“Me too,” said C., playing with her beautiful necklace. And I got nervous and snapped “Hey, get in line!” because I just know the lottery gods would favour someone like her with her cute outfits and friendly smile.
“You can have the 6/49 and I’ll take the LottoMax,” she offered. And I snarled “NO! I want them ALL!!!!” And I’ll tear your throat out with my teeth if you get in my way! (I added that last bit in my inside voice. Can you tell I’m re-reading Game of Thrones?)
C. just laughed at me and tossed her perfect hair and went back to her desk, but I thought about winning the lottery for a bit. If I had won the lottery, I’d still have been in pain today as my endometriosis rampaged. I’d still only have the over-the-counter painkillers plus the T3s my nurse practitioner prescribes to deal with it. Although maybe if I was stinking rich I’d be able to afford better painkillers on the street, and I could pay someone to go obtain them for me, and pay someone else to verify that they were indeed what they seemed to be, and then pay the bribes or legal fees involved when I inevitably got caught buying pills on the street…. No, that’s way too much work. Maybe what I’d find out, if I won the lottery, is that rich people do get different health care. Maybe rich people don’t get treated like potential or actual addicts when they want relief from pain. Maybe I’d find out that Canada’s free health care has more options for the rich.
Winning the lottery wouldn’t change my history, but it would pay for the therapy to process it. Money wouldn’t make me a better artist, but it would free up the time to practice, learn, and concentrate on the work. It wouldn’t make me stop comfort eating, but it would make it easier to buy healthy food and free up the time (or the ability to pay someone) to cook good meals instead of buying whatever pizza is on sale for $5. Money wouldn’t make my life less complicated, but it would definitely make some things easier, like when a bunch of little things require attention at once and I have to decide which is more important because I can’t afford them all (the Fluffy Dog ate my rubber boots, I need new glasses, I need a new bra, the windshield wiper is wonky, the Brindle Dog needs meds, car insurance payment coming up, my good shoes are wearing out).
I don’t think about winning the lottery very much. Oh, I joke about it all the time, but really think about it? No. For me, it’s a kind of magical thinking that takes away energy and focus I need to actually live my life. I sometimes buy a couple of scratch-and-wins if it occurs to me when I gas up the car (because Instant Gratification, woohoo!). I remember my dad’s contempt for lotteries; he called lottery tickets a tax on the poor which I thought was brilliant and insightful until I realised he hadn’t come up with it himself. I can totally understand the impulse to buy those tickets, though—the more broke I am, the more likely I am to think of those scratch-and-wins at the gas station. There’s something about the yearning to be free of the daily grind of money worries, not necessarily to be filthy rich, but just to escape the constant low-level background anxiety of the next bill, the next need, the next emergency.
And not just to be free of those needs, but to actually have enough extra to be able to go out and play without worrying about it. To go dancing with C. and be able to have a few drinks and take a cab home without having to take that money from my grocery budget. To go for dinner at a friend’s place and not have to worry about affording the bottle of wine to take along. To have more options for the Brindle Dog’s end-of-life care.
I don’t think lotteries are a tax on the poor. I think they are a weird kind of carrot, in the same way as the pull-up-your-socks mythology is. As long as there is some kind of hope, as long as we believe that by hard work or by random chance we can rise above the rest, as long as the few but shining examples are held up for us to ooh and aah, we will just keep plugging away at our daily lives, not really seeing the system that operates to keep us working like good little gears, not seeing the dream of sudden fortune as the toxic oil that keeps us turning. Above all, we don’t see the way in which this hope of being lifted out of the crowd still leaves the rest of the crowd behind, anxious and stressed and broke and living in fear of losing the little they have. The dream of winning the lottery is a selfish dream. I wouldn’t refuse it if I won, but I hope I am the kind of person who would spread it around.
Before I can spread it around though, I guess I’ll have to play the 6/49 (since the LottoMax belongs to C.). Although I hear that actually buying a ticket doesn’t appreciably increase your odds of winning. And I could really use that $5 for a frozen pizza.