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I found it both annoying and typical of my father that he didn’t run a photo of the Big Birding of Selectman Byrd in The Gaz. He said that he didn’t feel it was “appropriate” for his newspaper to run a picture that would embarrass someone, especially since it might be seen as my father trying to get back at him.
I guess I understand that. Even so, I had been looking forward to seeing the photo smack dab in the middle of the front page.
The Register ran it on the front page. To make matters worse, the caption said the newspaper was “investigating the mastermind behind the stunt.” I guess that would be me. And since The Register was also investigating The Fordgythe Foundation, I must have been #1 on their Most Wanted List, although they of course didn’t know that.
Then there was the lottery debate. It was coming up soon. My father was getting more and more nervous about it. He had been collecting information for months. Now he was muttering to himself possible questions and answers, correcting himself to himself, and then restating the answer to himself.
Finally, one more event was driving my father crazy. At the center of the latest issue of The Register were 16 pages of ads, all from the Red Mount “You Want It, We Got It” MultiStore. And on every page, advertising everything from tents to French pastry, there was a big, colorful coupon: “Take an extra 10% off.” That’s the type of ad that gets people to buy newspapers. Or so said my father, as he muttered and sputtered.
In fact, my kind, gentle, caring, loving father had actually yelled at me. He never yelled, much less over something like leaving my breakfast dishes on the table. In fact, he didn’t really yell this time, if by “yell” you mean “make your voice get loud.” But he said, “Clear your dishes” with a tone that wasn’t kind, gentle or caring. Sort of stern, the way the captain of a ship might say, “I told you once before, you point the cannon away from the ship.” Something like that. But, in any case, it wasn’t like my father. He was feeling the pressure.
Ari, Mimi and I sat in my room and played a video game that I’d bought for Ari and he’d thoughtfully brought with him. Both he and Mimi were kicking my butt. I might as well have been playing while trying to get into my good sports jacket which was two sizes too small and completely out of fashion anyway. Still, the only time I ever wore it was to Grown Up events where it really doesn’t matter what you look like anyway. Not that this has anything to do with how badly I was playing.
“What can we do?” asked Ari, adding another 500 points to his score.
“About the advertising? I don’t know.”
“I hate that Red Mount store,” Mimi said. “It’s too big. If you’re in sporting goods and remember that you forgot to pick up toothpaste, it’s like a four mile march back.”
“And then you remember that you forgot pine scented room deodorant,” said Ari. We looked at him. If you’d ever been in Ari’s room, you’d know why he was looking for room deodorizer.
“We could pay people not to go there,” Mimi said, knowing as she said it that it wasn’t a very good idea.
“We could phone in skunk reports,” Ari said. “You know, we call the police and tell them that we’ve seen skunks there. They’d clear the building and…”
“Ari,” I said, “I don’t think they clear buildings when someone reports a skunk sighting.”
“Well, they ought to.”
Ari was now approximately a bazillion points ahead of me in the video game.
“We could offer Red Mount the same deal as Mr. Dunn did and get them to advertise in The Gaz,” Mimi suggested.
“My dad says that Red Mount’s contract probably says they’ll only advertise in The Register.”
“So, do you have a better idea?” Mimi asked. She must have been feeling the pressure, too.
“No, not really. I’d just rather do something positive to get more people advertising in The Gaz instead of skunking The Register, if you know what I mean.”
“I thought you said skunking wasn’t a good idea,” Ari said.
“It was just a figure of speech.”
“Why not do the same thing for some other store,” Ari said as the video game clanged another 1,000 points onto his score. “You know, like the Game Dungeon.”
“You know,” said Mimi, “that’s not such a bad idea.”
“Yeah,” said Ari, “The Game Dungeon is such a great store.”
“But not just for the Game Dungeon,” Mimi continued. “For all the local stores.”
“All of them?”
“All of them that advertise in The Gaz.”
“I like it,” I said. “It’s positive and it’s local. But I’m not sure it’s quite right.”
“I don’t know. I’m just not sure it’s going to work.”
“Then how about beating the 10% discount The Register is giving,” Mimi said. “Interesting,” I said, “but why would the Fordgythe Foundation want to make it cheaper for you to buy asparagus and toilet paper?”
“Because they make such a delicious salad together?” Mimi suggested.
I was doing the last of my homework that night when I had an idea. It could work, but only if Ms. Minden helped.
I went to see her after school on Monday. As I parked my bike in the alley beside the bank because I didn’t want people to notice how much time I was spending there, I thought I saw someone duck out of the way, as if he didn’t want me to see him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw dark pants, white sneakers, and what looked like antennae coming out of his head. It must have been my imagination, I told myself.
Inside, Julia took me into a private office and I told her our plan.
“Cool!” she said. “But it’s going to be a little tricky to arrange.”
“I think I know what to do. Just leave it to me.”
“No one can know it’s coming from me.”
“Of course. The money is going to come from the Fordgythe Foundation, naturally.”
“It should happen pretty quickly. The Gaz can’t survive too long if it doesn’t have advertisers…”
“I understand. Let me draw up a plan and give it to you.”
I liked the sound of that. Mimi, Ari and I hadn’t drawn up plans. We’d just had ideas and done stuff. Julia was really working out.
So, I was feeling better when I came home that afternoon. But that didn’t last long. When I walked in, my father was pacing the living room floor, reading out loud from some pages he’d printed, and my mother was sitting in a chair.
My mother said, “No, no, I don’t think you should say that playing the lottery is like throwing your money away, because to the people who play the lottery, it doesn’t feel like that at all. They think they’re buying a chance to win millions of dollars, not throwing their money away.”
“But they have no chance of winning!” my father said.
“But they do have a chance. A tiny chance, but a chance.”
“But it’s not a chance worth spending money on.”
“No, of course not. But the people who play the lottery think they’re buying a small chance so when you say that they’re not buying any chance, they’re going to stop listening to you.”
“I’m not going to lie to them and tell them that they’re buying something worthwhile when they buy a lottery ticket.”
“Of course not,” my mother said patiently. “I’m not saying you should. But you’re telling them that there’s no chance of winning, but there really is a chance, it’s just a tiny tiny tiny chance. You’re not talking from their point of view and so they won’t listen to you.”
“I don’t want to talk from their point of view because their point of view is ridiculous,” my father said.
“And if that’s your attitude – that the million people who buy a lottery ticket every week are stupid and ridiculous – then you’re never going to get listened to. You don’t have to agree with them to talk to them from their point of view. You know that. That’s why you’re such a good writer.”
“I don’t even know what you’re saying any more,” my father said. “You want me to speak from their point of view but not speak from their point of view, and tell them they have a chance to win the lottery when they don’t…”
“I actually haven’t said any of those things,” my mother said, forcing herself to be patient. “But I think maybe this isn’t such a good time for me to listen to what you plan on saying. Maybe in a day or two.”
“Fine, if you don’t want to help me…”
“You know that’s not true. Let’s just do this later.” And with that, my mother left the living room.
My dad really isn’t the jerk who was practicing for the debate. It was as if an alien jerk had invaded his body. I guess nervousness will do that to you.
My father was still pacing, scratching at the printout he had been reading from. I went upstairs and did my homework.
The next morning, as I rode to school, I noticed Julia in her car, waving to me. I pulled up next to her.
“Here it is,” she said, handing me an envelope.
“Excellent!” I said, tucking it carefully it into my backpack.
She drove away. And I thought I saw someone with antennae coming out of his head duck into the garage across the street.
It must have been my imagination.
But of course it wasn’t.