THE BLOG
03/31/2011 01:31 pm ET Updated May 31, 2011

You May Already Have Lost!

Lottery winners come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter who gets the jackpot I am always willing to bet my lungs on the following things:

He/she/they will thank God.

He/she/they will say they "had a feeling" that this time, they were going to win.

And most dangerously of all: he/she/they will believe that once and for all, their problems are solved.

I know all about how sudden money makes people crazy because for many years, I was the contest writer at the New York Post, during the newspaper's "Wingo" giveaway in the early eighties.

The Post was trying to boost circulation, so they were giving away $50,000 each week -- to be won (or shared) by anybody who got all the winning numbers on the "Wingo" cards we'd sent them in the mail.

Covering "Wingo" winners was my first assignment as a rookie reporter. Ridiculous as it was, that beat taught me more about human behavior than I ever learned on later assignments involving politicians, policemen or priests.

What I learned was this: nobody cares about everything, but everybody cares about money. Money is what separates us from the animals (along with that other essential form of paper, toilet tissue).

What the bosses at the Post knew was this: nothing gets a reader's attention faster than the chance to get something for nothing.

You probably have an image in your mind of the typical New York Post reader. (Kinda scary, huh?) Now add severe financial desperation to that image, and you'll understand why I was sorry some of those Wingo winners didn't have to pass through metal detectors before I interviewed them.

The winner of an early jackpot was an unemployed guy who hadn't worked in a long time. I asked him what he was going to do with his winnings.

"Gonna buy some new uppers," he replied.

I didn't know what he meant. He lifted his upper lip to reveal toothless gums. "Teeth," he explained. (To be absolutely precise, he said "teef.")

So I gave it the best spin I could think of: "He can really take a bite out of life now, thanks to the New York Post's Wingo contest!"

(Hey, I was young.)

Problem was, we needed pictures and interviews with the winners to give the contest validity. Many of them balked at the idea of publicity. Some of these people had never been photographed before, unless you count the full face and profile shots taken at police stations.

One Wingo winner showed up soaked in sweat, and literally looking over both shoulders. Whoever was chasing him couldn't have been far behind. He wouldn't even tell me his real name, and he covered his face with his hands when the photographer lifted his camera.

"No pictures!" he cried through his fingers. "Can't have my picture in the paper!"

He was obviously in deep to loan sharks. My goal was to get some lively quotes out of him. His goal was to grab his check and preserve his kneecaps. His goal won.

One memorable week the Post accidentally printed too many winning numbers, so instead of the usual one or two winners, several hundred people shared the winning jackpot -- they got maybe $300 apiece, instead of the $50,000 bonanza they'd each been dreaming about.

This was especially bad news for one wheelchair-bound winner who'd treated himself to a limousine ride into town to collect his jackpot. With the return ride home, he was lucky to break even.

Another "winner" from that same week was in tears. Thinking he had fifty grand coming, he quit his job in the produce department at a supermarket, and on his way out for the last time he told his boss to go and have sex with himself. Now he'd have to crawl back and beg for his old job, stacking grapefruit pyramids.

There's something sad about all games of chance. Maybe it's because for the winners, this is the greatest thing they'll ever accomplish -- and it was all about luck, not effort or excellence of any kind. How depressing!

"My prayers have been answered!" How many times did I hear Wingo winners say that?

Did they honestly believe that a supreme being had taken the time to guide a jackpot into their hands, rather than doing something to prevent an earthquake or a tsunami? Or was that the explanation for earthquakes and tsunamis -- God being distracted by Wingo contestants praying for help?

Well, the Wingo contest is long over, but the lotteries go on and on. I can only hope to hell that some day, a winner will accept the dough without thanking God.

Hoping to hell that somebody won't thank God. If the nuns back at St. Anastasia's School could hear me now!

Jeez, that was a long time ago. I left St. A's way back in 1963, with an 85 average.

Hmm. 1-9-6-3-8-5. Maybe I should play those numbers.

Charlie Carillo's latest novel is
One Hit Wonder. His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a TV producer for the show Inside Edition.