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“Easy come, easy go,” is what I told myself all the way home. It’s not like I ever really had the money, so I couldn’t really lose it. Still, my pockets felt mighty empty walking home.
But, whatever feelings I had that I might have made a mistake were erased as I stepped in the door. “Shhh,” my mother insisted, “your father’s on TV.”
Sure enough, there was Dad being interviewed on a local news program. “It doesn’t matter, Connie,” he was saying to the host of the program, “the lottery is nothing but gambling – backed and encouraged by your tax dollars.”
The woman seated next to him started to talk, but Dad went right on. “You know what really bothers me? The fact that our government runs advertisements encouraging people to gamble.”
The woman spoke up. “Still, I’d rather have the government run the lottery and have the money go to education than have organized crime run it and have the money go to them.”
“Oh, Laureen,” my father said, “You might as well say that the government ought to start selling cocaine because it’s better than having criminals do it. And then you’d see advertisements telling you how great cocaine is! That’s exactly the situation we’re in with the lottery.”
The host jumped in to point out that the lottery wasn’t exactly the same as selling drugs, but my father was just gathering steam. Knowing that the lottery ticket was out of my hands made it a lot easier for me to watch the rest of the program.
That afternoon, when my father came home – still with a patch of makeup from the TV appearance on his forehead – we all told him what a great job he had done.
“The producers of the show thought I did pretty well, too,” he said, obviously quite pleased about something. “In fact,” he added, pausing to keep us in suspense, “they want me to create a special debate on the topic ‘Lottery: Yes or No.’ And I’d be the spokesperson for the No side.”
“That’s wonderful,” said my mother.
“What’s a ‘nose hide’?” my sister asked.
“What’s a nose hide?” I asked, completely confused. “Boogers?”
“No, no” my mother said, “Maddie wants to know what a ‘No side’ is. It’s someone who disagrees with something. He’s on the side that says No. That’s all.”
I liked my answer better.
“Can I be on the TV show?” asked Maddie.
Dad and Mom laughed. “Maybe when you’re older. It’s really for grownups.”
“But that’s not all,” my father said. “If it goes well, they think they’d like me to host a whole series!”
“My daddy the TT star!” said Maddie. We all laughed because “TT” had been my old nanny’s cute way of saying “TV.” Maddie hadn’t ever met her, but Aunt Flo (as we called her) lived on in family legend, along with one of my grandfather’s old hat customers who used to recite the poem “Hiawatha” to me whenever I saw him. And there was my father’s childhood dog Whiskers who once ate an entire plate of brownies off the kitchen table and then knocked over a glass of milk and drank it. I suppose every family has a set of characters that somehow get turned into legends like this.
With my father becoming more and more famous for his anti-lottery stand, the fact that I’d probably never see that lottery ticket again should have been a relief. But I lay in bed unable to sleep for over an hour that night, thinking about what I could have done with a hundred and eleven million dollars. I mainly thought of really dumb things like buying a yacht and completely filling it with those plastic egg-like containers you get from the quarter vending machines. Would $111,000,000 – 440 million of the containers – be enough? It’s really hard to figure. Besides, if it took ten seconds to put a quarter in and turn the handle, it would take 1,222,222 hours just to get them all. That’s over 50,000 days. That’s over 139 years. I fell asleep as I was figuring in Leap Years. Then I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about buying a collection of the world’s best electric guitars, with every musical gadget ever invented. I tried listing them to put myself to sleep, and had gotten up to treble boosting wah-wah’s with bass thumper reverb, when I finally dropped off.
I woke up feeling like I had lost something. Only after shaking my head a couple of times did I realize that I was feeling the loss of the hundred and eleven million dollars I never actually had.
On Mondays, I usually feel rich because I have my five dollars of allowance in my pocket. But this Monday I felt poor because what’s $5 compared to the one hundred and eleven million dollars I didn’t have?
Our gym teacher let us out ten minutes early, and I hooked up with Ari outside, watching some of the older kids shoot hoops. We could have tried to join, but seeing them sigh and roll their eyes made it not worth even asking. So we just sat on our heels and talked. Ari told me about a really annoying visit to his uncle during which his father and uncle almost got into a fistfight over a stupid ping pong game. When he was done, he said, “So, what did you do this weekend?”
I almost replied, “Won a hundred and eleven million dollars. And then gave it to this lady who looks like a starship.” But there seemed no point. More important, I discovered that a part of me was still thinking that Mrs. Fordgythe might actually show up with the money.
People are funny, aren’t we? Or maybe not funny so much as just complicated. Here I was feeling poor because I was convinced I never was going to see the lottery money again, but another part of me was saying, “Now, don’t be too hasty. You may get the money after all.”
I can’t figure me out. How can anyone expect me to figure out other people?
Especially Ari. Monday night we had another rehearsal of our band. When I got there, you didn’t have to be a member of the Psychic Friends Network to know that something was bothering Ari. He was sitting on an old coffee table that had been in his garage forever, studying his shoelaces, and barely lifted his head to say hello. Mimi was reading an old copy of People magazine.
