Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Sure Sign of a Winner

When I realized that I had a winning Powerball ticket, I was tempted to do what any other right-thinking person would do – namely, run around in circles babbling ecstatically... or treat everybody in the bar down the street to a round of free drinks, price being no object (you want a shot of Johnnie Walker Blue? Go for it!)... or at least pose for a photo with the entire South Asian staff of the Kwik-E-Mart where I bought the ticket. But a cooler head prevailed, and I consulted with a financial advisor who told me, gently but firmly, that dealing with an amount of that sort (four dollars) was below his pay grade. I must say I felt demeaned, dismissed, and belittled! Isn't my money as good as anyone else's? It just goes to show you what happens to the little guy in this power-mad society. He seemed to be saying “once middle class, always middle class”.

So, lacking professional help, I was set back on my own devices. I had to think – what do winners do with their money? And especially, what do “nouveau riche” people do with theirs? My first thought was a Rolls Royce, but upon inquiring I found that the RR firm is back-ordered until 2020 -- I would have to wait in line behind a gaggle of triple-diamond Amway distributors. And on some level I realized that my modest winnings wouldn't even buy the ashtray in a Rolls Royce. In fact, they wouldn't even buy the ashes in the ashtray in a Rolls Royce (assuming that those ashes come from a fine Habana cigar).

But I didn't need that kind of negative thinking in my life, so I pressed on. How about a yacht? Surely there's a sheriff's sale somewhere liquidating the assets of some Russian oligarch who has fallen on hard times (like being in a Russian jail, assuming that qualifies as “hard times”). And after all, if you believe in trickle-down economics, an oligarch-level yacht is guaranteed to employ a few hundred people who might otherwise be selling potatoes on the streets of St. Petersburg. But it didn't feel right, somehow – I 've always wondered how those guys manage to do their yachts justice, since they spend most of their time making more money rather than relaxing. (I feel the same way about extra mansions, ranches, ski lodges, and beach houses, by the way. Really, how much time can you spend in each one? The staff enjoys them much more than the owners do.)

How about a private plane? The problem with that is that private planes have the annoying habit of falling prey to what, in the business, is termed “controlled flight into terrain”. Plus, the pilot would probably be a veteran of the Bay of Pigs debacle, and I wasn't sure I wanted to be associated with that sort of thing. Um... OK, how about jewelry? I love gemstones, and the first place I always go when I'm visiting the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC is the gem room. But a lot of jewelry design, quite frankly, leaves me cold. It starts with kitsch and only goes downhill from there.

How about a Hollywood-style face lift? Well, at age 71 I'm frequently mistaken for someone who's only 70, so I decided that would be redundant. And when it comes to clothes, well... there was a time when I could have been a body (not face) model for Brooks Brothers, but those days are long gone. Why emphasize the obvious? I can just see the tailor breaking down in tears and dabbing at his eyes with the tape measure he wears around his neck.

So I was at my wit's end, and decided that I might learn something by studying photographs of past lottery winners (the ones who went public, that is). And that effort bore fruit – aha, at last! I have it! If there's one thing that distinguishes lottery winners from the rest of humanity, and which is a sure-fire sign of a winner, it's The Hat. No matter how else they are dressed, and how unfortunate their hair is, and despite having a weight problem, you can always count on them to be wearing The Hat. The minute the winning numbers are announced, The Hat seems to magically appear on the winner's head, as if placed there by a fairy godmother in a cloud of pixie dust. By the time they show up at lottery HQ to collect their beach towel-sized check, The Hat is already firmly in place, and destined to become a permanent fixture. And it doesn't always have to be a particular style, although Stetsons seem to be preferred (no matter what part of the country they're from – the natural assumption being that once you have a lot of money you automatically become a Texan); the main thing is that it be distinctive, and that it shouts (no, screams) -- “I've made it at last! I'm a winner! Look upon my newfound wealth, o ye lowly, and despair!”

So I went in search of The Hat – not just any old hat, but one that would be noticed – on the street, at the opera, the country club, the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting in Omaha... wherever. And I did find it, after much searching. And the price tag was, let's say, quite reasonable, considering what I was buying and its symbolic value. It came to $389, which would have been a tidy sum in my days of penury, but which was now a drop in the bucket. So home I went with The Hat in its own custom-made silk-lined box. Only later did I reflect that, taking the price and subtracting my winnings of $4, I wound up in the hole for $385. But it was well worth it. That brief moment of glory! Those fifteen minutes of fame (OK, fifteen seconds maybe)! (OK, fifteen microseconds, whatever.) But I had the symbol, and isn't that what counts? Now when I go down to the neighborhood bar, I won't be any more able to treat the boys to a round than I was before, but hopefully they will be awe-struck nonetheless. “Now there's a real winner! How do we know? He's wearing The Hat.”

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