The slogan at the checkout counter of the convenience store throbs with fat, bold type and is garnished with exclamation points. It is not to be missed.
"WHEN YOU BELIEVE, ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE!!"
Oh, there's always a disclaimer, isn't there? That nasty faith thing. If I'd just believe, I could be the lucky sap who strides into the boss's office with that "take this job and shove it" grin and strolls out of the building into a chauffeur-driven limousine, shedding dollar bills to the wind like autumn leaves, like the bills flying from that spooky-looking motorcycle driver in the Geico commercial. It could happen.
Of course, the only thing I know that will happen is that I will give the clerk a $5 bill and he will give me the large Dr Pepper my son asked for and a smattering of change. But, sigh, I might as well use the latter for a Mega Millions ticket, too, for surely I believe at least as strongly as the scores of suckers in front and in back of me in this line, some of them so bereft of faith that they feel the need to supplement their chances to the tune of $20, $50 or more.
This is unsettling business, this dealing in dreams. But who can resist? I comfort myself with the delusion that I have not wasted my dollar, that for less than the price of that Dr Pepper, I have bought myself a few hours in which to fantasize about the problems I would solve, the friends and family I would lavish with generosity, the races I could run all over the world, the houses I could buy, the novels I would have time to write and the resources to publish.
Why unsettling? For one thing, because I think I and the others swarming into convenience stores in this senseless late rush are buying more than a chance to dream, we are also buying a hope. And it is a false one. And it is being fostered in the excited tones of my own newspaper and, worse, in the urgings and proddings of my government. A newspaper's job, I can console myself, is to reflect the excitement and the passions surging within the communities it serves, and besides, we have not been shy about reporting both the ludicrous improbability of winning this so-called jackpot and the ironic curse that the history of past winners tells us is more likely than blessing to accompany the matching of all the numbers. But I cannot find a comfortable rationalization, much less justification, for a role of government that teases and deludes its citizens with the baseless fabric of a vision of earthly paradise.
If this is, as advocates claim, harmless fun, why is it that such a preponderance of those who play is composed of the poor and the weak-willed, those for whom the apathetic arithmetic is an annoying inconvenience and unrealistic fantasy is the only source of tangible hope for better things?
I walk out of the store without looking at my numbers. I know they are nonsense. I know that as I write this on Tuesday afternoon for Thursday publication, I will not have to eat my words. Indeed, had I eaten my dollar bill, I would at least have gotten some nourishment from this exercise. No, my problems will remain undiminished. My friends and family will have to suffer their various financial slings and arrows at least until the next mega-bubble. The races will go unrun, the homes unbought, the novels delayed yet a while longer.
Someone -- from Georgia and California, as it turns out -- who believes more strongly than I is preparing for that joyous staredown with the boss that, truth be told, I'm not really inclined toward anyway. Oh, I checked the numbers, of course, between the completion of this writing and its publication. After all, anything is possible, right?
• Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.