Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Remembering the Millionaire

Remember John Beresford Tipton? Michael Anthony? In the late 1950s, television's The Millionaire featured stories about ordinary folks who received a cashier's check for one million dollars. The check, issued by the wealthy Tipton, was delivered by his earnest assistant, Michael Anthony. Each recipient signed an agreement never to disclose the donor's identity except to his or her spouse.

Some of these stories had happy endings. The money helped people improve their lot, realize a dream, or get treatment for an illness. But what I remember is that most of their lives got worse. Turning up with sudden unexplained wealth made others suspicious, jealous, or even vengeful. As the Michael Anthony character explained each week, Tipton made a hobby of observing human behavior. I came to believe that he was more curious than generous, and that perhaps he expected the worst.

My mother always pointed out that money cannot buy happiness, and eventually I came to understand that happiness comes chiefly from one's way of looking at life. But I also know that sometimes a little money can make life easier, or more fun.

Peter and I play the lottery. Two actually. We buy a single ticket twice a week for the Power Ball and Mega Millions. When we started 20 years ago, we promised ourselves that ours would be a success story. We know what real happiness is. We make good decisions about money. We wouldn't let a jackpot ruin our lives. I still think that's true, despite whatever complications might come along. I doubt, for example, that he'd turn in the winning ticket and disappear with all the cash.

When we started out, I really just wanted to win the minimum jackpot, which was then $5 million before taxes, so I could retire early and we'd have some retirement security. Now the minimum Power Ball jackpot is $20 million, and besides, I'm already retired. This requires thinking a bit more creatively.

I used to say I'd buy an extra set of season tickets to the ballet--two seats for my friend Carol and me and the two in front of us to keep the view clear. Peter has simple wants: he'd have his sweatpants custom-tailored.

We figured we'd keep our comfortable little house, but joked that we'd buy out the next-door neighbors and use their (nearly identical) house for storage. And of course we'd hire some help...someone to clean, someone to help with yard and garden work, and a driver so we'd never again have to get into a stone-cold car. Peter doesn't like travel, but we did think we might keep a warm-weather condo somewhere, maybe New Orleans. Once Abby married and had children, we added new goals: we'd help Abby and Eric pay off their mortgage and set up college funds for the kids.

You can see a theme here. Basically, we've always thought in terms of keeping our lives just the same, but with a few new conveniences.

All the talk about last week's record $540 million Mega Millions jackpot got us thinking again. If we won, even the most conservative investment could provide a very nice living for the rest of our lives, and Abby's, and the grandkids.' With that much money, Abby suggested, she might want a new house with a big kitchen where she could do her cooking and baking in comfort. Peter and I could plan for a time when we might not be able to negotiate the stairs in this house, finding just the right (and slightly posh) one-story place.

Then, too, if we won big money we could support our favorite charities more dramatically. We've put nearly 25 years into saving, restoring, operating, and raising funds for the old State Fair Carousel, now known as Cafesjian's Carousel. We have a hundred volunteers every season, but we don't know how we'll replace our own commitment to the leadership of the organization (not at all a glamorous preoccupation, just a very demanding one with some intangible rewards). So if we won big we'd probably make it a priority to endow an executive director position.

I'd also give something to Macalester College, where I worked for 28 years. A room in the new fine arts facility, for example, or an endowed professorship. I admire anonymous donors, but in this case I wouldn't be one; I'd want my name--or Peter's and mine--memorialized on the campus where I worked for such a long time.

When we started playing the lottery, we chose a set of numbers based, like so many other folks, on our birth dates. For the power ball we chose a number associated with the carousel. Because we play the same numbers every week, we didn't dare NOT buy a ticket. We told friends, only half-joking, that if we didn't have a ticket and our numbers won, we'd have to kill ourselves. If we're every having to choose between lottery tickets and food or medicine, of course, all bets are off. Literally. But in the meantime it's fun to play, and fun to imagine.



31 comments:

Far Side of Fifty said...

