My dad knew the odds.
“They say you have more of a chance of getting struck by lightning,” he said.
But that didn’t stop him.
“Hey, you never know,” he added, reiterating the famous slogan. “The thing is, it’s true. That’s what makes it so good. You don’t know. You could actually win. It’s possible.”
And, boy, did he try. He played all the draw games. Local Lotto. Pick Six. Take 5. Then I’d watch the drawing with him at night.
The lotto machine turned on. The numbered ping pong balls trembled to life, skittering across the base of the clear container like cartoon animals. The plastic tube sucked up a ping pong ball. Then another. And another. As the presenter grabbed the now-still white or pink balls, they called out the numbers emblazoned on the plastic spheres, one by one.
Sometimes my dad would get a number. One time he got three. Sometimes he’d get the right number but in the wrong order. Every once in a while, he would get a consolation prize — five bucks that he would apply to the next batch of lotto tickets — but the end result was always the same.
What really got his attention, though, were the multi-state and national lotteries, like the Mega Millions and the Powerball, with jackpots regularly in the hundreds of millions.
My dad didn’t just play the lottery. He lived it. He envisioned it. He’d already apportioned his apocryphal winnings. He’d done the math.
“Most people take the annuity, but you actually get more money in the long run if you take the lump sum,” he said. “You get more just from the interest.”
He had worked out allowances and trust funds and investments, his imaginary estate well in order. All he needed was the money.
After years of lecturing me about fund distribution, detailing his long-term financial goals, I finally asked why he was obsessed with the lottery.
“Oh, I don’t care,” he scoffed. “It’s just for fun.”
But then he’d drive more than an hour up to Connecticut to buy Powerball tickets.
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My dad drove the iconic checker cab in New York City in the 70s, eventually moving up to “blue cars” — private car companies. His goal was to start his own company someday, but he never did. In the meantime, he drove rich people to and from Teterboro Airport, an airstrip for private jets.
My dad routinely railed against American materialism and reviled the amassers of said materialism, the very people he drove.
“I feel bad for them,” he said. “They’re on their phones the entire car ride. Sometimes they call their kids before bed. These people are all about work, and for what if you can’t even enjoy it? I don’t envy them. That’s no way to live.”
Then he’d drive my mom, my sister and me up to Alpine, New Jersey to gawk at the McMansions along the Palisades that loomed over the Hudson River, the kinds of places his passengers lived in.
I remember one house in particular stood atop a mini cliff — a cliff on top of a cliff. We stared in awe, our eyes raised, our heads lowered, the car stopped but not parked, until finally, achingly, my dad would pull away, lest we be exposed as interlopers.
My dad bemoaned American consumerism but bought issues of The Robb Report to show me million-dollar watches and private islands for sale. He never owned a car, but his favorite automaker was Ferrari. He even bought me a Ferrari polo shirt when I was in college, but I didn’t want to wear it, so he took it for himself.
Our neighbors across the street were Jane and Andy. Jane was a teacher, and Andy was a cop on the cusp of retirement. We’d moved to Ridgefield just a few years earlier, but they’d lived in the house across the street for decades. They raised their kids there, and they would retire there.
One day, out of the clear, blue sky, my mom told me they won the lottery. Six million dollars. Andy gave half of the winnings to his brother. They added the rest to their retirement pot. They didn’t buy a new home. They didn’t quit their jobs. Andy eventually collected his pension as planned. Nothing changed.
“It’s not actually that much money after taxes and fees,” my dad pointed out. “Especially since he gave half of it away — but at least they took the lump sum.”
My dad kept playing for a while, but eventually, some years later, he stopped.
Wow I resonated with this. My Filipino dad was eerily similar to yours. He played the lotto always, even if it erupted another financial fight with my mom, and he also liked to admire nice things.
I love your writing because it's authentic and from the heart and this one is your best post yet! Reading it felt like you were taking about my dad :)