Secrets of the Lottery Winner

Secrets of the Lottery Winner


Gari bought the Tribune at the Mundelein train station from the vending machine. “Why do you need a paper, when you watch TV for free?” harped Emily anytime he foolishly commented on an event read in the newspaper and stupidly prefaced with, “I saw this in today’s paper.”

He settled into his seat on the Metra coach next to the window and was opening the paper to the page reporting the lottery numbers when a fat man dropped in next to him. Normally Gari set the portions of the paper he wasn’t reading on the seat beside him, the train signal for: “You’re not welcome.” But it was Thursday. He was eager to read the lottery results. And upon sitting, he tore into the paper with sharply piqued hope, painful almost, and forgot to claim the entire seat.

The fat man landed like a boulder in a pond, hardly ignorable as he launched undulations of quake proportions against Gari, who reacted by fumbling his paper between his legs, allowing the guts to drop on the floor. As the fat man was a seat-and-a-quarter passenger, overflowing flesh pinned Gari to the window and severely reduced his mobility. With difficulty he maneuvered his window arm between his legs and retrieved his newspaper. The fat man wiggled and glared, demonstrating his perturbation at Gari’s invasion of his space. Gari contemplated shoving back, but feared the fat man would render him a red blot on the window, like a bug splattered on a windshield.

Squeezed and hunched, he opened the paper the span a baby would have if a baby possessed the dexterity and wit to read a newspaper. He scanned down page two to the lower left where the Wednesday lottery results appeared. As he read the numbers, his chest welled and his throat seized. He recognized these numbers. They were his numbers. Every single number was his. But, of course, it was impossible. Though every lottery purchase came with a boxcar of hope, it simply couldn’t be. Account-executive-for-life, minion-for-eternity, Gari Garibaldi could never, not ever in this or any lifetime, win something as huge as THE LOTTERY. In other words, the monumentality of the prospect overwhelmed him with self-doubt.

Five million dollars!  He just had to look at his ticket to be absolutely sure.

With the magnitude of his prodigious fortune flashing before him in red neon, he began to slide his arm between himself and the fat man. He managed to insert it in the gap created by the inward slope of the man’s pear form fuselage. His tactic worked to a degree, but once near the back of the seat he had to angle his hand down to the wallet in his back pocket.

Perhaps a gentleman would have excused the rear-end activity as unintentional and harmless. Or not able to dismiss it, would have settled for grunted displeasure. The fat man, unfortunately, was endowed with a generous helping of belligerence. He growled, “You like my ass, you goddamn pervert?”

“I was just reaching for my wallet,” Gari offered as humble apology.

“My ass,” scoffed the fat man fortissimo, impressive in his obsession over his hindquarters, as if ass grabbing was a common annoyance due to his magnetic adipose.

Gari furtively scanned the coach mostly by casting his eyes about, too timid to swivel his head, afraid he might latch onto the eye of someone who would be thinking, “Damn queer bastard. Can’t even ride the train these days without them grabbing your ass.” But this was the big city, or at least the train rumbling into the big city, and indifference and ennui rode along, and either his fellow commuters had no interest in what was transpiring or were engaged in the time-honored practice of avoidance, the latter being Gari’s best guess, accounting for the fact everybody had his or her eyes glued on everything else—newspapers, books, the scenery, or the invisible molecules in front of them.

“Really, I just need my wallet.” If you weren’t the size of a barnyard animal … but the molten thought went unsaid.

“You want your wallet?” declared the fat man. “Well, you’ll have to wait ’till we get to the station.”

“Look, it’ll take just a second.”

“Yeah, then you’ll want to put it back. No twerp pervert is grabbing my ass twice. You got it. If you don’t stop it, I’ll get the conductor to toss your skinny ass off this train. How you’d like that?”

Judging the situation hopeless, Gari retreated his hand to his lap where he stationed it for the balance of the trip to Chicago’s Union Station.

At the platform, Gari rushed off the train and into Union. He nearly whipped out his wallet on the concourse flooded with hundreds of freshly disembarked and intense commuters, everyone surging to jobs or appointments. But then as if the location had discharged the powerful urge that had seized and ultimately embarrassed him on the train, he restrained himself. What was the hurry? Savor the moment. Wasn’t anticipation two-thirds the enjoyment of anything? Sure. He knew he wasn’t wrong about the numbers. They were like old friends he’d palled with for years. He decided confirming the numbers deserved whatever dollop of ceremony he could muster and an appropriate setting.

