"Ahh, the lottery. The fervent visualisation of a truckload of cash zooming into one's bank account, burying all one's worries." Photo: Peter Braig
Is there any sight more pitiable than a line of people at the newsagent taking hard-earned cash out of their wallets and throwing it away on a lottery ticket?
These queues are especially long and pathetic on the day of a big draw - such as the $100 million jackpot taking place tonight. For those who do their dosh on the Melbourne Cup this afternoon, a last-minute Oz Lotto flutter could be seen as just the ticket to revive their flagging spirits.
But you won't be seeing me lining up with those 11th-hour desperadoes. I went and bought my tickets yesterday, discreetly with a magazine, thereby avoiding the lottery losers' line of shame.
Ahh, the lottery. The fervent visualisation of a truckload of cash zooming into one's bank account, burying all one's worries.
The pointy heads always try to talk us out of taking part. ''Lotteries are a tax on the innumerate,'' they declare, forgetting that the innumerate also tend to be the not very literate, and don't know what ''innumerate'' means.
Last week, when we were competing for a derisory $70 million, Clio Cresswell from Sydney University's school of mathematics and statistics said the odds of winning were about one in 45 million. I don't know why spoilsport academics get so literal about these things. Here's another mathematical fact: sooner or later, somebody's going to win it, and I'm buying a ticket because I'd like that person to be me. Work that out with your slide rule, Clio!
There's also the age-old saying that ''money can't buy you happiness''. Pedlars of this line then go on to quote various studies that show winning the lottery has no real effect on a person's attitude to life.
A year after winning, it is said, the happy types remain happy but the miserable gits are still miserable, even though they are now miserable multimillionaires. Maybe, but I like to think that having an eight-digit balance at the bottom of your ATM receipt at least gives you more enjoyable things to be grumpy about.
Right now, for example, I'm worrying about taking my Korean motor scooter in for a service, because it's making a funny sound. I'd prefer to be worrying about the funny sound being made by my Ferrari.
There are, however, two things to remember about lottery lunacy.
Firstly, never devise a favourite sequence of numbers. You'll be doomed to scouring every winning set of numbers for the rest of your life, for fear that you were on the wrong quay when your ship came in.
Besides, what is the chance the winning combination is going to turn out to be the birthdates of your immediate family, your shoe size and the number of the London bus on which you met that gorgeous girl who left you for a dentist? Probably even less than one in 45 million.
Secondly, never join a syndicate. I joined an office club a few years ago because it seemed like a good idea. But it's like signing up with the Hells Angels - once in, never out. You just know that the week you don't kick the tin is the week it'll win, and you'll have to watch your colleagues jumping up and down together, shedding tears of joy, before heading for the airport and buying a first-class ticket to Shangri-La.
Ah yes, what would you do with all that cash if you won? Amazingly, a lot of people don't appear to do very much at all. They buy a sensible new car, pay off the house and maybe add a new family room, and keep working their same old jobs and buying their own groceries.
The hell with that. I love my job, mostly, but, boss, don't take it personally when I say that if I win the big one I'll be goneski. There's a whole world out there to be seen, from the deck of a luxury yacht.
That, I suppose, is the real benefit of buying a ticket - the fantasies of what might be. I never check my tickets on the evening of the draw. Too stressful, too needy and ultimately, too disappointing. I prefer to go to bed that night and dream the dreams of a multimillionaire-in-waiting.
Because soon enough, the news will filter out that the mystery winner bought their ticket in Woop Woop, and I'll sigh whimsically and consign all those foolish fancies to the wastebin under my desk.
Until the next time, that is.
Michael O'Reilly is a Fairfax journalist.