“Did you hear about the lottery?”
Chris’s wife Christina didn’t hear him, or at least she didn’t acknowledge what he had said.
He repeated himself, “Hey Christina, did you hear about the lottery?”
She didn’t look up from her laptop. “What about it?”
“This week,” Chris started, “the Powerball jackpot is the biggest it’s ever been. It’s up to five hundred million dollars.” He stared across the room, waiting for an interested response. He didn’t get one, so he sweetened the pot with details. “It’s not the biggest lottery jackpot ever — Mega Millions hit six hundred million last year, but it’s the highest Powerball has ever gone. I was at the gas station buying bananas,” (Kwik Trip sells bananas as loss-leaders, which is lucky for Chris, because the rate at which his sons eat bananas is, well, bananas), “and three out of the four people in front of me were only buying lottery tickets. I think the cashier was annoyed, because it takes like 20 seconds to print a lottery ticket, so with all these people buying tickets, it’s probably causing longer lines and stuff. The fourth person bought a ticket too, but she had gotten gas, so she wasn’t just buying a ticket. You know, because I said three out of the four people in front of me were buying only lottery tickets, but really, all four bought a ticket.” Chris doesn’t excel at storytelling; the details tumble out in no particular order until the list is exhausted and the story has to be reassembled after the fact.
“Oh. That’s super great.” Christina didn’t enthuse, and she still didn’t look up; this wasn’t a surprise. She rarely showed interest in things like this — records being broken, new ground being trod — if it didn’t directly affect her life. And this didn’t: neither Chris nor Christina played the lottery, so for as much as it mattered, the jackpot could be seventy dollars or seventy billion dollars, and it wouldn’t change their lives any.
But that didn’t matter to Chris. He found intrigue in any unique situation: a new species of animal being discovered, a foreign country’s government dissolving, or yes, a record lottery jackpot. He just wanted to be a part of the shared experience of the world changing forever and the possibilities therein: for example, what might happen to a single person who instantly won five hundred million dollars and went from the middle-class to the richest 1%?
He left the living room and sat at his office desk, still considering the lottery. If he won it, he thought, he wouldn’t quit his job. He worked from home, which he loved, and got to write software, which he loved. Maybe, he decided, he had already won the figurative lottery by being able to make a living doing something he enjoyed.
That’s dumb. That’s how a children’s book would end: “And Tommy realized he was truly the richest boy of all, since he had a song in his heart.”
So he might not quit his job, but he could give a little something back to his employer and voluntarily draw only a $1 salary (while keeping the company-provided healthcare, of course). Heck, he could even invest in their next round of financing and give them considerably generous terms. With half a billion dollars in his bank account, he could afford to be generous. But with half a billion dollars, why stop at a single company? Maybe he would form his own venture capital firm and use his fortune to make dozens of pre-IPO investments. He would most definitely be in demand for his savvy financial advice, like “Buy lottery tickets.”
In any case, it was all hypothetical. Chris knew too much about statistics and the odds of winning to throw away money on a long-shot chance, and he didn’t even know how to buy a lottery ticket. (Even though the people in front of him in line at the gas station had been buying them, he hadn’t paid close enough attention to feel comfortable enough to do it himself. He had been too busy framing a perfect shot of the bananas to include in his Foursquare checkin.) There were so many unknowns: should he just say, “One lottery ticket, please”? Or maybe a more formal, “I would like to play the lottery.” How much do the tickets cost? Would he need to show ID? Would the cashier ask if he wanted to pick special numbers, or would he have to say that up front? How many numbers would he need to pick? How high do they go? Could he pick the same number twice? How about three times? Could he use a credit card? (He thought he heard one time that you can’t buy lottery tickets with a credit card.) Maybe a debit card? Would the cashier laugh at him if he didn’t buy anything else, knowing that he had made a special trip to the gas station just to buy a lottery ticket? Probably not, but that’s a chance he couldn’t take.
OR COULD HE?