It was the beginning of a new year, and I could sense through the dank and chilly January air that this was going to be the year my life would change forever. The January 4, 2011 Megamillions jackpot was up to $330 million, and though I had never so much as purchased a single lottery ticket before, I was seized by a premonition that I was going to win this one. The charm would be in buying 40 tickets, 20 at each of my two favorite gas stations/snack shops.
I skipped into work that Tuesday morning, smiling and chatting up everyone I ran into. It was a great job, though 50 miles from my house and with uncertain career advancement potential. Everyone worked hard here, and they were all decent, nice people, from the cafeteria staff to the lobby guards to the administrative staff, engineers, managers, executives, and finance people. I would stay until at least March 4 to finish the project I was working on and then, who knows? I might stay on part-time, if they needed me. In any case, I would give generously to the company-supported charities.
In between work meetings, I did the arithmetic. The calculations were thus: $330 million jackpot, which, according to CBS Newsradio 88, would yield a $224 million payout, or $114 million after taxes. My first act would be to change the locks to the house and install an alarm system. I would insulate our 80-year-old wind-tunnel of a wood-framed house and replace the beautiful but rotting window frames with top-quality replicas. I would repair the original leaded glass window on the side of the front door, finish the attic, and replace the in-ground oil tank/asbestos-wrapped oil burner with a more efficient, indoor oil burner unit. I would fix the dining room chairs and the landscaping. I would increase the cleaning staff to 3 days a week and have them do our laundry. And I would pay cash for both of my kids’ colleges—this would be the biggest win of all. All of this would probably eat up a million, maybe a million and a half. Then I would give my siblings, my parents, and my husband David’s siblings each a million dollars.
But then…how to most wisely manage the $100 million or so of remaining money. I needed David to figure this out with me, so I called him during lunch. I had not previously shared with him the great news that we were going to win the Megamillions that night. David, the perennial Mr. “don’t-get-your-hopes-up,” took the news with delight and, dare I say, a bit of excitement. His voice rose an octave on the phone when I told him the plan.
“We’ll pay off the kid’s colleges with cash!” he said immediately.
“Exactly my thought,” I replied. Maybe our marriage wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe it just needed a large cash infusion.
“Just buy one ticket” he said.
Bah. The charm was in the plan, the premonition. I needed to carry it through. I went to the Bridgeport Ave snack mart and heartily ordered up 20 Megamillion tickets.
“Big one this time,” the clerk said. He was an aging, hard-working Indian man, all wrinkles and smiles, and always in a short-sleeve white shirt.
“I’m going to win this time,” I said. “I’ve never played before but I have a feeling about this one.”
“Good luck,” he smiled.
“I’m going to get the champagne now for our celebration!” I joked, though the idea wasn’t half bad.
I put the tickets in the safe zippered compartment of my pocketbook, the one that had my thumb drives with critical documents stored on them. As I headed out toward the Merritt, scary thoughts struck me. What if I got into an accident on the way home, with my winning ticket? What if I got into an accident on way to present the winning ticket to the State Lottery authority tomorrow? As I had bought the ticket in Connecticut, I would likely need to travel all the way to Hartford. I would have David drive us to claim the prize. I stopped off at the Mobil Mart on the Merritt to get the second batch of tickets. The luck would be lost if rested on my laurels after buying the first 20. I drove oh so carefully and oh so happily home.
Five blocks from home, I noticed a man in a dark overcoat walking on a sidewalk that was usually empty. He seemed to pop up out of nowhere. He knows I have the winning ticket, I thought to myself. Sure enough, I got stuck at the red light, and the man stepped off the curb and quickly walked across the other lane toward to the passenger side of my car. My heart raced. I refused to open the window.
“What do you want?” I screamed through the closed window.
“Can you tell me where Main Street is?” the man asked.
(Really? He was wandering around in the residential, suburban part of town, 2 miles from Main Street?)
I screamed back at him, “You have to go 3 blocks that way to Mamaroneck Avenue, make a right, then go about a mile to Main Street.” I sped off.
David and my son Simon were already sitting down to dinner. David had made baked cod. It smelled delicious. David was in a terrific mood.
“So how was your day?” Simon asked, as if it were any old normal evening.
“I bought 40 lottery tickets! We’re going to win the Megamillion Dollar jackpot! It’s $380 million!”
Simon groaned. What a surly, pessimistic teenager we had. Over dinner, we argued about the odds, about what we would do with the money if we won, about gambling and my aversion to it, and about how Grandma always won at Blackjack in Atlantic City.
The drawing was at 11:30 PM. I poured myself some tea, and listened and recorded each number as it was called out on the news. The winning numbers were 4-8-15-25-47, with 42 being the Mega Ball number. I didn’t even come close. As a matter of fact, I marveled at how I had no numbers in common. What were the odds of that and why wasn’t there an associated prize? I crawled into bed and burrowed under my worn but warm comforter. Tomorrow would be cloudy, with maybe a chance of rain, but at least the weather would be above freezing. The jackpot would run up again in a few months and then? Hey, you never know.