Great aspirations, ours are nearly the same however the Museum and small not for profit groups would be remembered. It is fun to wonder..someone has to win..however I do not buy a ticket every week. I always thought it would be great to take a stack of Fifty dollar bills and pass them out on a campus to the kids that smiled at you when you were walking by them on the side walk:)

Ms Sparrow said...

Well, with your worthy goals, it's a shame you didn't win. I've always thought that I'd prefer winning a smaller jackpot. Maybe just a couple million to help out the extended family and do some donations to favorite causes, but not enough money to ruin your life. Isn't it fun to speculate?

Red said...

Thoughtful stuff. Some people go off the deep end as you describe. As long as lotteries are fun and don't get serious it's fine.

Rubye Jack said...

I gave the lottery a try a few times in California but each time I didn't win, I was too bummed to keep trying. That's how sure I was I would win. :)

Retired English Teacher said...

Your perspective on the lottery is interesting. I've never bought a ticket. You can't win if you don't play. It is a nice thing to think about. My uncle once won $10,000 in the very first Colorado lottery. He was so stunned, he couldn't believe it. He had to show the clerk and ask if he was seeing wrong. He wasn't. He invested it in land and improved the land. When he died it was worth more than $1 million.

Retired English Teacher said...
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DJan said...

Interesting post. I don't play the lottery, so I'm not likely to ever need to figure out what I'd do with my winnings. But these are worthy goals and if there were any justice in these things, you would definitely win. But of course there's only chance involved, and a very tiny chance, at that. I sure wish you would win!

Jeanie said...

I remember "The Millionaire" and was a big fan of the show. If I remember right it was one of the few shows my older brother and I agreed on watching.
Our thoughts about any financial windfall are very much like yours. It is hard to even imagine a $540 million dollar jackpot. It will be interesting when we hear about the winners who will be sharing that jackpot.

Miss Dazey said...

Love this post. I thought you had good ideas for the money. I had never thought of buying a house next door for storage. However, I have dreamed of moving to a new, one story house.

We play the power ball, first time for mega millions. We spent couple of bucks only. I have a detailed plan so when I win I won't act goofy.

Colleen said...

I think your plans sound lovely! I'm LOL'ing about buying 4 tickets to the ballet and your reasoning behind it =)

Charlotte said...

I like the way you think. I couldn't help but buy a meg million ticket. It is a very rare thing for me. My husband actually gets upset with me, not because he believes I've wasted money, but he really doesn't want the slightest chance of having to be responsible for that kind of money. Oh well--

Murr Brewster said...

At the post office, most of the workers played the lottery (and also bet on who'd come out of the elevator, how many times the boss said "basically," and a bunch of other stuff), and they'd talk about what they'd do if they won. I happen to know most of them would probably disappear for about five years and then come crawling back for their jobs dead broke.

400 Wakeups said...

We don't play the lottery simply because we forget to play the lottery. So, if we never win (which we won't, as long as we're not playing), that's really on us. But I think that sudden wealth can tear a family apart faster than anything else and so we would probably hide our winnings and just gradually dole some out for new furniture or to charity or for a car. Nothing too suspicious. Neal has always said he would quit his job in a heartbeat though because he doesn't need to work to be fulfilled. He can be just as content traveling all over the world and doing exotic things as working a 9-5. So...that might give it away...

IndigoWrath said...

Hi Nancy! You seem to have a level head on this subject. My only "must do" is to not earn a wage again. Beyond that, so long as I'm being creative, I'll be happy. Fingers crossed for the pair of us. Indigo

Linda Myers said...

My son once dated a girl whose family won the lottery. They bought a large house in the country. Eventually it burned in a fire. I don't think they found their wealth to be much of an asset.

Grandmother said...

Isn't it true that, like the Millionaire show, the real folks who win nowadays also frequently end up blowing it? Anyway, it's fun to imagine the ways to use money to its best advantage. I hope our savings grow to such an extent that we have that problem!

troutbirder said...

Nice dreams... and sensible. I've only won once. At a church Bingo I got a two dollar styrofoam minnow bucket on a five dollar investment...

Stephen Hayes said...

