You could call it a side effect of my 2011 resolution, but I’ve recently fallen victim to the lottery vending machine. I used to glance sidelong at them as I hurried modestly past with my shopping cart filled with groceries. I really thought it had to be illegal and the lottery police just didn’t know about it yet. Come on, you put in a dollar bill and it spits out a scratch-off ticket? I think I’m hearing the theme music from “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” here. I shoved my cart past it week after week, feeling morally superior for not succumbing. And then a funny thing happened. I went grocery shopping with my best friend Pat and watched in shock as she stopped at the machine and dug through her purse for a crisp bill. “It’s my guilty pleasure,” she said. I looked down into my cart filled with the diet of the pure and abstemious and realized that I could use a little guilty pleasure, too. Eating frosting right out of the can was about as wild as I was living these days. I started digging for crisp currency in my purse. We both looked politely away as our partner in crime inserted a bill. I tried to avert my eyes, but I’m pretty sure she put in a snappy $10. I felt trapped by the currency in my billfold. I had a $1 and a $20. How big was I willing to go? One at a time, we pushed the big shiny buttons, retrieved our tickets from the tray, and stuffed them in our pockets. We loaded the groceries neatly, returned our carts to the cart corral, and climbed in. We put our seatbelts on like good citizens. Pat grinned at me and raised one eyebrow. “You wanna scratch ’em off right here so our husbands won’t find out?” We dug a quarter out of the ashtray and had at it, giggling like thieves the whole time. Of course, I read the intructions first so I wouldn’t thwart my chances at wealth by accidentally uncovering two magic lamps when the lucky number was only under one. You don’t want to mess up when you’re dealing with high-stakes gambling. I didn’t win anything, but I do have twenty bucks worth of colorful metallic shavings stuck to the aging upholstery in my car. Maybe next week.
So far, I haven’t become a millionaire. In fact, I have to confess to flirting with failure with my 2011 resolution. My ticket purchases have been a little (a lot) on the sporadic side. Maybe it’s the line inside the gas station. I stood there a few times with a $5 bill waiting to buy my chance at easy money, but it felt pretty sordid–kind of like driving by church on Sunday morning and seeing the full parking lot that your car isn’t in. When I stopped for lotto tickets last week, the teenager behind me in line had a couple of monster drinks. The woman ahead of me appeared to be stocking an entire bomb shelter with cigarettes. The woman next to me (the queue line was fuzzy and I wasn’t really sure which of us was next) had two sixpacks of really cheap beer. Either I have to give up gambling, or I have to take on some other bad habits if I ever hope to fit in at the gas station convenience store. Maybe I really do need some candy bars. They’re 3 for a buck on Tuesdays.
Because I don’t really need to lose weight (except for the fantasy 10 pounds that every woman dreams of losing when the swimsuit catalogs start to arrive) and I don’t smoke, I needed a great resolution when the New Year recently rolled around. I decided to resolve to do something frivolous because, in theory, that’s easier and more fun to keep than something truly redemptive or instructive. While my cerebral friends were resolving to spend fifteen minutes every day reading their way through the Harvard Classics from A-Z, I resolved to play the lottery every week. Maybe even twice a week. By the end of 2011, I’ll either be rolling in gambling winnings that will have H & R Block reaching for Schedule XYZ, or I’ll be wallowing in cynical observations about how nobody ever wins that damn thing anyway.