Welcome to my “daily comment.” The ground rules Ceres and I have agreed to are simple. I can write whatever I want, ranging from a sentence to an epic, and nothing is off limits. I can even say things like, “Don’t trade stocks yourself — for most people, it’s smarter to invest through no-load mutual funds.” Which it is.

By the time you read this the excitement will be over, and the helicopters will be back in their hangars, but picture the scene:

My mother — the kind of energetic optimist who can get cars with frozen batteries to start when no one else can (“the triumph of black magic over science,” said my father once, years ago, after he had given it up as impossible and called Triple-A), and who sees almost any glass as more than half full — is leaving for a long cruise. Where you or I would be worried about passports and visa requirements (the cruise stops in Vietnam; do you need a visa?) and how much to bring and a million other things, she is worried that she will be gone the day they pick the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes winner. Because you know, she tells me, you have to be home to win. I don’t know if this is true, but she believes that if you’re not there to jump up and down for the camera, they’ll pass you by.

She is kidding, I assume, and even she must realize on some level she is kidding. But after the third or fourth time she mentions this, I suggest she simply end her phone machine message with, “. . . and if this is the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, call 011-873-110-4507 and we will return immediately.” And so she does exactly that.

It’s very expensive calling “ship to shore” (or, in this case, shore to ship). But the assumption is that with $10 million at stake — or $11 million, which was the other prize she had signed up for — someone can spring for the $10-a-minute call. At which point Mom would say, “Stop the ship! Get me a helicopter! I’ve got to get home for Ed McMahon!”

Just what they will make of this in Ho Chi Minh City I have no idea.

For three weeks, anyone who called got that message, even after the Super Bowl (and the prize winner announcement) were long over. And no, she didn’t win. This year. But she came awfully close. (Like everyone else, she made “the final round.”) And she was ready.

I don’t participate in the Sweepstakes myself because the cost — a 32-cent stamp — exceeds the expected return. (Ten million dollars spread out over 20 years is worth about $5 million today before taxes, maybe $3 million after. If 20 million people send in the sweepstakes form, then the chance of winning is worth one twenty-millionth of $3 million, or 15 cents — a net loss of 17 cents. I don’t actually know that 20 million people DO send in the form, but in the interests of time, I have decided not to research this more thoroughly.)

I also suspect that the computer that chooses the winner is programmed to nix certain zip codes, like 90210 (Beverly Hills) and 10021 (Manhattan’s Upper East Side), because the image of Leona Helmsley or Zsa Zsa Gabor jumping up and down when the cameras arrive to inform her she’s won may not be the sort of shot they’re after. I don’t happen to live in one of those zip codes, but I still don’t picture them coming to my door.

Tomorrow: Tuna Prices


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