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April’s Fools Dreaming of Lotto Riches

We’ve all heard the allegation against April. Every spring, some reporter or news anchor will mention the tax deadline and slander April once again.

But April is not the cruelest month, no matter what T.S. Eliot says. Granted, the 15th is a pain. But this Southern California boy is convinced the slurs against April are a matter of attitude and latitude--of severe people in gray climes. George Orwell’s “1984" begins: “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” If Orwell had been from Los Angeles, would anything be Orwellian?

April in L.A. may not be April in Paris but it sure beats August and September here. (As I write, forecasters say El Nino will soon bring more rain, but go with me on this.) Yes, there is much to recommend April in L.A., a season of hope, glorious hope, even though hopes may be dashed. April is for foolishness.

And maybe that explains why I, just like you, invested some hard-earned money last week in the California Lottery. I put five bucks in an office pool, and put down five more just for myself.

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I slipped my Quick Pick slip into my wallet and felt lucky, a feeling I carried with me to Dodger Stadium. It felt good to order my first Dodger Dog of the season (grilled, of course) and pump the Gulden’s jar and crank the onion dispenser.

With five chances to be filthy rich tucked in my pocket, even thoughts of Rupert Murdoch couldn’t dim my optimism.

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There were 37,016 fans there that night, and judging from the news and the long lines I saw at the liquor store, I would have guessed that probably 36,000 of my fellow fans were playing the lottery, too. No sports franchise brings Los Angeles together like the Dodgers, and now that one-in-18-million chance had united us in a collective fantasy.

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Now imagine if all 37,016 of us had each invested $1 into a lottery pool, enabling us to have 37,016 chances at the jackpot. Sure, we’d have to split the winning 37,016 ways, but if my math is right (no guarantees there), our odds of winning would soar to one-in-486! Hey, you’ve got to like those odds.

And if we lost, well, at least we’d be helping the schools, right?

Why I was feeling so lucky, I don’t know. Brett the Obit Writer organized an office pool when the jackpot was about $70 million. That’s what the ads said anyway. Of course, if you wanted it all at once it was only $35 million. This is a state-sanctioned bait-and-switch. Everyone knows it’s a sucker bet, but when you put your money in a pool, your hopes rise.

You get a piece of the action but not too big. The thought of really hitting it really big is a thrill but maybe a little scary. Even after taxes, there’d be the question of how the loot would affect you. Would it change your personality? Corrupt your soul and spirit? Family and friends would hit you up for loans or suggest wonderful investment opportunities. In a pool, however, the wealth would already be shared. The worst feeling of all would be to pooh-pooh a pool and then watch it clean up. Everybody makes out--but you. So I was in.

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And then I dropped by my unlucky liquor store, the one in Northridge where a couple years ago the sight of a masked gunman had me ducking for cover at the end of an aisle. Nobody was killed, no shots were fired, and the robber made off with a few hundred bucks. Armed robbery is a vile, dangerous way to make a living. The lottery is much slicker, a con game we play on ourselves. The poor, who can least afford it, pay a weekly subscription to a fantasy. The elderly are easy marks. And the schools, in fact, wind up with little.

Suffice to say I voted against it. But when the clerk told me the purse was up to $80 million, I put down another $5.

It wasn’t until the next day that the Super Lotto had triggered mass hysteria, the demand so great that Quick Pick machines were crashing across California.

As game time neared, reports had the jackpot soaring beyond $100 million--or about what Mike Piazza wants from Rupert Murdoch for seven years of baseball.

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Dodger Stadium looked swell, the new blue mural gracing the outfield wall, honoring Dodger history from Jackie Robinson in the left field corner to Tommy Lasorda in right. Honored in between are Campy, Pee Wee, Sandy, Big D and Walt Alston, their numbers all retired. (Someday, Mr. Murdoch, Piazza’s should go up there, too.)

As it turned out, however, the Dodger Dog would be the best thing about this game, the expansion Diamondbacks winning, 3-0.

At home, watching the news, I would learn that my Quick Picks lost, too.

But the next morning, there was interesting news.

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Our office pool won. Not the jackpot, but one ticket was good for $90.

That would work out to a little less than $2 per person, not even enough to buy a Dodger Dog.

And Brett the Obit Writer sent out a message by computer:

“Let me know if you would like your $2 paid in 26 annual installments.”

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Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times’ Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311, or via e-mail at scott.harris@latimes.com Please include a phone number.


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