Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Colossal Backfire

One of things I always enjoyed about traveling to other states was the chance to play their lottery. See, before October 2005 Oklahoma didn’t have a lottery, which was fine with me. That only served to make it more fun to play when traveling. And I only spent pocket change anyway. It wasn’t like I was blowing the grocery or rent money on a downward spiral into financial ruin.

And while I occasionally bought a Powerball© or Mega-Millions© ticket, what I mostly enjoyed were the scratch-offs. Scratch-offs are little cards you buy for a buck or two (or more if you’re a real sucker) and scratch off a silver film of latex to reveal a dollar amount or a picture of a chicken or whatever the particular game offers, and see if you’re a winner. Of course, the real winners are the people who never buy these things in the first place… well, them and the ones that hit it big! I’d have to call them real winners too.

I knew the old adage about walking the walk – not just talking the talk. But I was kind of hoping to be the exception to that rule...

And I must confess that while I felt comfortable buying the occasional lottery game piece, I wasn’t quite as at ease with the thought of passing this values-judgment on to my children. Oh, I knew the old adage about walking the walk – not just talking the talk. But I was kind of hoping to be the exception to that rule. However, fate had another idea.

It was 1997 and the kids were 13 and 10 years old. We were on a trip that took us across Arizona when late one evening at a rest stop off I-40 in Nowhere, America John offered up a one dollar bill with the request, “Dad, will you buy me a scratch-off?” He even showed me the particular game he wanted.

Now, I had been buying them and scratching them off in front of the kids all during the trip, so his request shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. I had even been letting them have the ones that were losers. John was quite adept at making paper footballs out of them, which by that time were all over the car. I remember seeing them and thinking, “Wow, am I spending that much on lottery tickets?” But then I’d remember one or two that paid a buck or two and convince myself I was “at least breaking even”.

I suddenly had the brilliant thought that this would be a good lesson for John to learn – to show him the folly of wasting his valuable spending money on gambling. A life-changing object lesson for only a buck - a bargain at twice the price… What’s more, it wasn’t even my buck!

So I took his dollar and bought the ticket, and I waited until we were back in the car to give it to him. Just as I was driving out of the parking lot I heard him say in a confused voice, “I think I won a hundred dollars.”

“Let me see that,” I barked. I turned on the dome light and took the game piece from John’s tightly clinched fist. Sure enough, the little goober had won a hundred dollars! So much for that object lesson…

John turned 18 the year the lottery came to Oklahoma – something I’ve always considered most ironic – God’s way of giving me one gigantic divine raspberry, I suppose! See, the minimum age to play the lottery in Oklahoma is 18. In Las Vegas you have to be 21 to gamble, and we call it Sin City!

And while I wish to avoid the classic debate of societal ruin versus personal rights (as I see merit in both views) I will admit I voted against the lottery. See, I knew the grip gambling can have on a guy. And the lottery has borne that out with such a vast number of teens and 20-somethings spending so much on the pursuit of the magic ticket to overnight riches.

But my kids have made some pretty good decisions in life, and have stayed out of the poor house, in spite of the “wild west gambler” lifestyle I lived in front of them. I would have been more proud of myself as a father had I taken a stronger stand for the sake of the kids.

Or else if I had won the “big” one! That wouldn’t have been so bad.

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