Daryl Lease Sincerely Wants to be Rich

By Daryl Lease leasfinn@fls.infi.net

I'VE PLAYED the lottery only a few times in my life.

It's not that I have strong moral objections to gambling. It's just that putting on my shoes, walking down to the corner store and filling out one of those little cards sounds too much like, well, work.

If I'm going to get stinking rich, I'd really rather not expend that much energy doing it. I'd prefer to obtain my fortune the old-fashioned way--by the sweat of someone else's brow.

The recent $195 million Powerball jackpot almost turned me into a gambler, though.

I was all ready to put on my shoes and find a place that sells Powerball tickets until I read in the paper that I stood a better chance of freezing to death than I did of winning the jackpot.

It's true, apparently. The odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are 80 million to 1. The odds of turning into a human ice cube--3 million to 1.

When the winning numbers were announced, I got nothing, of course. Not even so much as a chill.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but my failure to buy a ticket didn't stop me from spending roughly 40 hours this week daydreaming about what I would do if I won that much money.

I was about to go into overtime when I decided, finally, that winning the lottery really wouldn't be worth my trouble.

Think of the annoyances.

For starters, you'd have to figure out which of the 4.3 million people leaving messages on your answering machine really is your long-lost buddy from seventh grade--and whether heís telling the truth when he says he has to take up residence on a Caribbean island in order to be cured of a rare, life-threatening form of athlete's foot he contracted in gym class all those years ago.

Then there would be that awkward but inevitable conversation with your boss, in which you'd have to explain that, yes, you probably would like to keep your job and try to lead as normal a life as possible but, um, you might have a few suggestions on how things could be done differently around the office.

I think the dream of unimaginable wealth started to look the dingiest for me, though, when I learned that I'd probably have to go back to school.

Indeed, it's so. According to a recent story in The New York Times, many affluent people are now taking classes to learn how to give their money away.

It seems many of them were having trouble discerning which charities would put their donations to good use and which ones would squander their donations on booze, topless bars, fast cars and casino vacations.

So, several entrepreneurs--and a few well-intentioned folks, no doubt--have stepped in to fill the void and created special schools for aspiring philanthropists.

Tuition at these places can be as much as $20,000. One school in Boston charges $150 an hour, according to The New York Times.

Some folks attend these schools because they've been snookered in the past by bogus charities.

Many wealthy young people enroll in classes at the urging of older family members, who fear their progeny are a little too slow to reach for the checkbooks.

Quite a few of the students come from famous families, such as Jeff Soros, a nephew of billionaire financial wizard George Soros, and Patrick Reynolds, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune.

Others are nouveau riche.

One recent graduate of philanthropy school, for instance, was televisionís Bob Vila, the home-repair guru. (Imagine the conversation with him in the hallway between classes: "So, Bob, I got this problem with politicians hanging around my house looking for campaign donations. I need something to chase them off with. You think you could help me hammer a nail into the end of a two- by-four later on?")

The most interesting of the philanthropy schools is one called the Impact Project.

In addition to providing tips on donating to charity, this Boston-based school offers therapy sessions for clients who are having trouble coping with the fact that they're loaded.

Christopher Mogil, the director of the Impact Project, recalls one young woman who unexpectedly inherited a huge stock portfolio but was afraid to find out how much it was worth.

With a little counseling, she mustered the courage to look at the bottom line. It was $10 million.

"There can be a lot of guilt and trauma in the philanthropic community," Mogil says.

Those words, I think, should be some comfort to all of us who failed to beat the 80-million-to-1 odds recently.

In fact, I'm going to call up the winner in Wisconsin before he or she heads off to philanthropy school and offer my condolences.

While I'm at it, maybe I'll see if we can get together sometime and reminisce about our days together in seventh-grade gym class.

Iíve got this rare, life-threatening form of athleteís foot, you see, and I need lots of sunshine...

Daryl Lease is a columnist for The Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg, Va. An archive of his columns is available at http://www.flstarweb.com/columns/lease/archive.htm.