Secrets of the Lottery Winner

Secrets of the Lottery Winner


Gari viewed Victor Lubeck as a swami of cheapness. He was a real Pole, a refugee from post-war Warsaw who fled in the arms of the Blessed Gregor with the Russians nipping at their heels. “This close,” he’d illustrate with pinched fingers, concluding with the testament to good shoes uttered by Gregor the Great: “The boots, good boots, off a dead German son-of-a-bitch, the boots they saved us. That’s why I sell shoes, you know.” However, it didn’t explain why Victor was in the cheap shoe business. Nevertheless, Victor deserved a left-hand compliment of sorts: If Emily required advanced lessons on niggardliness, though she was horrifically adept on her own merit, she could find no better mentor than Victor Lubeck.

Victor was personally cheap to the point where Gari often felt himself extravagant in the presence of the man. He never saw Victor in anything but rumpled suits, spotted shirts, stained ties, and worse, considering his business, scuffed shoes, sometimes with holes in the soles, which Gari couldn’t miss as the man was in the habit of sitting with a calf perched on a knee, as if so expansively endowed he couldn’t cross his legs completely.

Sure Lubeck’s Shoes was the agency’s biggest account in billed dollars; but shrewd, miserly Victor extracted twice the service as other clients, rendering the account below average in profitability. Larry Lefton cared about this; however, he regarded Lubeck’s Shoes as prestigious and he liked how its revenue inflated his agency’s reported billings; for Larry, it was like wearing elevator shoes so he didn’t feel such a crawfish in a town of jumbo lobsters. Consequently, Gari tread carefully with Victor. Antagonizing the man threatened the account and a jeopardized Lubeck’s account would cost him his job, which wouldn’t have particularly troubled Gari now that he was rich and engaged in the grand plan of enjoying his wealth; except, of course, he needed the front. Consequently, Gari’s afternoon trip was a daring expedition.

“Remember, the clock is ticking,” Victor barked, dividing his gaze between Gari, anxious in the chair fronting his desk, and his watch.

The proposition was simple. Gari explained how Victor could save money and vastly improve the effectiveness of every marketing dollar by employing store mapping and direct mail. He said it was an application of the eighty-twenty rule, which as far as Gari could see governed every aspect of life. Only a handful of people within the trading areas of Lubeck’s stores, he contended, were good customers, core in business lingo. Identifying them was the trick. Then ensuring they bought their shoes exclusively from Lubeck’s would be a snap. How to accomplish this feat? Present them with special offers they couldn’t resist.

“Like in that movie,” said Victor, “An offer you can’t refuse!”

When he considered Gari’s argument, Victor was somewhat like Godfather Brando—large, lumbering, and quietly deadly, at least as concerned Gary’s career, which he couldn’t believe he was actually worrying about, in light of circumstances.

“Sure,” Gari said in happy agreement, advancing the idea with the magic marketing word: database. “All you have to do is have your clerks capture the names and addresses of customers each time they make purchases. Then you stick the information in a computer. After you’ve accumulated enough information, you do a little analyzing; you know, look for people who buy regularly. Figure out what they buy and when. After that, it’s just a matter of sending them reminder postcards to shop for their shoes at Lubeck’s. You can dress it up too with a Lubeck’s Special Customer’s Club. Maybe give them a free pair of shoes for every five they buy.”

“Ten,” Victor declared decisively. “Ten there’s more profit and they’ll be happy. We’ll do some of those cards in Polish for the store on Milwaukee.” Victor quieted and occupied himself with the brushing of his ample self, as if this might add a shine to his genius. “What about the advertising?”

“Absolutely have to advertise, Mr. Lubeck.”

Victor shifted in his chair, apparently uncomfortable, reminding Gari of the baboon at Lincoln Park Zoo shifting from foot to foot, swiping a puddle of what looked like its own piss with each pass until the liquid dripped from his rump hair.

“Of course, you won’t have to do nearly as much. But some, since you’ll want to keep the Lubeck’s brand out there. It’s important for snagging new customers.”

Victor grunted, “Makes sense. So, what’s the bottom line? I got to spend more with Lefton for this?”

Gari was experiencing a new and confusing sensation. His heart raced; his palms sweated; his face flushed; he found sitting without fidgeting challenging. He could be on the verge of a heart attack, or a stroke, or might have contracted an exotic disease in the cab on the way over. What a time to drop dead, he agonized, until he understood he was in the throes of full-blown exhilaration brought on by … by success. It was like winning the Illinois Lottery again, but by virtue of merit this time.

“You okay there, Garibaldi?”

Gari reined himself, rubbed his hands on his pants, and said, “Sure, sure, just the heat,” though the room was an Artic experience without the inconvenience of travel. Gari continued, “Actually, in the beginning, you will spend less than now.”

“How’s that? Larry Lefton doesn’t do anything for free. The son of a bitch is a bigger tighterwad than me.” Gari detected a hint of respect.

