My son, who is 4, has been knocking me out lately with his questions. Some recent showstoppers:
"Dad, what do fish look like when they get angry?"
"Dad, when you die, do you still have eyes?"
"Dad, why don't cats play baseball?"
Then he popped one the other day that had me thinking one thing and saying another:
"Dad, are we rich?"
What I thought was: "If you have to ask, Alexander Levey, then you know the answer. Probably been watching Saab commercials on TV again. And what are you trying to set me up for, anyway?"
What I said was: "No, Allie. And we never will be."
"So why does Mommy keep sending those million-dollar letters?," Allie wanted to know.
Yes, Lord, we are yet another family that worships at the altar of hope. Yes, Lord, every single time we get one of those Publishers Clearing House monster envelopes, Mommy licks all the stickers and fills in all the blanks and asks me to mail it on my way downtown the next morning.
No, Lord, we haven't won a dime yet, and we have spent a whole bunch of dimes on postage. But, yes, Lord, we will keep trying, because Mommy's reasoning is indisputable: "Somebody's got to win. It might as well be us."
The other day, while sitting on the bus, having just slipped the latest entry down the mail slot, I let my mind wander into that back channel of statistical possibility. What if all these efforts pay off? What if the phone rings one day and some guy booms, 'Jane Levey, YOU HAVE JUST WON ONE MILLION DOLLARS! (I figure he'll scream it in the same gaudy capitals they always use on the envelope)' ?"
What would we honestly-and-truly do with a million bucks?
The first order of business would be to take Allie aside and say, "Son, about that answer I've been giving you. You know. The one about whether we're rich . . . ."
The second order of business would be to take Jane off to a remote corner of the house and put it as delicately as possible: "Sweetheart, I know the name on the entry was yours and yours alone. But we've always shared everything, hon, the good times, the bad, even the toothpaste, baby, and, gee, um, uh, Jane, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO KEEP IT ALL FOR YOURSELF, ARE YOU?"
The third order of business would be to jump in the air and hang there as long as Michael Jordan, while shouting as loud as Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
The fourth order of business would be to sit down and seriously figure out how to spend it.
Here is what I have decided:
I will give $50,000 to Children's Hospital and another $50,000 to Send a Kid to Camp. Balance: $900,000.
I will put $150,000 into the kids' college fund. Ought to cover two years for each of them. Maybe. Balance: $750,000.
I will donate $50,000 to the D.C. Department of Public Works, as long as that agency promises to fill every pothole in town within 12 hours and to stop throwing the carbon paper in the street after writing parking tickets. Balance: $700,000.
I will buy every one of Screamin' Jay Hawkins records and play them as loud as our walking-wounded stereo can manage. Balance: $699,200.
I will take a Sunday drive on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway. Then I'll buy four new tires and four new shocks. Balance: $698,101.
I will scour the earth and find at least two cats who play baseball. Cleats, gloves, shoelaces, batting-practice balls will leave a balance of $620,214.
I will take the family to a Chinese restaurant and order all the lobster dishes I'm always nixing because they're too expensive. Balance: $620,104.
I will hire the Goodyear blimp to fly over the Beltway every morning for a month. A sign will trail from the stern. It will read: WHERE'S THE FIRE? Balance: $410,000.
I will buy 1,000 McDonald's hamburgers on Christmas Eve and hand them out to the homeless. Balance: $408,880.
I will buy four season's tickets to see the baseball team we don't have yet. Balance: $401,972.
I will buy the kid down the street his own portable phone, just so I can call him every autumn Sunday afternoon and say, "The leaves need raking. Usual fee. Move out." Balance: $395,216.
I will pay our income taxes. Balance: $42,000.
I will give the kids their allowance on Saturday, as usual. Balance: $41,994. Then I will give it to them again three days later when they claim I forgot it. Balance: $41,988.
I will splurge on a cherry-red conversion van with front and rear CD consoles, built-in color TV, a car phone, real mahogany paneling inside and out, a full kitchen, a skylight, a bar stocked with root beer and pretzels and overdrive. Balance: $2.49.
I guess a million doesn't go as far as it used to.