245 – The Millionaire

The dream of every Scotsman.

One of the best sources of inspiration for these One A Day blog posts is other people. By which I mean, I steal the shit out of other people’s ideas.

Most of the time I don’t need to because (evidently) I’m so wrapped up in myself I think the whole world would enjoy reading about the time I went to Blackpool (as in yesterday’s post) or my tortured and egotistical thought processes (as in the post you’re reading right now) but every once in a while when looking at someone else’s posts I think “Hey, that’s a great idea. Why haven’t I done that?”

And the answer is simple–or rather, it’s not: all the decisions and experiences that culminated in that guy’s post never happened to me. His life, though it might peripherally touch mine, is one entirely separate to my own. We might share certain interests or have a similar socio-economic background, but whatever’s happened to him throughout his life–and whatever genetic start he was given into it–never happened to me. And maybe we’ve done similar things at similar ages, but they’re never quite the same–they can’t be. He is he and I am me and we aren’t together at all. Suck it, Lennon and McCartney.

Usually I’d have to crawl into his mindset in order to write about whatever he said that intrigued me in the first place. There are certain topics I can’t in good faith write about here because they’ve never happened to me, and though I could have a stab at, say, alcoholism or domestic abuse, anything I wrote about them would ring false to me if not to you, the reader–and frankly I don’t have enough faith in my writing to think I could pull the wool over your eyes on such serious subject matters either. It’s not as if I haven’t considered it. It’s a challenge to write about something you don’t know, or to tell such a monumental lie and hope you get away with it. Back in the early months of the year I’d considered inventing a member of my family–a brother–to illustrate the darker side of my personality and encompass everything about me that I despise. That I could probably get away with–you don’t know me from Adam, or indeed Cain or Abel–but taking on the roles of other characters from my life or my imagination: I don’t have the confidence to do that. Could I write a post from the perspective of a woman? Probably. Would it result in anything other than female readers jeering and throwing bricks through my window? Probably not.

Even when the concept I’ve stolen isn’t so personal–and the one I’ve stolen today is so widely popular I’m sure every one of you has mulled it over it at some point–still the whys and wherefores of inserting myself into another mindset trouble me. I get hung up on the details. I refuse to play fantasist. I try to ground myself, allowing myself leeway in case the topic ever comes to pass and some higher power holds me to what I’ve written, the rules I’ve created for myself.

Today’s topic, as stolen from fellow One A Dayer Moosegrinder, is this:

What would I do if I became a millionaire?

I’ve had this conversation with my wife so many times before, and come to the conclusion she’d be a much better millionaire than I would. American state lotteries cost a dollar to enter and have prizes that spiral ever upward in ways the British national lottery does not. A couple weeks after the jackpot hits a certain figure–and after people who wouldn’t usually buy tickets start laying cash down for them–the state succumbs to Lottery Fever. Every ticket bought could be the ticket out of your life. We’ve been in convenience store lines mere hours before the draw where every person queuing in front of us has bought one or more tickets in high hopes. The lottery enters casual conversation as if it was a particularly clement or inclement patch of weather: Have you seen the jackpot? What would you do with that kind of money?

And my wife–who, unsettlingly, assumes I’m going to make us millionaires some day anyway, by becoming the next Stephen King. I think Joe Hill has the genetic advantage there, Linds–is brilliant at spending reams of imaginary money. She builds us a castle with a mad scientist lab and sticks her family in equidistant homes just close enough for visitation purposes, just far away we won’t be bothered to babysit. She donates a chunk to a prestigious university to build an experimental physics building and name it in her honour. She gives some to the shelter where she found our dog, and builds a state-of-the-art kitchen where I can cook as much as I want; she spends the rest of cash on various other causes that swing between practical and mildly unhinged.

There are some things we agree on–like throwing money at both of our governments until we both have dual citizenship–but I’ve watched too many programmes about lottery winners not to see that money dwindling with every purchase. “A million pounds isn’t much money, really,” I’ll say, dismissing it like a dollar accidentally washed in a jeans pocket. “And a million dollars is even less. That’s only about one pound eighty in proper money.”

So we invent a jackpot sum so large even Scrooge McDuck would be scared to swim in it. “What would you do with it?” my wife says. “Come on, there must be something.”

