“Hey, you seen those Powerball numbers?” I was over at my brother’s place, standing in the kitchen. Like always, he was sitting in his La-Z-Boy, watching the TV. His wife and daughter were there, too. “Any of you poor Americans ready to surrender your paltry, hard-earned wages to feed the Lottery Machine? For the likelihood of never actually gaining anything from it in return? Like, ever?”
“It’s not never,” my niece says, “it’s one in 292 million.”
“Are we splittin’ hairs here, Dude?” I said.
“Somebody already won it,” my sister-in-law says. “They printed out the ticket. Down in L.A., wasn’t it?”
“Nah, I meant the other one,” I said.
“Oh,” she says. “But you said…”
“The other one’s at like 900 million,” my brother says.
“That first one, though, huh?” I said.
“That first one was over a billion,” my brother said.
“This other one, though, right?” I said.
“Yeah, it’s….” He paused mid-sentence, then glared at me.
“It’s crazy,” my sister-in-law says. “That’s so much money.”
“It’s like the Australian gold rush, for how nuts people get about the thing,” I said. “Chucking their jobs, selling their own children. Hookers making bank.”
“Oh, the Australian gold rush?” my brother says.
“Who’s selling their children?” my niece says.
“Hey, if it’s happening in Peru, it happened there, too.”
“Nuh-uh,” she says.
“Well, it ain’t to get the gold, to be fair. It’s to make money off the people who are getting the gold. But the point is people go bananas when you tell them there’s free money someplace, and they’ll never have to work a day again in their life. More or less. They turn into rhino beetles and shit, fighting each other, losing their humanity.”
“Like Black Friday at a Walmart,” my brother says.
“If it could get them five 70-inch Vizeo TVs at 85% off the sticker price, I guarantee you half of America would sell one of their kids to do it. One of their five kids. Then they’d have the extra TV. To sell on eBay. At markup. So, they’d actually make money on the transaction.”
“Nuh-uh,” my niece says.
“That’s ‘Sophie’s Choice’ right there,” my brother says.
“More like ‘Sophie’s Side Hustle’,” I said.
“People don’t get that crazy,” my sister-in-law says.
“No?” I said. “You go talk to those people. Read their stories. People get poisoned, robbed at gunpoint, executed, drugged, stabbed in the back. Literally. We’re talking old school treachery here. They get depressed, commit suicide. Smoke crack. Or just do the dumbest stuff imaginable, like try to become drug traffickers. Or smoke crack. Money disappears in a few years. Their relatives come, friends, trying to demand things from them. Trick them. Kill them. Lie to their face about back taxes, illness, you name it. The lawsuits come. You see the worst of humanity when that much money is at stake. People have been telling stories about it for centuries. You even find it in the Bible, for God’s sake.”
“Just so you know,” my brother said, “if I ever won the lottery, I wouldn’t know any of you people in this room. Total memory wipe. Just sayin’.”
“Thanks,” my sister-in-law and niece said at the same time. “Dick,” my niece added.
“This guy just makes my point,” I gestured toward him.
“Well, that doesn’t mean people are crazy,” my sister-in-law says.
“Would a sane, rational person engage in that kind of behavior?” I said.
“The opportunistic kind, maybe,” my niece says.
“See? It’s all been normalized.” I turned to my brother, “You’d let your daughter think like this?”
“Lorie,” he turned, “if you won the lottery, would you know me anymore?”
“No,” she said.
“Would you stab me in the back if I won?”
“That’s my girl,” he said.
“What is the actual point of a lottery, anyway?” my sister-in-law said. “I never understood it. Just to give away free money?”
“To thin the population,” my niece said.
“To obtain me a harem,” my brother said.
“It’s a tax,” I said. “That people don’t realize is a tax because no one calls it a tax. Because it’s ‘voluntary’. But so many people pay into it because of that payout, so that’s how it functions.”
“At least you got a chance of getting something in return,” my brother said. “Unlike real taxes.”
“Yeah, like better schools, better shopping, better roads, better police and better homes are just conjured up by The Magnanimous Mage of Suburbia or some shit like that. Or a sacrificial offering to the gods of…civic entitlement.”
“I’m talking about instant gratification,” my brother said. “You can’t beat that.”
“Lorie,” I said to my niece, “what were those odds again?”
“One in 292 million,” she said.
“Instant gratification to who? I still see your large bottom pinning down that La-Z-Boy over there. That’s neither instantaneous nor gratifying.”
“Oh, it’s gratifying,” he says, staring at the TV, fully reclined.
“He didn’t even buy a ticket,” my sister-in-law says.
“He never buys a ticket,” my niece said.
“Sooo gratifying,” he says, reclining back even farther. Then his chair made this loud *CA-CHUNK* sound and he starts flailing, almost tumbling backwards onto his head. Which was gratifying for all of us, really.