'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
SAD SIGHTS, COURTESY OF THE STATE GOVERNMENT
At least once a week I see a very sad sight. I’ll stop at a convenience store/gas station to fill up my car. (No, the sad sight is not the price of gas. Since I’m on the road a lot, I see that pitiful sight multiple times each week.)
As I walk into the store to pay for my gas, I frequently see a person coming out of the store with at least $20 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets. The person is scratching the tickets frantically as he walks to his car. He is usually scratching with his car keys, probably because he used his last dime to buy the tickets in the first place.
Every single time—without exception—the person comes up empty. Not even a two-dollar winner on any of those tickets. The useless tickets then get thrown onto the ground in disgust, the person climbs into his car, and as he drives away I can clearly see the most heart-wrenching look of hopelessness on his face. Or sometimes on her face.
As I wait in line to pay for my gas, my mind starts to wander. I think about what that person could have bought with the $20 instead of lotto tickets. I wonder how often he puts himself through that painful ordeal, and how many hundreds of dollars he wastes in an average month. I wonder if he has kids, and if there’s any food in his house. I wonder if he’s behind in his mortgage or rent payment. I wonder if things would have been different if he had paid attention in high school math class and realized that the Lottery is a total scam.
I try to think happier thoughts. I tell myself that maybe he is not as desperate as it appears. Maybe he’s an eccentric millionaire who feels comfortable wearing threadbare clothing, sees no need to visit a dentist regularly, and enjoys driving a rusty 1988 Buick Skylark with bald tires. Right, and maybe I’m the Prince of Wales.
Occasionally I have far too much time to let my mind wander because the person in front of me in line is buying $40 worth of lotto tickets, which means he is carefully dictating to the counter clerk exactly which combination of tickets he wishes to purchase, hoping to improve his odds by trying just about every possible option available. (Yeah, improving his odds from zero to two-times-zero.)
Then I start thinking about a different person. This person is not inside a convenience store. He is in a clean, well-appointed office. Because he DID pay attention in math class—and excelled at it—he very well might be a Certified Public Accountant or hold a Master’s degree in Business Marketing. He receives a handsome salary, so his clothes and car are new, and there’s plenty of food in his suburban home. He has terrific medical and dental benefits, so his teeth and the teeth of his kids are healthy, white, and straight.
This person has a brilliant, creative mind, and he uses that brilliant creativity to think of new ways to convince all the threadbare ’88 Buick folks of the world to keep dumping their scarce $20 bills into a get-rich-quick scheme that is thoroughly stacked against them.
In a bygone era this person would have been considered a parasitic snake oil salesman and run out of town. But nowadays he is a highly-regarded and highly-compensated state employee. He is highly-regarded and highly-compensated because his marketing skills keep a steady flood of cash flowing into the state coffers.
When I finally finish paying for my gas and walk back to my car, I have one last thought: I wonder if the creative and successful state employee buys his gas at a convenience store. I wonder if he ever sees the same sad sight I see. And I wonder if he even gives a damn.
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