in long lines, waiting for their pieces of paper adorned with randomly generated numbers. Newspapers and television station bump the big payoff to the front page, the top of the hour. Players hold their tickets with reverence, mentally spending their winnings on dream houses, vacations, a life without work.
The magical cure to a mundane existence.
Then the winning numbers are announced. The winner steps forward into their fifteen minutes of fame. The phone rings, new friends are found, old ones are lost. All due to one dollar, one piece of paper.
The random physics of chance. The folly of faith.
* * *
When I met him I was at my usual stool, in my usual bar, drinking my usual drink. He was drinking Glenlivit, I was drinking… well, I was just drinking. We struck up a conversation the way two people drinking at bar usually do, randomly.
John the bartender (J. to everyone who knows him) asked us if we had bought our tickets to the big Lotto drawing. The jackpot was up to fifty million dollars. He showed us his ticket. His numbers were selected on a combination of his birth date and the silk number of the last Kentucky Derby winner.
“Don’t ask, it’s my system.”
I didn’t bother to ask him if his system had ever paid off.
“The Lottery is evil.”
Those were the first words of the scotch infused lecture that began to my left. He introduced himself as a professor of economics at the U. I shook his hand and introduced myself as a writer. Technically this was true, although recently I had been drinking far more than writing and my publisher has all but given up hope of ever seeing another word.
“So I take it you haven’t bought a ticket.”
“Never. The Lottery is evil. It is a regressive tax on people who believe in the impossible, it is a form of mass hypnosis, the only winners are the weasel politicians who raise huge amounts of revenue with out calling it taxation and then claim to have lowered taxes at the same time. It is a huge hypocrisy, a hoax. It destroys the very people who play it in the process. The odds of winning are so astronomical that no rational person would play and yet they do, sucked in by the media feeding frenzy, the lure of fame and the big easy payoff.”
He finished his rant with a long pull at his scotch. I asked J. for another for the professor and one for myself.
“It sounds like you have thought about this for a while. I don’t think that it’s all that bad. I mean, it’s not like people are forced to play. After all, we all choose our own realities.”
Those two shots were the opening rounds of three hours of booze hazed debate over the merits and evils of state run lotteries. At some point I had a flash of brilliance. I still get them occasionally but looking back I have to admit the scotch may have had something to do with it.
“Have you ever bought a lottery ticket?”
“Have you ever held one?”
“Then you know nothing about them.”
I tossed a picture of U.S. Grant on the bar and left.
* * *
At the corner market three doors down from the bar they sell cheap cigarettes, cheap tourist post cards, cheap beer and Lotto tickets. I stood in line behind a computer geek who was calculating his numbers on his Palm using a complex algorithm based on Elliot Bay tidal charts, and an old lady who rolled two dice to pick each number. I gave the clerk my dollar and let the machine pick the numbers, unleashing their random chaos.
I slapped the ticket on the bar in front of the professor.
“What the hell is that.”
“It’s your ticket to fame and fortune, my friend. Go ahead pick it up.”
He stared at it. J. just laughed at him and poured him another scotch.
“Look buddy, it won’t bite you. Just come down from your tower and live a little. If it makes you feel better, you can give me all the money you win. I’ll give you your own stool at J.’s Bar and Grill and all the scotch you want.”
He stared at me, in silence, for the longest time. He slugged down his drink, got up and put on his coat. The ticket sat next to his empty glass.
“You, sir, are a bastard.”
He turned and walked out the door without another word.
The empty glass sat on an empty bar.