I just found your blog thanks to Best Posts of the Week and I think you're a marvelous writer. I do remember "The Millionaire" but just barely. I'm fifty-nine. Wasn't Mary Tyler Moore the legs in that series, her face never shown? I hope you'll visit me at Chubby Chatterbox sometime for some art, humor and nostalgia. If you visit, press the join button and I'll return the favor. Happy Easter.

Chubby Chatterbox

laurie said...

i don't remember "the millionaire," but i do remember "queen for a day," which struck me even as a child as being humiliating for the poor pathetic down-and-out women who groveled in order to get a washing machine, or whatever.

i have been tossing $1 into the office lotto pool simply because i would not be able to stand it if the office lotto pool won and i hadn't been part of it. but i do not ever expect to win, anything. and that's fine--as long as nobody i know wins.

laurie said...
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Linda Medrano said...

It's funny. I've never bought a ticket but Alex gets them once a week. Recently, that huge jackpot ($640 mill?), had us talking. Truly that would be an amount that would more more heartache than pleasure. After doing a few remodels in our home, we would love to have the money to support a private animal shelter. We already have several monthly donations we give to several charities. Our kids are grown and doing well. I would of course help with the college costs for the kids, but beyond that, there are few material things we really need or want.

The problem with great wealth is that it can cause great problems. Give me $2 million and it'll be wonderful. Give me $200 million and you've given me a major headache.

WhisperingWriter said...

We play the lottery if it's about 10 million. We've never won any money from it but I keep my fingers crossed! You never know.

injaynesworld said...

I didn't play that giant Mega Millions lottery. I just figured winning would upend my quiet little rural life way too much. Just the people and press, etc, etc that I'd have to deal with was enough for me to say "Nope." A few million, that's fine. But 500 million? Scared the daylights out of me.

California Girl said...

You certainly have thought it through. I don't play. My sons do. My husband does occasionally. I don't think either of us knows what we'd do. Travel, quit my job, set up a charitable foundation. My husband is a former social worker. He'd be all over that.

Gene Pool Diva said...

I latte more than I lotto, but think of all the beverages I could buy with a winning ticket.

Ellen said...

Hubby and I feel a lot like you do. Funny, the house across the street is for sale and I decided if we won the lotto, I would buy it for two reason, 1 for storage for all my little treasures, and 2 to have 4 more guest rooms so my whole family could come to visit at one time. Having only one guest room is sometimes difficult when all the kids want to come to visit. We play the lotto once a week, only $1. I believe you only need one ticket to win, right!

The Loerzels said...

We don't play the lottery. Unless you call will-I-get-food-poisoning-from-eating-from-this-street-vendor a lottery. Perhaps we should set our aspirations a little higher when we get back to the states and get in the game.

Green Monkey said...

we have been going to a jazz festival in Saratoga Springs New York for 15 years or so. There is a gentleman there, who we always sit next too, who about 7 years ago won the lottery. His life seemed better at first. He certainly had more friends. but he looks so sad the last 2 or so years. his friends have diminished and he is ill (partially the effects of partying intensely for an extended period of time). But if it were me, I too would buy a condo in New Orleans! I love it here.

crafty cat corner said...

Hi
Just read a past post about the no 9, How well you put it, I am 66 and dreading the 70 but after reading your post I will now try to savour my 60's a bit more, you made me see a little bit of sense. thankyou.
I often wonder about blogs, if they are worth the time and effort, but every now and then I read something that sinks right in, just like yours.
By the way, my Birthday is 15th March, we Pisces are far too sensitive don't you think? lol
Briony
England

joeh said...

If you had invested the $4 each week over 20 years you would probably be sitting on over $10,000 but you would miss out on all the fun of planning how to spend millions!

I remember "the Millionaire" he gave away the money TAX FREE. I always wondered if he paid gift Tax on the million wouldn't he also have to pay gigt tas on the gift tax? Kinda like that double mirror thing.

Cranky Old Man

RiverBend Farm said...

I remember that show well. to this day, when we drive up to the mailbox, we say "I wonder if the Millionaire is coming to our house today.."

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