Originally created 05/07/00

Change is always a safe bet

Money is a lousy way of keeping score.

-- bumper sticker

Catch any lottery fever?

Not me.

I am among those who politely refer to the lottery as a state tax on the incorrigibly optimistic. Still, it's their money. They could risk it on high tech stocks or something else.

I have friends who describe the weekly purchase of tickets as "fun."

I don't understand.

"Why don't you just roll down the window of your car and throw the money out?" I suggest.

But that question aside, every big winner gives us all the chance to wonder for a while how we would react with the prospect of sudden wealth.

Sometimes it changes folks.

When I first began working at The Chronicle back in the days when everyone still had a typewriter, the old guys told the story of a reporter who was busy one afternoon turning out some tedious city council story.

His phone rang.

He answered it.

And suddenly he let out a whoop of joy.

It seemed some elderly relative had just passed away and left him with -- what was considered in those days -- a fortune.

He shouted, "So long, suckers (or something less polite)" got up from his desk and left the newsroom, never to return.

His news story -- still half-finished on the copy paper in his typewriter -- gently waved goodbye in the breeze created by his abrupt departure.

Someone, probably John Barnes, who was city editor, told another reporter to see what he'd written and finish up the story.

And the tale, itself, became a staple of newsroom lore, an example that would come up on those slow nights around the office when we would consider this question: How would we respond if sudden riches came our way?

Generally, I noticed, there was a consensus.

No, we would not quit our jobs, because this is what we like to do.

No, we would not suddenly descend into a world of self-indulgent spending like the Bible parable of the Prodigal Son, because we were decent and kind.

No, we wouldn't forget our friends or desert them. We would repay all debts cheerfully. We would contribute generously to charities and make sure the church got its share, too.

But would we? Really?

When lotteries first took off in the early 1990s, a Wisconsin couple won a really big score.

Everyone who knew them cheered.

They were school teachers. Engaged to be married. And friends and family all described them as the good-natured, low-key kind of folks everyone liked.

To a person, they all said great wealth would not change them.

But it did.

Within a year, the couple's engagement was not only over, but they had found new significant others with which to share a future.

They had, in fact, moved to different parts of the country.

Some say they won't change. Some say they'll be the same.

I say, "Don't bet on it."

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 107.


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