So instead of his usual route up the escalators, he shot past the Amtrak waiting room, detoured right, and skipped into the Great Hall. Here was the perfect venue for revealing to himself what he strongly suspected, achingly felt certain of—the mythical ship that had fueled him week to week for years had docked at the Garibaldi port. It would have been nice if Teddy and Sammy and, yes, Emily too, were there to celebrate with him. “But what the hell,” he said softly, lowering onto an empty pew seat.

He opened the paper to page two and laid it beside him on the pew. He drew his wallet from his back pocket and from it the ticket. He stared at the ordinary lettering—Illinois Lotto, Five Million Dollars. Million – oh, that word, simple yet soaring and charged with delightful high-flying avarice. He held the ticket tight with two hands and still his grip seemed tentative and was definitely shaky. It glittered in his hands, like burnished gold, transforming the light in the Great Hall into flashes of equatorial high-noon glint. It was too much for him and he looked away, pulled his eyes up to the great rotunda, and stared at the flag hanging down, fluttering in the heat currents that traversed the vault. Oh, yes, it was a great country, a great state, the great old Northwest Territory, where men had come to seek their fortunes, where fortunes were built, some of the greatest in a nation of great fortunes. And now it was Gari Garibaldi’s turn at great, good fortune. It was now in his hands, simple paper, dull colors, plain type, unpretentious but glorious as they declared him: Millionaire!

Fearful to gaze too long, as if the ticket might vanish in a poof, he drifted his eyes up to the flag, over the ceiling, down the marble-clad walls, back to the ticket and his special numbers, and then to the newspaper next to him, and the numbers printed on it. One by one he mouthed them silently as he screamed them in his mind, slowly, like a grand countdown to a special launch, a rocket ride into parts unknown; he shouted each long and loud inside his head until his throat turned raw and painful. Good God in heaven but didn’t he feel like an explorer setting off into an unexplored world, the great man vilified by everybody but confident in his own destiny, brave enough to seize opportunity and mold from it a spectacular, historic even, life for himself. And when he finished with the numbers and they indeed matched, a chorus of hallelujahs burst forth in his rattled and aching noggin. Gari Garibaldi was indeed a millionaire proclaimed his chorus.

To the few idlers in the Great Hall, who if they were inclined to observe him—which they were not as staring at other pew dwellers was not only impolite but sometimes dangerous—would have detected nothing indicating the heavens had descended on the man in the pew near the center under the rotunda. In spite of the emotion exploding in him, his exterior was like a pot on a stove—inert, the same whether empty or full, unrevealing as to whether it was bubbling hot with tasty fare or empty awaiting the cook. Gari Garibaldi could not move, not even twitch a facial muscle to indicate he was anything but an inanimate object, a mere decoration in the Great Hall, Johnson’s “Double Check” set down on the pew to illustrate to passersby how people once in this room read, conversed, slept, fiddled, fidgeted, and otherwise occupied themselves before commencing trips to destinations nationwide.

But this lasted maybe a minute when the energy building pressure in Gari blew out every pore and hole in his body but particularly his mouth as a series of exhilarated shouts that to anybody in earshot must have sounded like the ravings of a lunatic. The jig he added convinced everybody who dared to look that he was a madman, the Madman of the Great Hall.

Gari buttoned up when he saw the strange station folk scoping him as if he’d just stepped off the pages of Weird Tales. He carefully returned his ticket—now revered as THE FORTUNE—to his wallet. He slipped it into his back pocket, but instantly removed it, recalling the advice of a famous cop lecturing on television about protecting yourself against pickpockets.

In his entire life, even when he dressed with a modicum of fashion sense before the arrival of Teddy, Gari had never had his pockets picked. But as life could quickly and often did spiral into totally insensible, debilitating, harrowing, and crippling chaos, he reasoned if he was ever ripe for victimization, it was now. He vibrated. He radiated wealth and vulnerability. He was on a wavelength detectable to thieves from the three corners of Chicago. So he slipped his wallet into his left front pants pocket, where it pressed reassuringly against his thigh.

