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The Lottery

March 30, 2012

Mega MillionsThis week has been surreal in its own way.

Every time I think about the lottery — the record-setting $640-million-and-rising “Mega Millions” kind, that is — my body seems to hiccup. As if it’s preventing me from accidentally walking into something sharp.

I think it’s because it remembers reading that decades old Shirley Jackson short story, of the same name. The story has burrowed in my subconsciousness, because before my reading its Wikipedia summary just a few minutes ago, I certainly couldn’t have consciously have recalled what it was about…The story’s hold on me, even today, even though its plot is hazy to me, serves as proof that it was definitely one of the literary works that I actually did read when I was in junior high and high school.

But I really don’t think the short story is why I feel so strangely about the lottery.

This week has been surreal in its own way.

Everyone is talking about the lottery. Sure, that’s a hyperbolic statement, but do you get where I’m coming from? Until this week, I didn’t hear about lotteries. I knew that there were people who bought lottery tickets, and sometimes people who won something from them, but it wasn’t a thing that people talked about.

And so now that the lottery keeps bursting forth to my pockets of the internet — some of my friends on Facebook, some of the people I follow on Twitter, on message boards and blogs — it feels like it has achieved some sort of critical mass.

And that’s weird. I shiver at how something like this can happen.

I mean, I know that there are some things, like football, about which wide swaths of the country obsess on a seasonal basis. I know there are other things, like religion, about which wide swaths of the country obsess on a regular, constant basis. I know there are bulbs that flash brightly for a moment and then burn out just as quickly — a quick trip to the graveyard where dead memes rest, the hall of (fifteen minutes of) fame where has-beens return to obscurity, or the research lab where viral species lose their virulence will speak evidence of these things.

But with the lottery, there is something a bit different. It’s not like the lottery is something new. It’s been around with us for a while. And I guess there are some people who obsess about the lottery, but it hasn’t been a thing that you’re statistically likely to run into as a conversation topic.

This has changed just within this week. I now know people who have bought their first (and probably last) lottery tickets. I see groups banding to buy lottery tickets together (at least, I haven’t really investigated what that’s all about, but that’s what I loosely gather is happening). People are talking. What would they do if they were able to win the jackpot? What loans would they pay off? What charities would they support? And what would they buy for themselves or their families? What’s fascinating is that the lottery has become a philosophical exercise…it is a mirror that everyone can look into and see themselves and their internal clockwork. What do they want? What makes them tick? Maybe I should pay attention to what people are saying so I can find out who my real friends are?

What will happen when someone (or some ones) finally wins? I guess we’ll all just return to our mundane lives, right? But even if we never talk about it ever again, I’ll know one thing for sure:

This week has been surreal in its own way.

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