“Very perceptive of you, Mr. Lubeck. We expect to make a considerable profit on this. No doubt about it. You see, we’re suggesting we run this as an experiment. You pay for materials and processing work. No creative charges. We take five percent of the gross receipts generated by the program. We make money only when you do.”

“So this might cost me more?”

“Maybe, if we’re lucky. In which case, you’ll also make more. And you’ll always be ahead. You see, we share in the gain and the pain.”

Victor chewed this cud for a while, gnawing his lower lip with such vigor Gari prepared to dash out of range of the bloody gusher he expected at any moment.

“I like it,” he mumbled, finally, his lip intact. He cleared his throat loudly, almost as if he’d nipped off the bit of his tongue and it had slid down his gullet. “I guess my letter got Larry off his ass.”

This jarred and deflated Gari’s contained exuberance. Perhaps he was leaping, but it appeared this account was in jeopardy and Larry hadn’t leveled with him, the guy who’s supposing to be managing it. What was Larry waiting for, for Lubeck’s to walk?

Gari shuddered, understanding fully what such an event would mean for him. Even being Illinois’ newest millionaire—no one had won since he had and the pot was building and he was continuing to buy lottery tickets as he believed, as in nature, lightening could strike twice, and a man could never be too rich, as this apparently duplicitous holdback on the part of Larry Lefton proved—did not soften the verity that Larry Lefton planned to cut him loose if Lubeck’s severed ties with the agency; though those who, in his estimation, should go were Lefton’s creative chowderheads. And here he was saving Larry’s ass. He had a mind to tell Victor to forget everything he’d said. But he couldn’t, because reality set in hard: He needed the job—not for the money but to perpetuate the grand deception that was becoming his life.

“I’ll take this back to Larry …”

“Wait there, he doesn’t know about your plan.”

“Your plan” resonated in his ears like the sweet breath of strummed violins. It represented luscious recognition of his ability to think on his feet, to devise plans agreeable to shrewd old bastards the caliber of Victor Lubeck, to validate he was more than a maligned bag carrier; he, rather, was a man with business know-how. He would have delighted in lingering over the phrase and its meaning and the elation it brought him, but the context in which it had appeared, while cool and controlled, was laced with suspicion that, perhaps, was more … was understanding that what had transpired was Gari Garibaldi operating on the fly.

As much as he wished to assume full credit for the plan, he knew he couldn’t. Doing so would not set well with Lubeck or Larry, and Gari didn’t need both angry with him.

“Certainly he knows. He and I brainstormed together.” Uttering these words was about as pleasant as a proctologist probing his colon, but he had no choice. “I just need to let him know you agree and come back to you with a written proposal. You know, formalize it.”

Victor grunted. “With numbers in it. Good numbers, Garibaldi.”

Oh, they’d be good all right, thought Gary, exiting Victor’s office.

Normally, Gari would have zipped to the train station and gone directly home. Why give more to Lefton & Associates than necessary? He received nothing but a meager living in return. But his meeting had set him ablaze. He was a hunk of white hot metal burning with inspiration and drive. So, it was back to the office, where exiting colleagues found it necessary to point out he was heading in the wrong direction. He smiled and waved and enjoyed a new sensation as a Lefton employee: He had a purpose.

He fired up his computer, opened a blank document page, drummed his desk for a moment as he contemplated the blinking cursor, and finally keyed in a title: A Plan for Increasing Business and Efficiency at Lubeck’s Shoes, Prepared by Gari Garibaldi, Account Manager. For the next two hours he tapped his ideas into a ten-page proposal he regarded as pure wizardry. He decided to print it and take it home to Emily as proof both of his business acumen and his rise in the organization. But before he hit print, he revisited the cover page and changed his title to Vice President & Management Supervisor, which he esteemed he should be and would be upon selling the idea to Larry Lefton and securing Victor Lubeck’s final agreement. That this successful sequence mattered to him sent him home happily perplexed.

* * *

Gari walked through the door at eight and faced a clearly unhappy Emily, fresh from wrestling the boys into bed, fighting mightily their protests, “Not until Daddy gets home,” and “We want Daddy to put us to bed.”

She began, “Thank you very much for the courtesy of a phone call. You had me thinking you were headed back to L.A.”

What registered with Gari was: She’s obsessed with L.A. What does she think I’m doing out there? He knew the answer, and was startled she asked the question, as if he really was doing something out there—useful, that is, other than gratifying of his libido.

He produced his proposal and held it high, as if it was a placard proclaiming a surprising and important pronouncement. And in a way it did, that being he’d really made it and he was really accomplishing something and his life wasn’t worthless, as he suspected she thought before he’d sprung the big promotion on her.

She squinted at the cover page. “You told me you had this new Vanny’s account in L.A., and Brick was handling things for you? So what’s this for Lubeck’s?”

