• When a friend of mine became a partner at a large brokerage house, I asked him if his newfound dough had bought him happiness.

    "No," he said. "But it makes for one hell of a down payment!"

    I thought about him after reading an interesting, but very sad, front-page item in Monday's New York Times on lottery millionaires.

    Mack Metcalf and his estranged second wife, Virginia Merida, shared a $34 million lottery jackpot back in 2000.

    Suddenly they had gone from blue collar to starched collar with the turn of a few digits.

    Mack bought a lot of toys, a fancy home and lots of vintage cars. He'd pop by the local convenience store and pay with $100 bills, handing the change to the next person in line.

    Virginia was more subtle, but still extravagant: a nice home, nicer car.

    But all the money couldn't hide all the pain: Mack's drinking, Virginia's sadness.

    There was the lawsuit from a former wife, then another one from a former girlfriend for Mack to contend with. A live-in boyfriend who died of an overdose in her house for Virgina to deal with.

    Mack dies — complications from alcoholism.

    Virginia's body is found back in November. She might have been dead for days. No one really knows. Causes still unknown.

    The money gone, the folks who won it are now gone too.

    I guess they had what my friend would call their down payment on happiness. They just never closed the sale.

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