“Hey, Ari,” I said. “What’s bothering you?”
This is all part of the ritual we all seem to go through. Boys, anyway. When someone asks what’s bothering you, you always have to deny that anything is wrong at least three times before you can admit it. Ari, being Ari, however, didn’t quite play along. I only had to ask him one more time.
I wasn’t prepared for what he had to say, though. I expected something like: “I just realized that Wiley Coyote isn’t ever going to catch the Roadrunner,” or “My parents won’t let me paint my room black,” or even “I think my athlete’s foot has spread to my liver.”
I was not ready for: “I’m in love.”
As a little tiny chuckle escaped me – I really should get credit for not laughing out loud right in his face – it struck me that I wasn’t being fair. What was wrong with Ari falling in love? Sure, he acted odd, and had strange ways of expressing himself, but he had feelings like anyone else. And, more to the point, he was allowed to make as big a jerk out of himself as anyone else. I’m not saying that everyone who falls in love is a jerk. Some people become jerks once they fall in love. That’s been my experience so far, anyway. (“Wait until it happens to you,” is what my twenty-year-old cousin Melinda says, and she’s not a jerk.)
“In love?” I said. “I thought that was supposed to make you happy.”
“Me too. But only if she loves you back.”
“Amanda Dunn?” Mimi and I both asked at the same time. This wasn’t funny. This was bizarre. And maybe even dangerous.
Ari just looked at his sneakers and nodded to them glumly.
“Amanda Dunn,” I said again. Amanda Dunn-it as she was known because if you named something you’d always wanted to do, Amanda had done it. Wind surfing, backstage pass to a top concert, a first class flight to Bermuda to go scuba diving with a private tutor, have your own credit card…Amanda’s Done It. Her parents owned the Dunn Regency, Dunn Manufacturing, the Dunn Towers, Dunn Estates and Dunn Village – an apartment building, an office building, a community of houses, and an apartment block mainly occupied by old people. All had the name “Dunn” written on them in the same ugly cursive script taller than Stretch Levine, our star basketball player. My father had published a couple of articles about Dunn Village because some people claimed that Mr. Dunn was letting the place get run down so that the old people there would leave and the Dunns could rent the apartments to people with more money. There was no hard proof, but I believed it anyway.
Amanda’s life seemed to revolve around the fact that her family was rich. There were the big things like the fact that she was always perfectly dressed and looked down on anyone she thought wasn’t her equal. And there were the little things like the fact that she started every day with a new ballpoint pen, not even trying to use up the old one.
Ari and Amanda? Hard to imagine.
And it was just as hard to imagine what Ari saw in Amanda. Ari didn’t care about clothes. That was obvious from how he dressed. He didn’t care about money, so long as he had enough to buy a triple shake at the Soda Squirt. Ari didn’t even care about girls – at least until now.
So, after pretending to be suddenly fascinated by an oil can on the window of Ari’s garage so that I could keep my head turned away from him as I put on a proper expression, I said calmly, “Oh really? When did this start?”
Ari sat on his amplifier, his skinny legs swinging in his very wide shorts. “Forever,” he said in a dreamy sort of voice as if he was talking not to me but to the clouds. “Or yesterday.”
“Well, I was skateboarding home.” That would explain the scabs on his knees, elbows and hands, and the scratches on his cheek, arms and ankle – Mrs. Rumple’s sticker bush always seemed to catch him. “And there she was, walking with Lydia Marmon. We were on Hillside Hill, so we were going about the same speed. So I could hear her talking.” He said “her” as if he he was not worthy of saying her name. His eyes were wet and melty.
After watching this longer than I wanted to, I prodded him. “And what was she saying?”
“It was like bells. Little silvery bells.”
“And what was she talking about?”
“About the dance. Ah, the dance …” Ari drifted off, probably thinking about whisking her around the dance floor in a swirl of glitter.
“What about the dance?”
“She can’t go,” he said.
“Her father’s grounded her. The rogue!” His face was turning red with anger. I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone use the term “rogue” before.
“She lost her father’s Terwilliger Spoon.”
“Terwilliger Spoon. I’m pretty sure that’s what she said. Her voice was so silvery….”
Before he could get lost in the memory of her tinkling voice, I sharpened my tone and asked, “Do you know what that is?”
“I think it was something that was passed down in his family. Mr. Dunn collects spoons. She said something like, ‘At least I didn’t borrow one of the spoons with jewels in it,’ so I guess some have diamonds and rubies in them.”
“Why did she borrow it?”
“For a little tea party she was giving. Maybe someday she’ll invite me to one …”
As far as I knew, Ari wouldn’t know which end of a teapot to pour from. Love does strange things to people.
Suddenly, it was as if Ari heard how dopey he sounded. He blushed. “Let’s practice,” he insisted, and he wouldn’t let us stop for two hours.
Have I mentioned that love does strange things to people?