Saturday, 19 April 2014


Through the years, and for at least the time that lotteries have been around, there has always been a negative connotation about it. Stories about how winners' lives get completely upended with their families destroyed and friendships dissolved abound when the topic comes up. People suddenly finding themselves wealthy beyond their wildest dreams do undergo a lot of changes whether they like it or not. There was a man who won close to five million and troubles for him and his wife began even before the lights from the reporters' flash bulbs went out.

A greedy and conniving realtor hastily built up an acreage to at least look appealing and sold it to the winners for a price far more than the property was worth. Almost immediately there were problems with the house which was discovered to be way short of passing building regulations (the realtor was able to skirt the codes because the property was in his own name and he was merely remodeling and thus wasn't subject to so much scrutiny). It cost the winners a small fortune to get the house rebuilt so it could pass inspection then their lives were disrupted by freeloading family members and (now ex-) friends.

They didn't properly consider large purchases and often suffered severe consequences, like the pedigreed (?) racehorse they paid over $.9M for, only to see it die two months later.

The couple's new found fortune was gone almost before it was received and it gives credence to the statement: A fool and his money are soon parted. They did manage a second kick at the can when they won a million and a half about five years later. They did the right thing this time; they packed up and left the country for several months and when they came back, they were living in another neighborhood.

Another couple of cases happened close to home: The first was when a couple moved into my hometown and purchased the local drug store. They paid too much for it, and their house, and were backsliding into a major financial abyss when a relatively small lottery jackpot ended their troubles. They won just enough to pay off their debts and thus were allowed to carry on life and prosper, although they still had to fend off nearly every freeloader and con-artist in the country for the better part of a year.

The other one close to home wasn't quite that lucky. The couple had won just under a million dollars and their lives got so disrupted that they cleared out in the middle of the night and moved away, never to be seen again.

The problem to this is largely publicity. Winners have to allow their names to be published and allow their mugshots to be plastered in every major news publication across the country. The late newsman, Andy Rooney, once said that if he could work his will, he would make it illegal to publish a winner's name or picture in anything, even the lotteries' own publications.

The druggist, and the couple that had to leave town were a couple of stories that inspired me to write the novel, Lottery. A friend and I were seated on the deck late one hot summer night, enjoying a cold beverage and we discussed the plights of those two winners and how we'd set things up if we'd won. That had my thoughts going wild and I came up with all sorts of possibilities. I had things nailed down pretty well and then, while up in the Athabaska Tar Sands, I became acquainted with a rock truck driver whom I'd have sworn had read my manuscript and duplicated the way my main character cashed his ticket in. That only reinforced my own idea and thus my first novel was born.

But how does all this tie in with the story I'm about to tell? Well, it just provides some background and tells some of the bad things that can happen to lucky but still good people. A lot of people regard the lotteries with disdain and for the most part, their thoughts are well qualified. Con-artists and long lost family members come out of the woodwork. So often friendships are strained and even lost, but there are times when a lot of good comes out of good fortune.

The first one would be the druggist in my hometown; the second would be a group of four co-workers who had worked for a local foundry for many years. The latter group won $16M and they were able to retire debt free and, by planning carefully, were able to enjoy (and are still enjoying) their lives. And the one I'm about to share is another true story about luck in its tenderest of mercies.

Max had suffered with Angina since he was in his late thirties. By the time he was in his sixties the chest pains could get almost unbearable. What he needed was bypass surgery but none of the specialists were willing to perform that operation because the risk in this case was too high. However one specialist on the west coast said he could do it and Max was given a five-way bypass.

Surviving the operation was a miracle in itself but it gave Max a lot more years than he originally was given. He had a new lease on life that enabled him to travel to the far ends of the continent to see his family and share some good times. He would spend over ten years enjoying life until the chest pains returned.

Another bypass was too much of a risk but with proper medications Max was able to at least have a full life. Even after his beloved wife was called home to her Maker, Max still kept up his activities and was able to do so many things he enjoyed.

But there were times that Angina wasn't fair.

Max's oldest boy was an engineer at the Hoover Dam. He lived on a modest acreage in Logandale which isn't far from Lake Meade and thus Jeff was able to drive back and forth to work quickly. Just after Jeff and his wife moved into their new house, Max flew down for a visit. They toured Las Vegas and saw many programs, and ate lots. They might have even gambled a bit but no one is telling. They went back to Logandale and settled down for the night. It wasn't long before things went bad for Max.

He was awakened in the middle of the night with horrible chest pains which couldn't be controlled with Nitro. Jeff called the EMTs and they rushed Max off to the hospital where his condition was treated with fairly good success. The pain was brought under control and the specialists were discussing further treatment. Unfortunately heart disease was a pre-existing medical condition so Max's insurance wouldn't cover his situation. Unable to pay for the bills that were sure to ensue from the battery of treatments, Max checked himself out of the hospital. He found out that the airline wouldn't allow him to board because of his condition so Jeff loaded him up and began to drive north.

JC headed south while Jeff continued to drive north and they met somewhere in between. JC proceeded to take Max home and put him in the hospital there. Max soon recovered and was able to resume his life of retirement. He was back in his workshop, building clocks and attending Coffee Row with his buddies. But he knew that there was bad news on the horizon.

An envelope eventually arrived from the hospital in Las Vegas and not surprisingly contained the bill. For those few hours as a patient, Max was charged in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars. For a man on a fixed income, that was a burden that was very difficult to pay. JC and Mattie even contemplated helping out although they would have to do that surreptitiously because Max had that pride thing.

One day JC got a phone call from Max. Without hardly a greeting, Max asked: 'JC does five matching numbers mean anything on the lottery?'

'It's a lot better than four,' JC replied, 'not as good as five plus the bonus and definitely not as good as all six.' There was a pause then JC asked: 'Why?'

'Well, I was picking up a prescription at the drug store the other day and I had some change so I bought a ticket. I just checked it out and it looks like I've got five out of six.'

'Dad, you did good,' JC said with genuine enthusiasm. 'If you look on the back of your ticket, you'll see a toll-free phone number. Call that and give them the serial number off your ticket and they'll tell you how much you've got coming.'

Max did just as JC had told and it turned out that he'd won over two-thousand dollars. He cashed his ticket in and received a check that was enough to pay his hospital bill, make a charitable donation to his church and take his lady friend out for a nice dinner. Nothing left but a feeling that a tremendous weight had been taken off his shoulders.

Now, people are cautioning us about lotteries and gambling and the evils that games of chance spawn. Church leaders, financial planners, parents and spouses sometimes vehemently oppose taking chances. Despite that nearly everyone dreams of hitting the big one and what new frontiers can be achieved. Unfortunately the percentage of those who actually make it big is very small. But sometimes one doesn't have to make it big; just making it enough to keep the wolves from your door is often sufficient.

Go ahead and have some fun but as the lotteries themselves advise: Set a limit and say within it.