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That afternoon, we prepared more bundles of cash. Twenty in all, each wrapped in my Mom’s yarn. Each recipient had been researched on line. Each was needy and worthy. I felt good about what we were about to do. There was one big difference from the previous donations: eighteen of the twenty were in the city because I didn’t want to get caught by either of the two local papers investigating my Foundation. We printed up the notices, tucked one into each bundle, and set off for the train station, the bundles in a brown bag in my backpack.
“Um, you might want to zip that thing,” Mimi said as I was getting on my bike. She leaned over and zipped my backpack for me. “We don’t want to get there and find out that $80,000 was lying in a brown paper bag by the side of the road somewhere.”
“No. But you know what the scary thing is?”
“It’d just be a bother to go down to the bank again,” I said.
We had a tight schedule in the city: Eighteen places to go and just a few hours to do it in if we were to make it back in time for dinner.
Most of the bundles, plain white envelopes with labels printed out from my computer, were easy to deliver. We could have taken a single cab, leapt out, and continued to the next stop, but we didn’t want the cabby to figure out that we were the ones leaving the little bundles of joy. So, we’d go uptown to the address of a health clinic that we’d read was on the verge of closing, we’d leave the envelope in its mail box, and either walk to the next spot or take a cab. An A student who couldn’t afford college, a veteran’s club that was raising money for a new roof, a little something for a woman who spent her weekends doing puppet shows in the children’s hospital – they all got their envelopes, as did another ten people or organizations.
That left five more bundles for the city. It didn’t take long to find five people living on the streets. We’d listen to them and then look at one another. If we all agreed, we’d give them an envelope. “You can probably use this. It’s completely legal. Just spend it well, ok?” And then we’d leave before they could open it.
The truth is, I still wasn’t sure that that was a good way to spend the money. I knew the argument that they’ll just spend it on alcohol or drugs. But I’ll tell you the part of the argument that I didn’t like: the “they” part. They weren’t “they.” They’re people, each different. And some might use the money to get drunk for months. But maybe they wouldn’t. I don’t know that even “they” know ahead of time what the effect of $1,000 in cash would be.
We made it back just before our parents would be getting annoyed at us. I asked my parents if I could go out for another twenty minutes. That gave me just enough time to drop off the last two bundles. A veteran and a synagogue were going to have a better day than they thought they were going to have.
On the way back, I put an envelope in the mail. It was addressed to my father and inside was a message from the Fordgythe Foundation. I used a font I’d downloaded especially so that Dad wouldn’t recognize it as having coming from my computer. It was an ugly font, but better ugly than recognizable. I figured my father would get the letter the next day.
The next night when we sat down to dinner, my father couldn’t wait to tell us his news. He was so excited that he started buttering a second roll before he realized he hadn’t eaten the first. “You’ll never guess what happened,” he said. I tried not to blurt out: “You received a mysterious letter in the mail!”
“I got a phone call,” he said.
Odd, I thought. I was quite sure I had mailed him a letter and not phoned him. I mentally reviewed the difference between a mailbox and a phone booth. Yup, I had definitely sent him mail.
“The debate over the lottery is set. It’s in three weeks.”
“That’s wonderful,” said my mother. “Did they send you a contract?”
My mother’s father was a lawyer and taught her not to believe anything is going to happen unless there’s a signed contract. That’s why she doesn’t believe weather reporters on TV. “They can say whatever they want and there’s no accountability.” Accountability means that if you’re wrong about the weather, you get punished. My mother would like weathermen to get paid according to how many right predictions they make.
“Not yet,” my father said, “but the show is on their schedule. And do you know who I’m going to be debating?”
“Geoffrey Dunn.” Amanda’s father. Mr. Dunn.
“That’s so exciting,” my mother said. “That will get more viewers.” Mr. Dunn was well known around the state.
“I can’t wait to start preparing.”
“You’re already well-prepared,” my mother said. “You’ve been researching this for years.”
“I know, but I want to have arguments that really work. And I want to anticipate the arguments that Mr. Dunn will use.”
“Lotteries are good because it’s good to be rich,” I suggested in a voice that was a truly lousy imitation of Mr. Dunn’s.
“But is it better to make one person very rich at the expense of many people who can’t afford it? Isn’t the lottery really a tax on the poor?” My father was speaking in his Public Speaking voice, louder and smoother than his real voice.
“But it’s a so-called tax that they choose to pay because they get some enjoyment from it,” I said as Mr. Dunn. “Shouldn’t they be allowed to choose how they get their enjoyment?”
“They get enjoyment from it because the state tells them that they have a chance of winning.”
“But they do have a chance of winning. The same chance as everyone else. And it says the chance right on the back of the lottery ticket.”
“In tiny print,” my father said, “while meanwhile the state is buying posters and billboards with very big print to convince people that they’re just one ticket away from being rich.”
“So, you don’t trust the citizens of this fair state,” I said Dunn-ishly, “to make their own choices. You think citizens are so easily fooled. You think we’re stupid stupid sheep…”
“You know,” my father said not in his public voice, “that’s the hardest argument to fight. I look like an elitist.”
“Someone who thinks he’s better than everyone else. Someone who thinks those poor people are just too dumb to know what’s good for them.”
“But isn’t that what you’re saying?” my mother asked, surprising me.
“I’m saying that I believe in the power of advertising. It works. So, now the state government is advertising how the lottery will make you rich and end all your worries. Everyone can be fooled by advertising. That’s why companies spend millions and millions of dollars doing it to sell you stuff you didn’t originally want.”
“So, it’s not the lottery you disagree with, but the advertising for it,” I said as Mr. Dunn again.
“Hmm,” my father said. “Take away the advertising and the lottery is just a bad gamble that will take money from the poorest of us – because studies show that poorer areas play lotteries more than richer areas.”
“But, the money goes to education,” I said.
“The education budget – which, by the way, I’d like to see enlarged – should be paid for like every other service the state government provides,” my father replied.
“So,” my mother said, doing an even worse imitation of Mr. Dunn, “you’d like to see a tax increase on all of us to make up for the money we’re raising for education through the lottery?”
“I’d like to see all the money we need for education given to education without having to rely on tricking people into buying lottery tickets. You don’t get anything for free, and if we have to raise taxes a little to pay for education, then, yes, we ought to be willing to do that.”
I said, “You should add: ‘…for the children.’ That always seems to work.”
“For the children,” my father said and laughed. “I’ll try to work that phrase in as much as possible.”
“Can’t go wrong,” I said.
* * *
I checked the Fordgythe Foundation’s email address every ten minutes the next day. At last, at 5:30 there was a message from my father:
I received your letter with your offer to give The Gazette an exclusive email interview with the head of the Fordgythe Foundation.
Unfortunately, I must decline this offer. It is the policy of The Gazette not to engage in interviews solely through email since with email we can’t guarantee our readers that we are interviewing the person we think we’re interviewing.
If you would like to arrange to meet in person, I would be delighted to set up an appointment.
PS: That is one ugly font you used in your letter! J
So much for that plan for getting more people to read The Gaz. If only my father were a little sleazie