Recently some people in my life have had some amazing things happen to them. In the span of seven days my friend Raghavan Iyer won an Emmy for Asian Flavors, my cousin Kristian Berg’s documentary POUSTINIA took home first prize for doc short at the Woodstock Film Festival and Scott’s choir won $10k and headed to the finals in LA. And even Henry made the first goal of the season for his school soccer team. It seemed to me that the stars and planets are all aligning.
It’s time for papa to play the lotto.
But of course, what they all did had nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with talent and hard work. But I’m going to ride the coat tails of this good fortune and see where it takes us.
Speaking of the lotto. Let me first say that I was not one of the winners of that recent $400 million lottery jackpot. Well, actually no one was, except for several who picked five correct numbers and won one million. But I really believe I almost won. Granted, I did not have a single matching number. But in my mind, I was close. It wasn’t as black and white, as winning or losing. I like to think that my numbers were somewhere in between…hovering in proverbial limbo just biding their time before they are whisked away into lotto heaven.
I’m not really much of a gambler, and have set foot just once in a Minnesota Indian casino many years ago. Because I hated the idea of simply throwing good money away, I limited myself to two dollars worth of nickels for the slots, and walked away with nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I felt the adrenalin rush; the rapid heartbeat, the flush that crept up my neck in moments of triumph as I periodically won back a few nickels. But back then my money didn’t come easy and I could not afford to let much slip away so I called it a night.
Recently I was standing in line at a grocery store service center and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the woman in front of me in line. It took me a minute to figure out that the numbers she was rattling off with the precision of a mathematics professor were being entered into the lottery system by the patient woman behind the counter. I could tell that based on the sequences that they were birth years, and other significant dates. When she finished and the cashier gave her the total, I was a little taken aback by what to me seemed like a large sum of money. I determined she was an employee and this was payday and she had taken about a fifth of her take home pay and put it on the line in hopes of scoring it big. I’m certain if Suze Orman had been the eavesdropper, there would have been some concerned words exchanged. Even to the most pedestrian investor, hers promised to be a rather foolish retirement plan.
But there is a part of me that gets it. When a person is making such a small amount of money, the little that they could actually put away for retirement might seem to be an act of futility. Sort of like bailing out a sinking ship with teacup. And let’s face it, winning the lottery and making a ton of cash on talent alone carry the same odds. Though of course the guy who was one of the big winners recently is certainly not worrying about retirement anymore. He’s laughing all the way to the bank. Take that Suze Orman.
If I am being honest, I sometimes do sacrifice a couple bucks for the almighty Power Ball lottery in hopes that some miracle will rain down and I strike it rich. I don’t think I have particularly good luck, as us Bergs seemed to miss the boat when luck was handed out. The times I’ve won anything can be counted on one hand, and the one I recall most vividly was a $3 gift certificate won from Burger V in Decorah in 1972. That bought me the fried shrimp basket and an orange soda.
A few nights ago while scanning the TV channels, I came across Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, and decided to leave it on in the background while I worked.
You gotta love Charlie, that despite living in almost abject poverty, he works hard and gives what little money he has to his family including his beloved grandpa Joe. But what stands out most, is his steadfast belief that everyone, even he, has a shot at the golden ticket. And anyone who knows the story, and understands Charlie, knows that he won the ticket not because of his station in life, money, or even luck. It’s because he’s got some great karma going on. So I take my cues from him.
So for me, I think of Charlie and rely on karma, to ensure my numbers are someday pulled out of the realms of limbo. I know that people who play the lottery dream about what they would do if they won it big. I’m certain they envision paying off their home, buying a slick new ride and maybe building a wing on the hospital or even erecting a new high school gymnasium in their hometown. They dream of paying off debt, putting family through college and walking away from their third shift dead-end job.
When the lottery hits a certain level, I too start to think about what riches of that magnitude could mean to me and my family. I think about what Charlie would do. I mentally divvy it up to family and friends, in sums large enough to make everyone comfortable and to make some of their dreams come true. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m wouldn’t be like Warren Buffet, living in the same humble home in Omaha he shared for so many years with his wife. I’d reserve a nice chunk of money for Scott and me to allow us to do all the fun things that obscene amounts of money provides. I’d buy us a brownstone in The Village with easy access to the theatre scene. I’d find a flat in London near the West End, and a beach house in Provincetown. And I have my own pet non-profits that I would support as well. I’d give to my church, our own NGO: Cambodia Tomorrow, Henry’s schools, our alma maters and our favorite museums. But I’d also give the gun lobby and Monsanto a run for their money. I’d support Planned Parenthood in the states that are cutting their funding to ensure women have access to reproductive care. I’d donate to the Clinton/Warren super PAC that would rival the Koch clan, Donald Trump or the Walton’s. And every state that is still fighting for marriage equality would see money pouring in from our foundation. I would want to change lives and piss people off. Though, as a result, I’d probably have to invest in a body guard and a bullet proof vest.
But my fantasy also includes inviting all of my family and friends to a huge party at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where ten years ago Scott and I exchanged our vows. I envision everyone seated at elegantly decorated tables eating a sumptuous meal, listening to great music and having an amazing time. The revelers would find two bars of chocolate at their seat. We would announce to everyone that they are to open the first bar and when they look inside they will find a fat and completely unfettered cheque for them to spend or save as they please. They can pay off their homes, their student loans, their debt or take a dream vacation. And then we remind them that they are all quality friends, with values and aspirations, brains and talents that are beyond anything we could ever imagine. We’d ask them to open the second bar which contains another cheque for the same amount of money. We’d challenge them to let their minds go crazy and with that money, do something really great with it. Invest it in a worthy charity. Establish an NGO. Pay it forward to someone in need. Start a school in a third world country or send an underserved child to college. And then I would invite them back in a year and report how that money has changed their lives and the lives of other people. Wouldn’t that be fun?
As I mentioned earlier, I take my cues from young Charlie. I don’t believe in luck or lucky numbers and I have no formula or superstitions about where or when I buy a ticket. But in my own weirdo mind, if I simply speak what I’d do with the winnings then maybe, just maybe, the lottery gods will take notice of my master plan and say; Yup, this time we’ll pull Steve’s numbers. And like Charlie, who plunked down several shillings for that winning chocolate bar; to win, you have to get into the game. So I play. At least once in awhile. Don’t get me wrong. I know the only sure-fire way to make it in this world is through education, long hours and lots of hard work. And every day, profound good works happen through the efforts of volunteers around the globe. But you can’t fault a guy for a little fantasizing. And in both my fantasy world and the glaring light of real life, I believe in spreading the wealth. So it would behoove all my friends, to cross your fingers for the lottery plan. Because if I win, we are all winners.