Life By Lottery

Mar 13

They wuz robbed!

Just before April Fool’s Day last year, thousands of people in Brooklyn thought they had won The Daily News lottery— which would have paid them $100,000 each— only to find out that the numbers were wrong because of a printing error. Ouch! The lawyer representing some of these non- winners (it would be cruel to call them losers, no?) sez it ain’t about the money, it’s about “the loss of a dream.” The New American Dream, to be specific, as Clyde Haberman of the New York Times calls it, the dream to win the lottery.
My take on all this is that the gulf between the haves and the have littles has grown so enormous that winning the lottery is the only way some people think they can ever make it. It does seem that just working hard and being thrifty (the Old American Dream, which is being downsized every day) won’t get you very far — you have to get a lucky break and have money handed to you in one nice big fat lump sum.

Fortunately for those who feel this way, the actual lottery is not the only way to hit the jackpot. The jury I was on awarded three million to a cop injured on the job, and while one person on the panel didn’t think this was enough, another wondered if the only way she could make enough money to get by was to get hurt and then make someone pay. It could be an accident of any kind, some sort of medical malpractice, or even a really, really hot cup of coffee. And if all that fails, there’s always Michael Jackson . . . 

Exposure to weirdness! Emotional trauma! Nearly naked in Neverland! Sue!

Okay, okay, I don’t want to make light of real pain and suffering (and I have it on good authority that the woman with the coffee actually was injured), but doesn’t it seem to you that things are seriously out of whack?

Consider this: If you fall down and break your arm in the forest (where nobody hears it fracture), all you get for your trouble is a souvenir cast. But have the same accident at the right place at the right time, and you can sue for hundreds of thousands. Millions even.

Let’s face it, life always has been a lottery, beginning with the accident of your birth: The Great Cosmic Lottery in the Sky. Were you born rich or good looking? Both? Neither? Are you smart at least? Your parents might have been nurturing or abusive. Did they have the decency to leave you an inheritance?

You’re dealt a hand by the Fickle Fingers of Fate, and sure, it depends on how you play your cards, but most people can’t bluff well enough to win the pot unless they are holding three aces, maybe four. In this ridiculously fast-moving world, if you don’t begin with a head start you may never catch up, and in fact, you will probably keep falling further and further behind—either in reality, or in relation to where you think you should be. As Alice found out in Wonderland, you have to run really fast to stay in the same place.

Why is this happening? Two reasons. First, there’s that pesky ever-widening difference in wealth. The masses toil away to get by (one state, which shall remain nameless, has a minimum wage of $2.65. Really! I just looked it up.) Meanwhile, large numbers of people are earning multiple millions each and every year, and that can add up to real money. We’ve always had the rich, and the superrich, who, it’s true, are very different from you and me. But there’s more of them than ever. Even in this recession (we won’t use the D word), there’s a lot of money out there. Look at it this way: if you had been making 10 million a year for the last 10 years, even if you spent money like it was going out of style (and it was!), you’d have a fair amount left over.

Wednesday, on the editorial page of the New York Times, which has been lamenting the sad state of the economy, there was a huge ad for an “extraordinary” diamond necklace the size of Cleveland, a piece of jewelry that looks as if it’s worth more than the combined net worth of several emerging nations. And there must be enough people out there with enough cash to buy this thing or the advertiser wouldn’t find it worthwhile to run the ad.

So, with their numbers increasing (more and more of the rich with more and more money), more and more stuff has to be put out there to feed their jaded palettes—things that tempt those who can’t afford any of it.  It’s not just Fendi and Ferrari, although both these brands are beyond the reach of most of us. (Okay, there are fake Fendis, but you can’t fake a Ferrari.) This leads to an increasing number of things you are being conditioned to think you have to have, just to get by.

The list is long, but here are a few examples:
Multiple house phones, with call waiting and caller ID, the latest cell phone, which transmits pictures and does everything but your laundry. New expensive cameras which show the pictures instantly and necessitate buying new computers (yours was obsolete by the time you paid for it anyway) in order to store and print the pictures. Laptops. Blackberries. Great vacations, especially to Disney World and the Caribbean.  Designer chocolates. Eating out frequently. Coffee that costs $3.95 a cup. Water that costs more than milk, which costs plenty itself. Really nice linens (who  knew that thread counts mattered that much? And at what point is this ridiculous?) Designer jeans, purses and shoes. Fancy soaps and lotions. Fresh flowers. All the time. Manicures, pedicures, and facials.

Even in this lousy economy, when most of us are struggling, ever notice that when you announce you’ve bought a new Sony flat screen TV, are taking an expensive vacation to Barbados, or getting a facial at a fancy spa, someone says “good for you.” Is it really? We have been conditioned to think that we deserve all these toys and all that pampering, and maybe we do, but it sure costs. And these days, who’s got the dough? Add that to the high price of everything — even the bare necessities — and it’s easy to back yourself into a corner where it seems that the only way out is to win the lottery.

Here in the City That Never Cheaps, it will cost you $2-3000 month to rent an apartment the size of a walk-in closet in Manhattan, and you’ll have to shell out a million simolians to buy an “average” apartment. And even though prices are falling, they are still, let’s face it, outrageous. Of course, you might already have a rent-controlled place. But isn’t that just another form of winning the lottery? And most of us haven’t. So, unless you got into the real estate lottery at least 10 years ago and bought a place to live then, you can’t live in a place that suits your needs. You could always move to Idaho. (No offense). Or play the Lottery.

The big one last week was 210 million. And lucky ten people won it! Of course, 21 mil is pocket change to more and more people these days, but to most of us it would be the ultimate American Dream. It would certainly make up for that original, totally unfair turn of events, whereby the Cosmic Lottery in the Sky didn’t make us billionaires in the first place. The nerve!

But what if we play and we don’t even win (I hate to say it, but the odds are against us). Can we trip and fall on the way home from the newsstand on a hard-to-see but dreadfully dangerous protrusion in the sidewalk (obviously caused by the extreme and willful negligence of the City of New York) and sue for $21 million? $41 million? A billion (Why think small?) Can we get a really, really good lawyer? Can we win the case? Are we rich yet? One lives in hope.

                                  (How I Lost My Underwear By The Trevi Fountain)

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