The letter from Publishers Clearinghouse read, "Our commitment is now official!"
I wondered what kind of commitment this was going to be? No sharing of vows, no "I do's," and no "You may now kiss the bride."
The commitment agreement guaranteed the winner -- hopefully me -- that the prize of $5,000 a week forever will be paid in weekly installments for the lifetime of the winner and after that for the lifetime of another person the winner chooses.
As posted on the company's website, the odds of winning the largest prize for Giveaway No. 1830 were just over 1 in 1.2 billion, so I'm under no illusions about their personal commitment to me and my winning the incredible lifetime prize event. I'd spent enough time at Del Mar, Santa Anita and Hollywood Park racetracks in Southern California to know a one in a billion long shot is a horse that is not going to finish, let alone win.
The letter said the winner would be announced Feb. 28 during NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Huh? What about the tradition of the Prize Patrol showing up at the winner's house or apartment? Have they ditched the Prize Patrol idea or is it on hold because this giveaway (No. 1830) is not for mega millions, like the $21 million giveaway on Superbowl Sunday, Jan. 30, 2000?
We've all seen those reality-TV style winning moments in their commercials, when the Publishers Clearinghouse Prize Patrol Van surprises Mr. or Mrs. John Q. Public with a giant cardboard check for millions of dollars. And we've thought, "Isn't that nice, but why isn't it me? I'm a law-abiding, hard-working, decent and kind human being. I buy the magazines. I send in the entries. I could really use $21 million. Besides, I've never won anything in my life."
Human nature being what it is, the amateur psychologist in all of us quickly sizes up the winner and makes a determination whether or not they are deserving of their newfound good fortune. For some reason, senior citizens usually fare the best, probably because they remind us of our grandparents, and grandparents hold a special place in most people's hearts. Also, grandparents were always good at slipping us money. My grandma use to ask my mother for money and then slip it to me immediately.
I recall receiving a special Publishers Clearinghouse mailing three weeks before the 2000 Superbowl Sunday giveaway; it included a map so I could give the Prize Patrol directions to my house.
I can't tell you how hard I worked on that map, putting down the important landmarks in my neighborhood so they wouldn't get lost. I even used colored pencils and a ruler. Can you imagine millions of Americans glued to their televisions watching a lost van attempt to find its way to the Halpin house? How embarrassing.
Then there was the question of what should I wear when they knocked at my door. Should I go for the casual look -- sweatpants and a T-shirt -- since I was going to be watching the game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans before they would arrive with my check? Or should I dress up for the event and rent a tuxedo?
I also thought how cute it would look if my whole family answered the door in matching bathrobes with ear-to-ear smiles. I hate to admit it, but I had them do a few open-the-door-in-your-bathrobe, smile-for-the-camera and accept a $21 million check practice runs.
I can't tell you how many times I practiced my look of surprise in the bathroom mirror. The last time I spent that much time looking in the mirror was in high school, when I practiced my technique for asking girls out.
Then of course, there was the question: What do I feed the Prize Patrol? Does the occasion merit caviar, sushi and champagne or just your basic Superbowl Sunday pizza, nachos and chili?
There was so much to worry about. Hey, no one ever said winning $21 million would be easy.
All the while during my pre-giveaway moment of craziness, I wondered what kind of a millionaire I would be. At least I'd have lots of company. A lot more folks than ever were gaining millionaire status or aspiring to it, whether the Prize Patrol Van pulls up in front of our house, we win the lottery or we create an Internet company called lotsandlotsofmoney.com that Bill Gates buys the day after its IPO. And it goes without saying that everyone does not handle newfound wealth well.
Ginny Jackson of Wingate, Texas, won the $21 million. I haven't entered a Publishers Clearinghouse giveaway since. This time around, I wanted to subscribe to my favorite magazine, "Rolling Stone," so I mailed back the envelope to enter.
I don't expect to hear my name called on Feb. 28, but if I do, I promise that my good fortune will not change me. I did receive a prize award alert document in one of the recent mailings regarding the Feb. 28 giveaway that said a $100 prize is guaranteed to someone with the initials BH. I know there aren't 1.2 billion people with my initials.
Barry Halpin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.