Wanna know the difference between $15 million and $6,183?
One number.
If I had I that number, I would be a rich man today.
Let me explain.
When I am in a lottery state, I always buy a ticket.
I never play the big games – Powerball and all that – I play modestly, $1 Lotto “quick pick,” let the machine decide which numbers. Then, I take my ticket and dream about what I would do if I won. Where else can you get so many dreams for so little?
A couple of years ago, being in a lottery state, I bought a ticket. The day after the drawing I woke, went to my office, turned on the computer, went to the lotto website, checked the winning numbers against my ticket, and discovered that of the six numbers needed to win $15 million, I had five.
I double checked, triple checked, even woke my son and got him to confirm my good fortune. Then I called the lottery district office, read them the numbers, and they told me to come on in.
So I did.
They cut me a check – minus what they withheld for Uncle Sam, which they take out because some folks might “forget” they won when tax time comes around.
After that deduction, and after I gave 10 percent to the charity of my choice, I ended up with a little more money than I expected to have when the year began.
Now, I am certain some of you dear readers are feeling sorry for me because the machine did not give out that other number. Please don’t, for when it comes to matters like this, I am much of the same mind with Alfred P. Doolittle.
You remember Alfred P., father of Eliza, the Cockney flower girl that Professor Henry Higgins was able to pass off as an aristocrat simply by teaching her how to speak properly. “My Fair Lady.” Got it?
Alfred P. was a common dustman, the lowest of the low, whose true character was revealed when, upon learning that Higgins had taken Eliza into his home, he decided to pay the professor a visit — not to rescue his daughter from a “fate worse than death,” but to get duly compensated for being her father.
Doolittle told Higgins, “Five pounds and you can keep the girl.” (I know you are wondering where this is going, but trust me, it is going somewhere.)
Hearing this, Higgins’ associate, Col. Pickering, exclaimed “Have you no morals man?”
To which Doolittle replied: “No, I can’t afford ‘em.”
Morals, Alfred P. explained, are for the middle-class. He was poor. And if that was not bad enough, by his own definition he was one of the “undeserving poor.” Whenever he tried to get some of what is being given to the downtrodden, the middle-class moralists told him that “you’re undeserving, so you can’t have any.”
This was unfair, Doolittle told Higgins, because “my needs is as great as the most deserving widows that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same ‘usband.”
Doolittle figured that since Eliza was getting something, why shouldn’t her father benefit a bit. With 5 pounds he and “the missus” and their friends could celebrate his daughter’s good fortune.
Higgins was so impressed with this line of reasoning that he offered Doolittle 10 pounds instead.
(Here comes the point.) Doolittle turned him down.
“The missus wouldn’t ‘ave the ‘eart to spend ten. Ten pounds is a lot of money. Makes a man feel prudent like and then goodbye to ‘appiness.”
Which is why I cannot bemoan the fact that I was one number away from being a millionaire.
That sort of money would change everything.
Relatives I have not seen in years, and have been happy not to, would appear with wonderful investment opportunities and go away mad when I turn them down
Questionable charities would telephone at inappropriate hours to unsuccessfully plead their case. I would fill my trash can with letters pressing the cause of everything from beach mice to wayward women to shelter dogs.
My newfound wealth would make me cautious, guarded, suspicious of the motives of my fellow men. As Alfred P. Doolittle so rightly observed, that much money would make me “feel prudent like.”
Instead of hanging out with my old cronies, talking football and drinking beer, I would keep company with other prudent people and together we would explore the world of tax shelters and off-shore accounts.
But now that won’t happen. Secure in the knowledge that my small financial windfall will soon be spent, I am free to continue on my imprudent way.
So I will buy another ticket, and I will dream, just as I did before I won the lottery.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.