He left the Great Hall, cruised up the escalators, and exited onto Adams, headed for Lefton & Associates. Then he stopped abruptly. Wait a minute, wait a Big Shoulders’ minute, what’s this about work? What does millionaire-hood have to do with working—slaving, really—at Lefton & Associates? He was nothing but a glorified shoe salesman, even had to work the floor for a week to get to know the business, to get one on one with the customer, as if this made a thimble drop of difference, since Lefton & Associates churned out work of one ilk only: crap. Maybe he should stroll in and tender his resignation? He didn’t need Lefton & Associates any more. Gari Garibaldi was a millionaire.

But did five million qualify him as a true millionaire? With ten million, twenty million, sure he could kiss Lefton & Associates goodbye. Not even frugal Emily could object when he would be bringing in, say, a million a year. But five, well five was another story. Sure, it was wonderful and he could certainly live nicely on a yearly income of a quarter of a million. But—was he in fact sufficiently rich to be legitimately ranked a millionaire? Okay, he wasn’t in the same league as Gates, Buffett, Crown, Pritzger, Zell. But not many were. Five million definitely placed him in the upper echelons of moneymakers in America.

He was still splitting the hairs of what constituted wealth when he arrived at the Thompson Center, the building an honorific to Big Jim, a twice-elected former governor. Here was an odd testament to longevity. The structure resembled a cockeyed collapsed top hat, or maybe a tipped birthday cake decorated incongruously in baby blue and salmon. Loping through the rotunda of this monolith to tenure and power awhirl with bureaucrats, pols, bagmen, early lunchers, and flatland gawks, he contemplated the monument he’d wish erected to his memory, for he expected, now freed from the grind of quotidian life, he might accomplish great things, things beneficial to his fellow man and woman of the type that had obstructed his path to glory. Certainly not anything as grand as this joint and definitely not as kitschy; dignified and classy, fluted columns, masses of stone, inscrutable carvings—this was more his style. But before he could move on to the architectural details, he bumped into the building directory. He found the lottery suite number on the building directory and rode an elevator up.

The office disappointed him, and he wouldn’t have known it was his gateway to a fabulous life as a rich man if not for the promotional posters and gewgaws. The receptionist, a young woman appearing to be not much older than twenty, greeted him and asked if she could be of help. He proffered his ticket, announcing, “I’m Illinois’ newest millionaire.”

Balloons did not drop from the ceiling; not a shard of confetti glided through the air; no blaring band strutted from behind the counter. However, the young woman did accept the ticket, smiled, and phoned for someone who appeared in under a minute. She effused she was the office manager, shook Gari’s hand, accepted the ticket from the receptionist, examined it quickly, and compared it to the sequence of numbers representing easy street for the fortunate holder.

“Well sir, it looks like you’re the winner. It’ll take just a few minutes to authenticate your ticket. Then we’ll notify the director and set up a time to present you with your first check.”

She wrote and handed him a receipt for his ticket, asked if he could wait a moment, and disappeared into her office.

The seating was government-issue vinyl, hard, lumpy, and slippery, and he squirmed this way and that until he settled into a comfortable indentation. Strangely, mild depression settled over him. Five million was a lot of money, he acknowledged. In singles, it would probably fill this office. It would be fun to see that. But twenty, now twenty was real money. A man could live like royalty on twenty million. He could stride into Larry Lefton’s office, raise his middle digit, and tell the schmuck where to insert the Lubeck’s Shoes account. Oh, wouldn’t it be pleasurable? If he’d won twenty, he’d sacrifice a million for the delight. But five, five he wasn’t sure. He began calculating. If he took the money over twenty years, it worked out to two-fifty per annum. Not bad. But the government got a cut, a big cut, he figured. He wasn’t sure as he’d never made nearly enough money to get within sniffing distance of the top tax bracket. He thought forty percent sounded pretty good. One-fifty, then. Still nice. If he continued working, he’d be pretty close to two a year. Real nice. That should get Emily off his back.

He wondered how they paid it. Certainly not every two weeks like Lefton & Associates. Maybe monthly. He could live with monthly, though he’d have to adjust. Of course, it wouldn’t be hard with Emily around running things. Or they might dole the dough out yearly. Yearly could be a problem. His mind reeled with hundreds of ways to dump huge loads of cash. Conceivably, he could run out of cash halfway through the year. No chance, not with Emily around spoon-feeding him an allowance. If experience sustained, she wouldn’t care they were pulling down nearly two hundred a year. Emily thought poor. Gari sometimes speculated the woman liked being short of cash. Why not? It gave her control over him. Not a thing he could do without her knowing. Hell, not a move he could make without her permission.

