In the mirror of the lottery

May 01, 2002

ANYONE WHO HAS ever tossed in a buck or two to join a lottery pool must have felt a little shudder when the news first came out about the nursing home workers in New Jersey who were at each other's throats over a ticket worth $59 million.

Right. You wouldn't want to jinx it, naturally, but, of course, on second thought - it's pretty obvious, isn't it? These things need to be made straight right from the start. What a mess it could be. It's easy to imagine; surely trust falls by the wayside pretty quickly when millions of dollars are showering down from heaven. Next time, better be more careful.

For many of us, the inner monologue went something like that. Then came further news, that lawyers were getting involved. Well, that's inevitable. That's America in a nutshell. The aggrieved lottery players go on the Today show. It's all getting cranked up. A sad story about the state of the world and the humans who inhabit it.

But hold on, it's not a sad story at all. It's a pathetic story. Turns out the ticket wasn't actually a winner. It turns out that the guy who bought it, a $15,000-a-year worker named Angelito Marquez, had been insisting all along that it wasn't, and it turns out that he was right.

His fellow workers, prompted by his absence from his job, had worked themselves into the delusion that they had chipped in for a winner and were being cheated of their windfall. That's what $59 million had done: It had infected people's minds so much that they turned on each other, abandoned trust, believed in a dream of riches that had no basis in reality. Oh, and they found a lawyer to help them do it.

Now it's back to life at the nursing home. Ouch. We wish Mr. Marquez and his colleagues well, but don't envy any of them. Could they sell the movie rights to this thing?

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