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A Winning Lottery Ticket · 18 October 2014


I have a winning lottery ticket. It and the worn out number selection card are framed and hanging above my desk. The ticket is faded. The card is crumpled and well used. It ought to be. It sat in my glove box for years so I could access it for my weekly trip to the convenience store.


When visitors see the number selection card and ticket, they simply state my method, “You picked the same numbers all the time.”


I nod. “Yep.”


Then, they see the two framed articles right next to the lottery ticket and selection card. When they read them, they inevitably ask, “That was you?” even though the answer is right in front of them.


I always sigh and reply, “Yes. That was me.”


Notoriety is such a burden. Still, I tell the story.


________________________

It is funny. I actually found out that I won the lottery when I was using that worn out card. I faithfully bought tickets for over a decade and then stopped. Then years later, I was rooting around in the glove box for something and found that old rumpled card. For some reason, even after marriage, kids, and a couple decades of disuse, I had moved it to my new car. And finding it, I decided to give those numbers one more try.


The clerk straightened the card out as best he could and fed it through the machine. When he gave me the card and ticket back, he said, “You know you won’t win with those numbers.”


I must have had a quizzical look on my face so he continued, “They have already won before.”


I was incredulous. “Do you remember all the winning number combinations?”


“No. Just that one. It was in the paper today.”


I mock panicked. “What! Oh no. I didn’t buy one last week.”


He just smiled. “Wouldn’t have mattered. These numbers won twenty years ago. The article in The Times said that today is the last day for the winner to claim his or her prize.”


I grabbed a copy of the paper and saw a small article on the front page. The clerk stated, “Fifty cents please.”


I gave him the money even though I had the paper sitting on the counter at home. I looked at the clock when I finished reading the article. I only had two hours to find that ticket. It was a good thing I was only five minutes from home.


On that five-minute drive, I remembered my old life.


Like many lottery players, I picked my numbers from family members’ birthdays and such. Then, I used the same numbers over and over and over again. I knew the chances of winning the jackpot were astronomical, but I still spent the dollar a week trying. I would faithfully check the next day to see if I had won. And I was always disappointed. Especially, the times when I only got one or two numbers. I would rip the tickets in two and throw the pieces away in disgust. Then, for some reason, I stopped checking. I still bought the tickets, but I just stuck them in an old curio box. I realized the futility of buying lottery tickets, but my habit was so ingrained, I kept buying them every week. For years. Eventually, I stopped buying them.


I came out of my reverie when I pulled into the driveway and screeched to a halt after my three-minute drive.


I raced to the den and started searching for that old curio box. My wife came home to a house in disarray. I had been tearing things apart for about an hour. She saw the mess and shouted at me, “What in the world are you looking for?”


I was exasperated. “My old curio box.”


“The one with the old lottery tickets?”


I was excited. “Yes! The one with the lottery tickets.”


“It is on your dresser.” (I thought I had already looked in the obvious places.) “I found it this morning on the floor and wondered what it was. I opened it and saw the old lottery tickets.”


I got excited. “What did you do with them?”


“I looked at the dates and threw them in the recycle bin.”


“What! You threw them away?”


“Sure. Why keep the losing tickets?” She was confident with her decision until she saw the wild look in my eyes. I could tell she was wondering if she had done something wrong.


“One of them was a winner!”


It was her turn. “What!”


I looked at the clock. Not quite an hour left. “I don’t have time to explain now, but I read about it in the paper. We need to find that ticket. NOW!”


We went out to the bin. The tickets were sitting in a nice little pile on top of the rest of the recycle. I grabbed them and started to look at the dates. I checked each one. I heard the clock ticking in my head. Tick tock. Tick tock. I checked the whole pile, but none of them was the right one. “It’s not here.”


“It ought to be here. I just threw them out this morning.” She saw the panic in my eyes. “But I will go check the curio box.” She pointed to the big green recycle container. “You check the rest of the recycle.”


At first I started to remove things one at a time. I figured that a missing ticket would have just fallen a little from the rest. When I could not find it near the top, I dumped everything out. I could not pick out the ticket from the pile of mixed recyclables. So I put things back into the large container one at a time furiously looking for the missing ticket.


My wife returned. “No luck. The box is empty.”


I was wide-eyed. She joined in the search.


Tick tock. Tick tock. The imaginary clock in my head kept ticking. Tick tock. Tick tock.


Almost everything was back in the bin when my wife held up a ticket. “I found one.”


It was the wrong date. We went back to our frantic but methodical searching. And then I found it. The one with the winning numbers AND the right date. I held it up in victory. I looked at my watch.


Five minutes until the deadline.


I jumped in the car and raced back to the convenience store. Tick tock.


I got there with two minutes to spare and handed the clerk my ticket. “Could you check this please?” Tick tock.


“Sure.” He slid the ticket into the machine. He gave me a wan smile. “Sorry. Not a winner.”


I grabbed another copy of the newspaper (fully expecting him to tell me it would be another fifty cents). I pointed to the article. “This is the ticket that won all those years ago. The one from the article.”


He was sympathetic, but he pointed to a specific line. “Unfortunately, you had to go to the capital to claim this one. It is not in the electronic system anymore.”


I looked at the clock. Time was up. I screamed, “Aargh!” Everybody in the store turned to look at me. I crumpled the ticket and held it in my clenched fist as I walked toward the door. I remembered my manners with the door half open. I looked back at the clerk. “Thanks.” He nodded acknowledgement and sympathy before he started scanning the items of the next person in line.


I drove back home in a daze.


When I got out of the car, my wife greeted me with smiles and sympathy. She took the crumpled ticket from my hand and gave me a kiss on the cheek. She had obviously read the article and knew I did not have time to make it to the capital by the deadline. “It’s okay. It is not like you actually had the money and lost it.”


I nodded agreement, but could not say a word. She was right though. It was not like I lost our life savings in a Ponzi scheme. We were no better and no worse than before I found out I won the lottery all those years ago. I smiled back at her.


It is funny how things happen. I was a millionaire for a couple hours. Even if it was only on paper and in my mind. And in the following days, I was a notorious fool. The convenience store clerk called The Times and they did an article on me. What started out as a footnote article, ended up as almost a full page spread with a picture of me and my ticket. Which of course, ultimately ended up as somebody’s bird cage liner.


But I am not bitter. I look back on the whole lottery ticket experience as a learning opportunity and a funny story to tell my kids. Part of that lesson is that I do not buy lottery tickets very often anymore. The other part is that I always check the numbers. Who knows when I might have another winning lottery ticket.


#TwitterFiction (on Twitter from 09/16/2014 – 09/24/2014)

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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