Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 1: MAN OF MISFORTUNE
It was the Chicago 7-Eleven near the heart of the city with a tiny parking lot in front, seven stalls, an urban oddity in that it offered parking, and the parking was free. If it had not been in the heart of the city, and not had a free parking lot in front, and if Augustus Garibaldi, known to everyone since childhood as Gari, had not cruised into the city in his dated balloon car, his Chevy Caprice with rust gnawing the panel under the driver’s door into a memory, he might have not purchased the lottery ticket.
He’d driven in and splurged on parking the beast in anticipation of leaving early to meet a prospective client up north in Lake Bluff, a swanked up town on Lake Michigan with light industry in tired office parks on its western edge, well away from the nice stuff. But the meeting fell through. The prospect’s company phoned with regrets that Albert Manning was down with a cold and they’d have to cancel.
Gari, gripping the receiver and absorbing the excuse, did not appreciate having to file an expense report to recoup the insane cost of parking in the city based on, “I thought I had a meeting.” He wondered how a grown man could contract a cold in the middle of July. It struck him as abnormal or a lie. He concluded it was probably a lie. No doubt once he considered it, Mr. Manning wanted nothing to do with him and Lefton & Associates but lacked the guts to tell him to get lost face to face.
Since the meeting had evaporated and left him with ugly expense-account-battle residue, he decided cutting his day in half was a sort of justice. Who had to know his meeting had been scrapped? He was an account executive, at least in title, a man of responsibility, as limited as it was, who put in the required hours for the agency, at least in a cosmetic fashion. He’d file a fictive report and treat himself to a little aimless driving, a stop in a park reserve, some idleness in sweet surroundings. He deserved to sniff the flowers, grass and trees, didn’t he? “Damn straight,” he affirmed to his cubicle wall.
Gari navigated his balloon-mobile into the 7-Eleven lot and hopped out to grab a sandwich and a soda. A man couldn’t contemplate nature on an empty stomach. The gurgling and growling would be too distracting; these intestinal noises would interfere with his enjoyment of the gentle rustling of the leaves, the chirping of birds, and the rest of it. And while he was in the store he figured he’d buy a lottery ticket. What was the harm of wagering a dollar to win millions?
Plenty according to Emily. His wife harassed him regularly for barely bringing home enough to get the family through each month.
“Make more money and you can spend more,” she harped.
He didn’t believe her, not for a second. She was careful by her own admission. Careful was her word for her penurious proclivity. Gari called it cheap, not even frugal, which seemed to him too righteous. He could pull down a million a year and she’d still carp about a store-bought sandwich, or a lottery ticket.
When he got like this, splashing in the icy pool of his resentment, he rebuked himself with the truth: He really didn’t earn enough. Then he compensated by praising her as good wife, good mother. But this wacky dichotomy wasn’t sufficient to alleviate his turmoil. He sputtered internally until his throat turned hoarse, railing deep in his innards that living with her cheapness was akin to settling in with a dudgeon mistress, shackled in the hole.
And he hated his allowance. Emily doled him a few bucks a week for his personal expenses. She labeled these personal indulgences, as if having a coffee in the morning was an extraordinary activity engaged in by him alone. Had the woman never heard of Starbucks?
How had he fallen into this predicament? It happened the year she’d gotten pregnant—”We conceived,” she phrased it, but he thought contrived was truer—with their first child.
They lived in the city then, and he knew that wouldn’t last, couldn’t really. The city was no place to raise a child, contended Emily. He agreed, though he actually disagreed. He was raised in the city, on the South Side in the section known as the East Side. He turned out okay, hadn’t he? Good enough to marry, to father children.
Emily insisted they move to the suburbs for the sake of their first child and future children. He went along, though he enjoyed the city, liked getting to work in a few minutes; loved their neighborhood, too, though their friendships were as substantial and long as a Chicago spring.
They bought the house a month before Teddy arrived. The purchase turned everything into a hassle. Her doctor was in the city at Northwestern Memorial. She writhed with contractions in their car as he crept to the city down the Edens, and then nearly parked on the Kennedy. He could have pointed out living in the city, at least until Teddy’s birth, would have simplified matters; but he’d kept it to himself. A row on the day of their first son’s birth wasn’t what he wanted.
