Friday, January 6, 2012

I feel like a number...

“You know there was a lottery ticket in that box,” my sister said on the car ride to my late Dad’s house.  “Wouldn’t it be funny if it won."

And, of course, our shared Polish superstitions got the best of both of us as we simultaneously started looking for that ticket the minute we flew through the door. 

It’s funny how many collective years of education among the best universities cannot undo deep-seated and irrational beliefs. Or perhaps we just weren't good students of probability.

We both tore through the house looking for the box that contained my father’s belongings from the assisted living facility.  He bought two lottery tickets two days before he died with the jackpot going off the day he died. Talk about instant karma. Perhaps Quik-Pik karma. It took about an hour, many expletives and stumbling over years of accumulated crap, but we found those two tickets.

We are all gamblers. Just in different ways.

In my urban upbringing “the numbers” was an underlying current of everyday life.  It’s now talked about as a collective past time rooting my fellow urbanites back to the unique city that bore us.  Whether it still exists, I do not know.  I found a letter from an old friend of my father recently.  She had written a short story and included it in her mailing.  What was the main idea?  The "numbers racket" that everyone played.

Through the Internet I connected with a ghostwriter/business writer from my old hometown several years ago.  I enjoyed her blogs for their keen observations and her amazing writing ability. When we finally talked on the phone, we joked about the usual misgivings of our shared urban background when she brought up her father’s source of added income.  She related a story that once her father was ill and she had to call the numbers into the local bookie. “Talk about being nervous!” she laughed.  In fact we both laughed, but at the time I am sure it was not  funny.

I also have the charming story of how my fourth grade teacher, a nun with a nervous tick, went around the room asking us what our fathers did for a living.  (Mothers were never considered). The nuns loved these lessons in one-up-manship. There was the usual parade of "fireman," "train conductor" and, of course, the ever-exciting "accountant." A friend stood up and said, “My Dad’s a bookie.”  This sent the Sister into a tizzy even beyond her unusual body language. “Oh he must love the library!” she blurted out.  She blurted out so many odds things it’s a wonder why weren’t all bald from all the head scratching.  We all knew her father wore the uniform of the local police department so I suppressed my usual curiosity until I got home.  “Mom, what’s a bookie?” I asked my mother over Oreos and milk.  “He takes the numbers, for Chrissakes!”  I knew immediately what she meant. I knew the local bookie without even recognizing his title.  My uncle, whose care I was often left with when my mother ran errands, often took me to the local “Knife Sharpening Store” about a block from my house. Who knew we had a lot of dull knives in my neighborhood?  I was only three or four at the time and was learning my alphabet and numbers.  “Pick a number” my uncle used to say to me.  “Thatta a girl” as he smiled at my new found literacy. Little did I know that I was not only getting a lesson in number identification but in local culture as well.  It served me well later as I expanded my fourth grade vocabulary. It serves me well now too as I rattle my brain to shake out topics for this blog and to lighten the load.

My sister and I didn’t win the lottery although she checked the numbers.  I took the tickets home with me.  As a new writer, I know I should always double-check my sources. Sorry, sis.

It’s that chance at luck that keeps all of us going.  We can study all the probabilities in life, sometimes at the greatest of institutions, but we still feel we can and will beat those odds.  Sometimes we pick a winner. If not, we just have to keep going, against all odds.

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