I was buying Powerball tickets at a convenience store a couple of weeks ago when a stranger walked up and said: "Now, what are you going to do with $2 billion?"
"Excuse me?" I said.
I thought he put a little too much emphasis on the word "you," as if I looked especially unqualified to spend $2 billion. (Which I am, but still ....)
"What are you going to do with $2 billion?" he repeated, cocking his head slightly as if waiting for my reply.
For context, I didn't know this guy from Bozo the Clown.
"I don't know," I said flatly, intentionally not making eye contact.
This wasn't precisely true, but I had no desire to discuss my $2 billion wish list with a stranger who was leaking animosity toward my purchase.
I learned a long time ago that the best way to diffuse a conversation you don't want to have is to ignore it.
But regarding his question: What would I do with $2 billion? Who knows?
For me, winning the lottery is not the point of playing the lottery. Winning is so wildly implausible that it doesn't even merit serious thought.
Think of it this way: Imagine Neyland Stadium in Knoxville filled with 100,000-plus people. Got it? Now visualize 3,000 Neyland Stadiums placed end to end, stretching roughly from Knoxville to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. That's what 300 million people looks like.
Now further imagine that somebody flies down that big line of 3,000 Neyland Stadiums in a small airplane and, somewhere along the line, casually tosses out a ping-pong ball. Your chances of winning Powerball with one ticket is about the same as recovering that ping-pong ball.
Hate to be a buzzkill, but those are the hard facts.
I play the lottery occasionally for specific reasons and with carefully thought out guardrails.
For example, I play Powerball only after it passes a $1 billion payoff. This limits my financial exposure a lot. My typical buy is five sets of numbers -- 10 bucks.
Why $10? Because I equate playing Powerball to buying a movie ticket. It takes my mind to a different place for a couple of hours.
Once the billionaire fantasy kicks in, there are two lines of thought: making a wish list and considering the complicated aftermath of becoming wealthy beyond imagining.
When I start my wish list it always fizzles out after five luxury cars and a beach house. How much can that be, a couple of million dollars, tops?
Before I can build onto my list, I start thinking about practical things, such as: Who would I hire as my lawyer? What financial adviser would I retain? And if I become a billionaire, who will I get to be my bodyguard? (Are there even any bodyguard companies in Chattanooga?)
Then my mind spins completely out of control: What if a hurricane wrecks my beach house? Should that five-car garage be climate controlled? How much does a bodyguard make, anyway? And do I need a double-secret bodyguard in case my main bodyguard goes rogue and tries to steal my $2 billion while I'm sleeping?
As I write this, somebody in California is holding a $2 billion Powerball ticket. I have to think that mixed in with their euphoria over winning is a good amount of angst.
So, playing Powerball to divert my attention from my everyday worries ends up creating new worries, which ultimately softens the pain of not winning. A little voice in my head's whispers, effectively, "What would you do with $2 billion, anyway, stupid?"
And that's how the human mind protects itself from disappointment. It decides, after a little thought, that winning $2 billion is really more trouble than it's worth.
I just didn't expect that little voice in my head to be a dude at Mapco.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.