Later, with Teddy home, he suggested they consider purchasing a second car. Not even a decent used car—a used would do to ferry him back and forth to the train station. She informed him they’d manage just fine with their one car.
“It’ll be good for you, Gari,” she’d said, eyeing him top to bottom. “You have a tendency to chunk out. Walking will do you a world of good.”
As he entered the 7-Eleven, he was mumbling, “A tendency to fat. Oh, yeah, as if you are Mrs. Perfection.”
At the self-serve deli, he was in full-blown rebellion, stoked to heights that would shame his red shirt namesake. If he wanted a sandwich, he would have it. If he thirsted for a Big Gulp, damn tootin’ he’d have that too. At the counter, he decided to toss in a lottery ticket.
The jackpot was only five million according to the posting on the ticket machine. Fifty million would have been better, but so what? Five would be pretty good and it’d serve Emily right, him strolling in with the paper and showing her the ticket and his numbers matching the winners. She’d have to retract every debasing spendthrift barb she’d ever hurled at him. Then whenever he wanted he’d buy as many 7-Eleven sandwiches and Big Gulps as he could stuff into himself, visit Starbucks daily and add a scone to his order, too, any old time he liked.
“Before you finish there,” Gari said, “I’ll have a lottery ticket.”
“Which one? We got a shit load.”
“The weekly. Just give me a minute to fill out the card.”
He felt the clerk’s yellowed eyes scorn his lack of preparation, as if he was a jabroni preventing the raddled minion from making a train. He wilted under the glare, flaring with umbrage and his inability to express it, rather explaining docilely, as if he needed to win the clerk’s understanding, “I’ve got to play my lucky numbers. I’ve been playing them on and off for a couple years now.”
“Most people got them on cards they carry,” snarled the clerk, as if Gari suffered some huge deficiency of character.
Gari mumbled incoherently, angered himself, then pressed extra hard on the lottery card with the pencil provided by the clerk, filling until the dots of graphite winked back at him.
As an inveterate player, he had carried a filled-in card with his lucky numbers pre-blackened, until Emily had confiscated it. Just as well, for he’d rediscovered the magic of darkening the circles each time he played. With each press of the pencil, his brain transformed into a cerebral piggybank jammed with dollars.
When he had them glistening to his liking, he handed the card back to the clerk, who regarded it warily, as if it might have traveled to regions best left unmentioned. Annoyed that this guy now had him feeling like a leper, Gari shoved money at him to cover the ticket, his sandwich, and Big Gulp. In clamorous seconds, the machine spit out his lottery ticket. The clerk handed it and the form to Gari. Gari crumbled the form and stared at the ticket while sucking on his Big Gulp straw. Everything vanished but the ticket, and to him it was a Eucharistic host of redemption.
Before leaving the 7-Eleven, he nested the ticket in his wallet. No reason for Emily to know he’d blown another dollar on the Illinois Lottery.
He left the 7-Eleven sure he was on the verge of winning the lottery. He had a week to cherish and embellish the hope.
* * *
It was a hell of seven days for him. His major client, Lubeck’s Shoes, “The Shoes Smart Chicago Wears,” called him on the carpet for an error in a sale ad that appeared in the Sun-Times. No matter that he’d often pointed out the tagline was senseless. Chicagoans might wear Lubeck’s Shoes and by a method mystical, mysterious, and certainly unknown to mortal residents of the city, might even be smarter for doing so; however, he ranted on average twice a year, when his frustration boiled out his ears and then his mouth, Chicago the city, Big Shoulders and all that, could not possibly wear shoes. Well, he blared this at the agency creative director, who he considered perhaps a hair more creative than a hare. To direct his protestation at Victor Lubeck, inheritor of the Lubeck’s Shoes empire, would have been fatal. Victor Lubeck was not patient or understanding when it came to Lubeck’s Shoes and the work of his sainted father, the enshrined Gregor Lubeck. Gari didn’t doubt for a second the rumor floating around the agency: Victor Lubeck carried a relic of his father in a snack baggie in his wallet; which, of course, meant Victor sat on his old man everyday, but no matter. The tagline was the invention of the venerated Gregor, who devised it with a snap of his fingers in the bacon-scented air at breakfast shortly after opening his first shoe store.
