Bill Nemitz: Generosity for his own sake? Now that’s the ticket.

I witness something good the other day. Not great. Not world changing. Just plain good.

Thursday was pizza night in our household. Judging from the line when I walked into Low’s Variety down the street, it was the same for many of our neighbors.

We stood six or seven deep inside the small store, keeping our social distance and quietly waiting our turn at the register. We looked at our phones or at the postings on the bulletin board, lost in that trance that descends over folks when there’s nothing else to do but wait in line.

Looking up, I noticed a guy up ahead of me reaching into his pocket. Without saying a word, he pulled out what looked like a stack of perforated cards and began tearing them off one at a time and handing one to each person in line. One woman hesitated momentarily, but when he persisted, she tentatively reached out, looked at it, and grinned.

I figured they were business cards and the guy – 40-something and dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt – was using his down time to drum up some house painting or landscaping work. But I figured wrong.

They were lottery tickets.

“Thanks!” I said as he handed me mine. It was a $1 Fast Bucks scratch ticket.

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“Thank you!” I heard a customer behind me say, then another, then another…Finally, the man returned to the counter, gathered his order, walked out the door, and drove away in his Nissan SUV.

It all happened so fast. No chance to ask, “Who are you?” or “Why are you doing this?” or, as some might now be wondering, “What’s the catch?”

There was no catch. Just a ticket for each of his fellow customers that could net up to $5,000 with the right combination of winning number and dollar amount.

A man directly in front of me quietly took out a coin, scratched his ticket, and then slipped it into his pocket.

Did you win? I asked.

“Nope,” he said with a smile.

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Nor did I. Nor, as best I could tell, did anyone else in the line. But for that few moments, the whole place felt lighter. Half a dozen busy people with lottery tickets in their hands and smiles on their faces, not quite sure what had just happened but uplifted by it just the same.

Arriving home, I told my wife and a visiting friend what had happened. “I’ll bet he works for the lottery,” my friend, cynic that he is, replied without missing a beat.

Friday morning, I went on the Maine State Lottery website and saw that while the Fast Bucks game expired at the end of January, winning tickets are still redeemable through Jan. 31, 2023. So, I called lottery headquarters in Augusta to ask, “Do you send people out into the field to hand out discontinued tickets as a promotion, maybe prime the pump so people will buy another ticket or two when they finally get up to the cash register?”

“No, we can’t do that because we have to account for every ticket,” Lisa Rodrigue, the state lottery’s marketing manager, told me over the phone. “So no, that wasn’t anybody from here.”

Which, of course, only deepens the mystery. What motivated this man, under the most ordinary of circumstances, to share his potential bounty with perfect strangers and then scurry out the door without even hinting at his motivation?

The possibilities are endless. Good news from his doctor? A promotion? Paying forward some kind deed someone had just done for him?

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The journalist in me wanted to rush after him and pepper him with questions. But something stopped me – maybe a sense that the what, the where and the when were enough in this case. The who and why, in that moment, felt best left to the imagination.

“It’s like Valentine’s Day when they put the hearts out (throughout downtown Portland) or the Santa Claus guy who goes and gives $100 to people,” the Maine State Lottery’s Rodrigue observed.

The fine print on the back of my ticket tells me that I had a one-in-240,000 chance of winning the $5,000 jackpot and a one-in-4.68 chance of winning $1.

But it wasn’t the value of each ticket – or lack thereof – that made this spontaneous gesture so heartwarming. It was that magic moment of possibility, when each ticket was still a possible winner, and this altruist with a stack of Fast Bucks chose to share that magic with a store full of strangers rather than keep it all to himself.

And if that’s not enough to reinforce your faith in human nature, consider what happened last week in Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe, Eric Cochrane of Methuen brought his son’s guitar into John Galvin’s guitar shop for what turned out to be minor repairs. Galvin knew Cochrane’s son had been dealing with health issues and, upon finishing the work, told Cochrane there was no charge.

Cochrane insisted on paying, holding out $40. Again, Galvin refused. So, Cochrane announced he’d spend the money on a pair of scratch tickets. “If I win $1 million, we are splitting it,” he promised Galvin.

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He won $1 million. An hour later, the two men were on their way to collect – and share – a one-time payment of $650,000 before taxes.

Make of these two tales what you will. My take is that there’s still more good in the world than bad and that an act of unsolicited kindness doesn’t have to make a big splash to create a positive ripple in someone else’s day.

So thanks and good on you, Fast Bucks man. The moment you started handing out those scratch tickets, we all won.


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