No, five million wasn’t what it had seemed at the 7-Eleven or in the Great Hall … but still, it was huge. He could live very well, very high on it. If he didn’t have Emily or Teddy or Sammy, oh boy, he could live. How did he live before Emily and the boys? It was so long ago, so vague, buried so deep dredging it up was a project akin to archaeologists raising and restoring a Roman trireme. He plumbed deep and recalled: His life had been his own. He’d had freedom to do what he wanted whenever he wanted to do it, whatever it had been. What had it been? Really, not much. He recalled a car, a Mustang. Emily would never allow such a car. “You can’t fit the boys in a car like that. It’s not practical.” Without them, he could have the Stang, or maybe even a Vette. He had the money for a Vette now. Why not? Well, Emily wouldn’t allow it. One car was enough, a practical sedan, maybe a new van for transporting the boys and groceries. This wasn’t Gari’s idea of fun, not a fun way to spend his new wealth. But that’s exactly how it would be with Emily. And she’d want to save money too. Twenty years? Twenty years was a blip on Emily’s scope, which seemed to have more longitude than the expanding universe. In this vast and tenuous cosmos of hers, the money could vanish in a blink, and then where would they be with two boys in college and them contemplating retirement? No, she’d want to stash most of it, maybe every penny, in a safe money market account, and Gari, his only enjoyment would be staring at the zeros on the monthly statement, dreaming about what he could do with it, if only …

What he needed was a real life, an independent life. He needed what he saw on TV. Cars. Clubbing. Women. Sure, why not? He wasn’t Quasimotto. He was straight of limb, young, relatively. Maybe a bit challenged on the rooftop, but Christ, didn’t women see behind the façade of appearance to the inner person? Who cares, reverberated in his noggin. Bottom line: He was prime, in his thirties, and now, the maraschino cherry, rich. What woman wouldn’t find him the perfect package? Maybe even this one coming at him, a smile showing teeth as big as the Holy Name organ pipes, where maybe he should pop-in to offer thanks to the Great One.

The woman introduced herself as the Illinois Lottery Director and trilled of her pleasure meeting the state’s newest millionaire personally at the very moment he was discovering his great fortune. Gari assessed her from behind a benign smile. She was a tall milk chocolate woman with cascading strawberry blond hair, a die job, but expert and obviously expensive, testifying that she lived quite well without a lottery score. Even this woman Gari suspected might be primed for him, though, upon reconsideration, perhaps not this one as five million didn’t seem up to her standards.

She approached with her hand extended, ruby red nails thrusting at him, filling him with a passing fear she might puncture him and deflate his distended self.

“You must be excited. Can’t wait to tell your family and friends, I’ll wager.” She paused a beat and Gari realized she’d cracked a joke. He laughed politely. She seemed pleased and continued: “Well, it’ll take just a moment to set up a time to present your check to you.”

Gari wanted to ask why they couldn’t do it right now, right here, but the words stuck in his throat. She suggested four in the afternoon. Why waste time? They’d catch the early evening news. Maybe get two mentions since it ran an hour and half and attracted the arriving-home brigades in the last half hour. It was then that an inchoate idea began gestating.

“Sure, I can be back at four. I work in the city,” he stammered, waving an arm in the general direction of Lefton & Associates, suspecting at the urging of the tiny kernel in his head he’d committed an error, though he wasn’t sure.

On the street navigating toward Lefton & Associates the idea slowly expressed itself in the form of passing women whom Gari sensed were attempting to catch his eye, who saw he was a new man, a reborn guy spawned from cold hard cash, the manna and mantra of women, so he concluded from his life with Emily. Except these women were different. Hoarding wasn’t on their collective minds; rather, they contemplated endless good times. There it was too in the cars whizzing by, ridiculous in the city, but nonetheless magical. He lingered on the Mercedes, the BMWs, the Jags, and the rare heart throbbing Vette. He combined the two—the women and the cars, placing the women in the cars, inserting himself in the driver’s seats, changed the scenery from cityscape to California coastline, around Malibu, on the Pacific. Oh, it was nothing less than Elysian and he could have it, yes indeed, except for the sideshow, the presentation for the benefit of TV and the Lottery hawkers.

Come on, Gari, he nudged, a problem easily solved. Don’t tell a living soul you’re a lottery winner. Hell, five million is nearly like not winning at all. Might as well work the rest of your life. A quarter million a year, it was what decent pay should be, what Larry Lefton should be paying him to manage the Lubeck’s Shoes account.