He answered by sliding an index finger back and forth, back and forth across his title: Vice President & Management Supervisor. “It means I’m responsible for more than one account.”

“What about Brick?”

“Brick handles the day to day stuff, Emily. I thought I explained that. Basically, he’s the bag carrier. He’s the guy who makes up the timetables. He helps me. But strategy, Emily, it’s all me,” he declaimed with some pride, pushing his freshly printed proposal at her. “Look for yourself. Let me know what you think.” He felt he needed an opinion as to whether the meat he’d hung on the skeleton he’d presented to Lubeck was substance enough. Maybe he was only imagining it was good. While Emily was a housewife, a homemaker, the little woman, and Gari railed at her tightfisted control of the household economy, he also respected the skill with which she planned and executed her cheapness.

“I don’t have time for this,” she said, grabbing the proposal and flourishing it to make her point.

“Teddy and Sammy are in bed. It’s early. Ten minutes. Fifteen tops. You’ll really be helping me. You know, supporting the big guy,” he said, turning the request into playfulness.

“The pans are in the sink. The dishwasher’s done.”

“I’ll take care of them. You read.”

She sat in the family room and read, while he emptied the dishwasher and scrubbed the pots. She’d prepared macaroni and cheese for the boys and had neglected the pot and the cheese was glued to the bottom. He was scrubbing away the scum when she sidled up to him.

“It’s good, Gari.”

“You finished fast. You think so?”

She wanted to say she never believed he had it in him the way he always wanted to toss around money and laze at home. But this was her new husband and his transformation had elevated her respect for him.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Spend less on each customer. Make more on each sale. What’s not to like?”

Plenty, thought Gari. Like a shift of revenue from tried and true media billing to less certain receipts. Like convincing squeaky-tight Victor Lubeck to give up a piece of his shoe action. Tough sells, he knew. “Why couldn’t you be Larry Lefton for a day?”

“If I was, I’d say yes to this. And I wouldn’t allow my married employees to work past five.”

Her tone was light, but Gari knew there was no levity in the comment. He defused whatever rancor she might have had with: “The fate of the single.”

“That’s what they’re made for. Besides, it’d keep them out of trouble.”

He laughed. “You missed your calling. You should have been in human resources.”

She smiled, “Maybe I’ll get another chance when the boys are bigger. When you’re done, come up stairs.”

“I probably should look this over another time. You know, edit to perfection.”

“You owe me,” she said.

More than I hope you ever realize. “I’m right behind you.”

The next morning on the train it occurred to him that life as a rich man was work. True, it was of a different sort than he had been used to. For years he dreamed winning the lottery—which he always imagined as winning big, huge—translated directly into quitting the work-a-day world and entering the stratospheric realm of the leisured few. But here he was on the same train headed to the same office, and even earlier than was usual in the past. What in the world had changed?

Well, really, if he wasn’t intent on leading a double life, if he wasn’t married to Emily, he would not have to trek to his desk at Lefton & Associates.

This particular commute, though, was different than all his others. He wasn’t merely traveling to plop at a desk and rot for eight hours, nine counting lunch. Today, he planned to make his mark at Lefton & Associates. Stealthily, he reached his hand to the side of his thigh on the window side and pinched himself.

His plan was damned sound. It was the right way to handle Lubeck. Lubeck’s agreement said it all. With Victor, the details were nits he was sure the two could resolve. Whatever Lubeck was, he was shrewd.

The problem was Larry. He was stupid when it came to business. Okay, stupid, idiot, dumbbell—these words were inappropriate. Gari understood they were expressions of his resentment. But, it wouldn’t be too much to say Larry lacked vision. He was a man of the moment for whom the immediate encompassed all. To Gari the size of the agency, a pipsqueak of a shop in a big market like Chicago, was proof. Then there was the quality of the personnel, especially the woefully misnamed creative department. The group performed terribly on the Lubeck’s account. He was certain, and had been for years, that they had stunted his advancement in the business. It was his excuse—no, his reason as he saw it, his perfectly understandable reason—for being trapped all these years at Lefton & Associates.

Who would hire a guy who essentially had fulfilled the role of mere bag carrier on a hack account? Nobody, and so he’d never bothered looking, though Emily, early on, had encouraged him to explore his options—her words; she gave up after several years of strenuous effort. He couldn’t recall clearly but he suspected she’d intensified her crusade of frugality about that time. He thought more kindly of Emily. She had recognized his promise, encouraged him, and resorted to her characteristic cheapness as a kind of family self-defense.

As far as she knew, he’d finally lived up to her expectations. He had, sort of, by sheer luck, hunger, and the 7-Eleven. At least he was bringing home some of the money. But just money would not cut it with her. She valued the enterprise—his enterprise—as much as the money. On this score, he knew she’d be disappointed in him. Thus, he concluded he had done the right thing in keeping his lottery win a secret. But now he had to make good on the second half by actually advancing.


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