Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
Nine years ago today I did not win the lottery again. I can only think of maybe 2 or 3 times in life that I have purchased a lottery ticket. I’m just not built for it—I get anxious, my thinking gets too magical, when I don’t win I take it extremely personally. But I have frequently participated in office lottery pools, usually during the period in my life when I was in the witness protection program working as a paralegal in New Jersey despite the fact that I did not have any legal training. One such office pool, for a Mega Millions jackpot in the hundreds of millions, culminated nine years ago today with nobody in the country winning and also me, personally, losing. (I consider not-winning to be losing and as such I have lost billions in lifetime.)
I participated in the office lottery pools because as much as it stresses me out to lose the lottery, all the peer pressure around the office lottery pool industrial complex stresses me out more. Not to mention the ever present thought: I’m here to make money, not friends and if all of these not-friends win a million dollars and quit this place and I’m the one idiot stuck sitting at his cubicle having to train all the new hires just because I didn’t want to get up off of one American dollar, I’m going to be high key pissed. The office lottery pool makes me mad in the present and also in the future and also in all potential futures. It makes me Multiverse Mad. I even get mad in the future where I win and have to figure out how to not let myself be ruined by sudden wealth. I just walk around all week stressed out about inheritance tax and offshore accounts. It’s a burden.
There are many things I miss about office culture. Okay, that’s not true. There are two things I miss: free food and free cake. These are different things and each deserve their own categories. I guess I also miss casual conversations about TV shows I do not watch (bless the former coworker who would spend half an hour every week updating me on Bones) and of course the petty drama, but there are so many other places to get petty drama these days. What I don’t miss, however, is that one time a year when the lottery would get too big to ignore and a small phalanx of coworkers—most of whom were people I’d never spoken to but there was always one person I knew a little better, for cred—would emerge from the humdrum, non-gambling-related business of everyday life like a pack of cicadas and spend a week whipping the office into a frenzy. One of the Harold Hill characters in this situation is always a sandy brown-haired person who spent the rest of their work time selling Joe Corbi’s pizzas and wrapping paper and cakes and butterfly garden seeds and all kinds of other stuff that was ostensibly for their kids but, when you thought about it, also seemed be an extension of their self-worth and an expression of the ironclad grip they held over the finances of the office from their genteel perch in the billing department. The smooth jazz sounds rising from their cubicle began to replace The Ride of the Valkyries in my mind as the most menacing sound known to man. To this day, I can’t hear Dave Koz without breaking out into a sweat and automatically writing a $50 check for a frozen German chocolate cake that I receive 6 to 8 weeks later. I don’t even like German Chocolate Cake! I always get it mixed up with Black Forest Cake! I am always disappointed!
The person with the sandy brown hair was usually a self-elected leader who would entrust themselves with the responsibility of buying the tickets, photocopying all of the tickets for accountability, and then sending out a PDF of the scanned tickets by email so we could all check for ourselves. Sometimes the actual photocopying and scanning was delegated to a lackey, the main Harold Hill being otherwise preoccupied with the beginning of Girl Scout cookie season. Sometimes they wouldn’t buy all of the tickets themselves, but would write a long detailed email about their Process which involved designating a couple of people in the firm’s other offices to buy tickets. At one law firm, the other offices were in Florida and Maryland and the rumor was those places were out of control. The main Lottery Manager also had a niece who lives in California who was going to buy some—no, this was not open to family and friends, of course, but the niece did used to work for the firm and so it was fine and also buying from more states increased our chances. All of this was in the email. No questions, please. We’d read all of this at 10:05 a.m., coffee in hand, having finally sat down to work after discussing the plot of Bones for the first hour of work (or that’s what they would do; I was always late, so someone had to fill me in on Bones and then I’d sit down and get overwhelmed by Lottery Process.)
With all of this procedure, interstate commerce, power-grabbing, and record-keeping in relation to the lottery, it was no wonder that invariably the lottery would become the only thing we were capable of talking about. It would consume every work conversation, every break room meeting; word of the new jackpot would float over to our desks carried by the sounds of Dave Koz’s saxophone. We’d come home and tell our roommates about how rich we were about to be and our roommates, working at different offices in different industries with different sandy hair mafiosos and different nieces who definitely were fired but we don’t talk about that, would tell us about how rich they were going to be when their office won the lottery. We would spend all of our week giving into the acknowledgment that we didn’t want to be there and it was so freeing.
That’s what these sandy haired lottery managers were really peddling—escape. And it was always ironic to me because they were usually long-term employees, the kind of people who seemed deeply devoted to the office and the job. And maybe that was true or maybe they wanted to do something else just like all of the rest of us did. But it did make you wonder—if they left, who would buy all of the popcorn tins from their kid’s Cub Scout troops? If we were to win the lottery, an entire local extracurricular infrastructure would collapse.
So, I guess it’s good that we didn’t win. According to one of two Facebook posts I put up about it nine years years ago (I was in deep!) the Office Lottery Manager, with the assistance of the Office Lottery deputies in various satellite locations and one niece, purchased 825 tickets in an attempt to win half of a billion dollars. Of course, we didn’t win, which meant that later that day, the sound of a smooth jazz tenor sax would waft through the office, a sandy brown head would pop up above our cubicle walls, and we’d dig around our purses and wallets, trying to find a dollar, which was the going rate to buy in to a new life.
Random Thing on the Internet
Kelis talked about her life on a farm that she bought and it’s so engaging and fun and weirdo and wonderful.
Oh! And did you see this tour of Lenny Kravitz’s farm?
And now I am once again watching Emmy Raver-Lampman and Daveed Diggs’s house tour. What a stunning house!
I will buy a house and a farm just like this when I win the office lottery.