He spied the building a block away, when it occurred to him he could tell anybody who asked he received a promotion. Emily would ask for sure if he brought home a few extra bucks. He had to bring home something. He could hide his win from her, but he couldn’t deprive her and the boys of the money … of some of the money. He could deflect her suspicion by pretending he’d received a raise. Sure, Larry Lefton, after these long years, had recognized his value and given him a hefty raise. Good God in heaven, would she buy it?

Faking a promotion and representing the additional money he’d present to Emily as step up in his career seemed an excellent idea—but for three problems. First, the Lottery people planned publicizing his win. Second, if he used his excess money, the money he didn’t turn over to Emily to buy a car and other toys, she’d definitely know something was up. Third was how to move the money into his checking account without arousing suspicion. After all, he couldn’t ask Larry Lefton to do an old pal a favor and include it in his payroll direct deposit.

He spent the day slogging through this troika of problems. He sat at his desk and doodled ideas, none of which seemed workable. Victor Lubeck phoned concerning the big Lubeck’s sale ad appearing in the city and suburban papers. This was a very good day as Victor praised the ad. Gari was a hero and he hoped the accolades would make their way to Larry. Then he caught himself and wondered why he cared, why he should care, since he was independently well-off. Larry could can him tomorrow, today at four if he wished, and it would matter not a bit to Gari.

Or perhaps it would, if he proceeded with his plan to hide his new stash from Emily. It would be better if he had a place to go and the familiar pay deposit to forestall any suspicion on Emily’s part. Then it occurred to him he might make something more of the job. He could give himself a real promotion as the head of a new office out of town. As for the money, well, Larry could be paying it to him in the form of a bonus—maybe quarterly, which would explain why it appeared as a separate deposit. It seemed plausible. Emily was cheap, but she’d never worked outside of the house in her life; she didn’t know how the business world operated. He was the shoe king, wasn’t he? It wasn’t beyond the pale for Larry to elevate him, if he brought in a new shoe account. Of course, he’d have to bring it onboard out of town. They couldn’t service another shoe account in Chicago as it would be competitive with Lubeck’s Shoes. Emily was sufficiently versed in the business to understand this. No, the new account would have to be in another city, a city far, far away. And poor Gari, well, Emily did want him to get ahead. She had been at him to advance himself for the sake of the family. Now he had and there was a price—travel. He’d have to divide his time between Chicago and the new city, the far away city. Distance meant he’d be gone for extended periods, including weekends, especially weekends.

Gari loved the idea, chortled over it, smacked his desk in delight, attracting the attention of a dozen pairs of eyes peering at his cube, attempting to x-ray into his brain to comprehend this reincarnated being, the former sad sack account guy. He hunched as if he actually had to hide and giggled about his secret knowledge.

But… but … but the impending media conference was the monkey wrench in the precision plan he was concocting. Emily wasn’t a television person, but even she gave it an occasional glance. She disliked the expense of newspapers, but she perused them from time to time in the supermarket.

TV will turn out for a mere five million? Sure it was a fortune to him. But in lottery terms, it was pocket change. One hundred million, fifty million, even twenty million—these were news. Five? The day was much too hot to load into the van, drive to the Thompson Center, schlep through the summer sightseers—they busy trying to understand why their elected officials would blow wads of their dough on something that resembled a bunch of sixties school buildings stacked thirteen stories, to watch a slub like Gari gush about a sum any McDonald’s could top in a typical year.

Gari departed his office for the payphone in the lunch joint nearby. He phoned the lottery office and asked for the director. He announced he wasn’t feeling well and would be leaving early for home. When she asked if he’d be in tomorrow, he said he didn’t know. He claimed a chronic condition; it could lay him low for a week or more. She said she was sorry to hear of his illness, wished him well, and, cheerily, said his winning was indeed good fortune. He agreed and asked if she wouldn’t mind sending his check to him.

“Certainly,” she replied, “we have your home address.”

The mention of home sent a spark of terror racing up his spine. There wouldn’t be much of a plan if a quarter-million dollar check appeared in his mailbox.

“Could you send it to me at my office?” he asked.

“Certainly,” she said. “You can change it anytime you wish, Mr. Garibaldi.”

“Good to know,” he replied. He thought he’d be changing it very soon.


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