He withered on the carpet of Larry Lefton, who Gari liked in the way a masochist enjoys his fingers tucked neatly in the jamb of a slammed door. Larry was no more than ten years older than he and served to remind Gari of his shortcomings as a rising advertising executive, as if he was in need of reminding with Emily at home willing and able to do a nice job of it, thank you very much. What he liked about Larry was the man proved with absoluteness that a witless individual could make it in this world. The man was the incarnate hope of the hopeless.
Larry demanded if Gari comprehended what his little mistake could cost the agency. Gari refreshed the president on a few facts: He didn’t write the copy. He didn’t lay out the ad. He wasn’t the proofreader. Larry’s retort was: Lubeck’s Shoes was Gari’s account. It was a damn good account, which he empathically emphasized by slapping his desk with a fatty hand. Gari was responsible for everything—every little thing. If Gari screwed up, he would have Gari’s balls, the squeezed demise of which he indicated by clenching and shaking his fist.
After wincing at the prospect, Gari’s blood boiled high. But he suppressed the urge to tell Larry he didn’t need Victor Lubeck, wouldn’t wear Lubeck’s shoes if his life depended on it—though he stood before the president in a pair of Lubeck’s loafers purchased by Emily for him because Lubeck’s granted agency personnel a discount and Emily appreciated a bargain and because on his salary, she complained, bargains were all they could afford. And he didn’t need the agency.
Gari sighed. He nodded his understanding, and Larry took it as tacit pledge it wouldn’t happen again. But Gari preserved his pride, as he wasn’t sniveling about it, at least by his own measure. He exited Larry’s office wondering why people loved triteness as much as they did and continually demonstrated their affection by elevating Larry Leftons to heavenly heights.
There was a ritual to goof-ups. At his desk, he picked up the phone and pressed the speed dial connection to Victor Lubeck’s office. Gari paused a respectable second, and then delivered his apology with the firm, unshakeable, reassuring, and, he prayed, fully assuaging supplication.
At home, the weekend progressed as fine as it could, as well as it ever crept along, until Sunday evening, when, while Emily was putting away the laundry, she decided to flip open his tri-fold wallet. She leafed through the photo sleeves, where he kept her and the boys’ photos so they rode along wherever he and his backside went. Then she peeked inside the billfold pocket. No harm done as Gari stored his meager allowance there, and it was empty, as Emily restocked him Monday mornings. But she didn’t stop there; she moved on to explore the secret, though universally known, compartment where his stowaway resided.
Sunday night the house filled with Emily’ sulfuric fuming, and it was quite a stinking time for him. Most of what she spewed was familiar. He’d endured each hot missile perhaps a dozen times, until she ejected something novel.
She said, “You’re a deceiver, Gari. I just hate deception.”
He understood the reference perfectly. It was to the fact—he couldn’t and wouldn’t deny it —that he’d hid the lottery ticket from her. He had to, he told her, because he didn’t want to endure the very character assault to which she was subjecting him.
She demanded to know what else he was hiding. Not women, she chided, for she was confident no women in possession of their sanity would want him. Which amused him and caused a smile to blossom on his lips. This, naturally, incensed her and she redoubled her effort to insult and demean him.
The next day, checking his wallet during his commute to the agency, he saw she had shorted him one dollar. In its place was a scrap of paper—she saved any paper with blank space for reuse—scrawled on which was this pointed message: “I’m on to you, so don’t do it again.” Her cheapness and pettiness oftentimes stunned him into another county. In these moments his mind wandered to basic questions, the most elementary of which was, “What the hell did I see in her?”
The truth was pedestrian: He’d fallen in love with her looks—her tall, slim figure; her aquiline features; her black eyes and even blacker hair, the shade of hell with the fires extinguished it turned out; tapered legs that ran up to an ass just broad enough and sufficiently defined to rivet his gaze every time she turned her back on him. What he hadn’t noticed about her then, or may have glimpsed but ignored, was her overpowering need to control every aspect of their lives, which over the years had transformed into her dominant trait. So powerful and repulsive was it that only necessity could drive him near her, and, finally, not even that primal need sufficed.
If he won the lottery, he promised himself, he’d walk right out the door, straight into the world, and maybe, if his luck continued, into the arms of a gorgeous woman who might actually appreciate him.