Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sweet Sixteen

From time to time, something I write in this space prompts "reader feedback".  A fair percentage of the time that someone feels compelled to communicate with me directly regarding something that appears here, the communication is in the form of a question.  Often - but not always - a question along the lines of "Do you have a soul?" or "Are you ever not a miserable crank?"  When I receive such a note or e-mail or whatever, I pick up the phone, call Mom and remind her that just because I write it she does not have to read it.  That usually calms her for a month or two.  

Given my normally cantankerous disposition, it may well come as a great surprise to you that one of my favorite stories of this past week - or any week in recent memory for that matter - is that of the sixteen people - all employed by Ocean County, New Jersey - whose pooled Powerball tickets included one of the three winners drawn for the $425 Million jackpot.  

"Ocean's Sixteen" - the sobriquet they have hung upon themselves - met the media on Tuesday afternoon at the Ocean County Library in Toms River, New Jersey.  At least six of the sixteen owned and/or rented home that Hurricane Sandy either destroyed or substantially damaged when it cut its swath through New Jersey this past October.  At least some of them have spent the past almost-ten months trying to figure out how they were going to get from their knees and back up onto their feet.  

They now appear to have a solution.  Each of the sixteen shall receive a lump sum, after tax payment of $3.87 Million.  While that amount may represent nothing more than a weekend's pay to A-Rod or Albert Pujols, for those of us who inhabit the regular, work-a-day world it is a life-changing sum.   

If I understood what I read and saw correctly, fifteen of the sixteen intend to continue to work at their present jobs for Ocean County.  The sixteenth, Joseph Odoardo, is going to retire.  During the media event on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Odoardo said that he has worked for the County for thirty-four years, had hoped to retire last year but apparently could not.  Now, with thirty-four years on the job under his belt and $3.87 Million in his bank account, he can. 

A lot of money has been spent in the State of Concrete Gardens these past few months reminding us all that we are "Stronger Than The Storm".  So much of the message is slickly packaged - and the ad campaign's theme song is so Bon Joviesque in its irritability quotient - that it is sometimes easy to dismiss it all as hype.  As nothing but noise.  But then you hear the stories of people - such as the men and women of the "Ocean's Sixteen" - and those among their number who have battled hard these past ten months to keep body and soul together, all the while hoping like hell for more than just a little help while having no earthly idea from whence such help was going to come.  Or if it ever was. 

The great John Wooden once observed that, "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things work out."  Tuesday night - as I watched the CBS Evening News and its coverage of the "Ocean's Sixteen" media event - which wrapped with video of a number of the winners driving away from the Ocean County Library and back to work, I was reminded not only of Coach Wooden's Woodenism but also of a line from a long-ago Joe Jackson song, "There goes your proof." 



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