I’d like to buy stability. I’d like for both of us and everyone we know to be comfortable, and not have to worry about rent, bills or taxes. Beyond that, things get a little hazy.

Moosegrinder’s ultimate millionaire fantasy is an eight-player Daytona USA cab, which would be a noble thing to buy with an insane amount of cash. Except I could never buy one, because I wouldn’t have seven people to play it with. Lindsay would be down in her scientist lab (pull Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus in the east wing library to reveal the stairs down to it) the kids would be in their house just far away so we don’t have to look after them. As it turns out, an eight-player arcade game would come with one seat for me and seven spares for white elephants.

There are books and CDs and games and other things I’d like, but they’re all just things. A full double CD edition of Sasha and Digweed’s original Northern Exposure would nice, but what would I do with it once I had it? Listen to it? Man, I’ve got so much music as it is, and there’s so much more available on the Internet. I could never run out of new music, so putting a CD on a pedestal and throwing cash at it ‘til I own it seems like a waste of time and effort.

Maybe that’s what I’d blow my cash on: wasting effort. With such an improbable bank balance I’d devise equally improbably projects to keep me busy. I always imagined become a hero to the games community by funding production of the rest of Sega’s Shenmue franchise, a series beloved to me and millions others that was sadly abandoned two titles in. We could complete it, my money and I–but why think so small when with this amount of cash I could fund any game? Why not hire the brightest minds in programming to make the game of my dreams?

And what would that game be, exactly? A co-operative open world dungeon-crawler combining elements of World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls and Borderlands? A fully 3D role-playing game experience that harks back to the days of Planescape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate 2, and contains the kind of dialogue and depth of option Bioware claims would be impossible in a modern title because it would cost too much? A new Neverwinter Nights styled RPG with a level designer for custom content that’s as easy and fun to use as Minecraft? A detailed digital recreation of the town I grew up in–hell, an adaptation of this blog as a video game? Screw ending the series: I could turn my entire life into Shenmue.

And then what, exactly? Sit around playing it ‘til I get old and die? Is that really what I want to spend cash on?

And I could throw money into charity, but it’d probably do no good–even the Campfire Burning Money Bin would run dry at some point. I’d help causes close to my heart, of course, but even in my millionaire fantasies I can’t imagine it’d do any good. The core problems would remain even in the face of charity, as they always do.

Because that’s the way the world works.

Having money wouldn’t change my world. Aside from the security it’d bring, the thing I’d want most from it would be room to stretch my imagination, and that’s something I’m perfectly capable of using only a word processor; having a better computer wouldn’t change that. A high-tech music studio would be nice, but I’d be just as useless making music in Abbey Road as I am right now, with a PC and Reason. And while it’d be nice to leave a lasting legacy for gamers–the world’s greatest video game folly, unencumbered by budget concerns and sales figures, as flashy as GTA 4, as personal as Passage–some people don’t even like Shenmue or western RPGs.

The less money becomes a factor, the more I realise the real concern behind my dissatisfaction with life. Even in the world’s nicest kitchen (Four ovens! Two Kitchen Aids! Endless barbecue pits and clean-burning grills! A vat of Valrhona cocoa!) I’d still be the cook, and sometimes, I’d stop cooking, look down at myself and wonder just what the fuck was wrong with me. I mean, really, man. You’ve got a beautiful wife who loves you. You’ve just made Neverwinter Nightcraft, as written by Brian Mitsoda and Chris Avellone. You have a water-slide leading from your bedroom to a pool in your private freaking cinema.

Think bigger. NASA’s returned to the stars. You’ve cured HIV. Famine and drought are things of the past. Mental health charities, women’s shelters, the NSPCC et al now have so much cash you had to set up a charity for the survivors of toppling cash pile syndrome. You’re in talks with George Lucas to release a remastered yet otherwise unadulterated edition of the original Star Wars trilogy. You’ve bought recording facilities for every podcast you’ve ever enjoyed. Google just featured a special logo in your honour.

Honestly, what more could you want?

Money, well, we all know what they say about money. Fragile, easily torn, easily forgotten in a trouser pocket to emerge after washing in a deformed, lumpen mass.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” they say. Funny how they never mention it’s not the only thing that’s made from paper.

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