The Lottery and Beyond

I've met some pretty strange people over the years and a few strange couples.  A few years ago we had some neighbors that you might call eccentric.  They were Steve and Sarah Smith and both were retired when they moved next door.


It's not that they weren't friendly because one could always count on a pleasant word and a smile...but they had their ways.  The first few times that I heard them in their backyard with African drums and doing chants I thought they both were drunk.  Then one day I asked Steve what was happening and he said, "I'm trying to communicate with a witch doctor to learn what tomorrow's lottery numbers are."


That was the first time that we learned what gamblers both of them were.  Sarah had said she was active in the church but when I asked her about it I found that she considered church bingo twice a week as being active.  And then Steve told me they went to Atlantic City at least once a month.  They always had money so they must have not lost too much at their gambling activities.


They'd lived next door about six months when Steve's mother came to live with them.  We thought that maybe she would be a calming influence on them but we were wrong.  His mother chewed tobacco and swore like a logger.  She'd sit on the front pouch and see how far she could spit down the sidewalk.  During some of the long summer dry spells the sidewalk would become covered with the remnants of her effort.


And other times a dog or a squirrel would come running down the street and she'd cuss at the little creature as if they could hear her.  She wouldn't go to Atlantic City with them but she'd go with Sarah to play bingo.  One night the two of them caused a real commotion at the church.  They accused the ladies that ran the game of cheating.  Right in front of God and everybody.


It seems that the mother had a photographic memory and after a few games decided that B-4 was missing.  After one of the games she had stormed up to the front and said in a loud voice, "Where's B-4?  There's no B-4 in this game."


The church ladies didn't know what to say.  They insisted that there was a B-4 and that the game was on the level, but the old woman kept up.  "Well if there's a B-4 in this game I want to see it," she insisted.


Finally to placate the woman they stopped play and counted the pieces.  Sure enough, there was only 74.  Soon they were scurrying all around looking for number 75.  Finally one of the workers came out of the office with a sheepish look on her face.  "It must have fallen behind the desk," she said.  The people grumbled for a few minutes but soon the organizers gave everyone two free games and it was back to normal.  I saw Steve's mom a few days later and asked her how she knew.  "I kept track of the numbers in my head the first time," she said, "and when it didn't come up again the second time we went I knew something was wrong."  People never did figure out how long B-4 had been missing.


That whole family loved to play the lottery too.  Sometimes when I was going to the store Steve's mom would stop me and ask if I'd buy her a few tickets for the next lottery.  She always said that if she ever won she'd give me ten percent just for getting the tickets.  Occasionally we'd all go out for Chinese food and when the fortune cookies came they always wanted to take the little pieces of paper home because they had lottery numbers printed on the back.  It was like they believed that one of those numbers was the winner.


We were more than happy for them to take the cookies because they had another game they played.  They insisted that everyone add, "...between the sheets," to their fortune.  I'll admit it was amusing but Steve's mom would let out with this throaty laugh that had everyone turning to look.  By the time we finished I was expecting to be asked to leave.  I was happy for them to take the evidence.


I didn't know how serious they were about their lottery until Steve's mom passed away.  It was somewhat sudden but she was up in years.  But the real shock came a few weeks after she'd passed away and I saw the two of them coming home one Sunday afternoon.  "How you folks doing?" I asked as they pulled into their driveway.


"Oh just fine," Sarah said, "We've just come from mother Smith's grave with our Ouija board."


"My goodness, what were you doing there?" I blurted.


"Trying to get the lottery numbers," Steve replied, "and I think we're on to something this time."


Well the weeks passed and we never heard any wild parties from over there such you'd have expected if they had won.  But I should have expected that Steve wouldn't give up so easily.  One day he call over the back fence and asked me if I wanted to see his latest invention.


"Might as well," I thought as I opened the gate.  We walked over to his garage and I couldn't believe my eyes.  Here was a replica of the inside of one of the Shop-N-Goes in our neighborhood.  It was complete with counters, shelves, and all of the lottery signs.  In the middle of the room was a strange looking chair.  It was wired with lights and electrical rods. 


The first thing I thought about was the electric chair for an execution.  "Looks like you're getting ready to execute someone at the local market," I exclaimed.


"Oh not at all,"  Steve answered, "I'm going to use this to have mom tell me what the lottery numbers are when it's finished."


"OK but I sure hope you don't hurt yourself with this thing," I cautioned as I turned and headed home.


I didn't think much more about Steve's contraption for three or four weeks but one day I noticed that no one had won the lottery for several times and it was approaching 10 million dollars.  I knew Steve would be chomping-at-the-bit to win that money.

One day I saw him in the back yard and asked him how his machine was coming.  "Great!" he said, "Why don't you come over and see for yourself?"


I finished raking a few leaves and eased over toward the garage.  When I got there Steve was in the chair and the power was on.  His eyes were closed and all these transformers were humming and lights were blinking.  After a couple of minutes everything shut down and Steve stood up light nothing had happened.  "I've got them now," he said as he jotted a list of numbers on a piece of paper.


I was getting fascinated about this whole thing.  The next day I saw in the paper that someone the other side of the State had won the lottery.  That afternoon I saw the garage door was open and walked over to commiserate with Steve.  He wasn't in a very good mood which is what I expected.  But what surprised me the most was that he had won second place with five of the six correct numbers.  Of course that only paid him a thousand and he was really upset.  He kept saying over and over, "I thought it was a six and it was an eight.  If only my eyesight had been better!"  It was really getting scary if he'd come that close but he showed me the ticket and he had missed sharing the ten million dollars by only a tiny sliver.


"Are you going to try again?"  I asked.


"Not until it gets back up around ten million," he replied, "If I do win I want it to mean something."


Unfortunately a few nights later we were awakened during the night by the sounds of fire engines.  Steve's garage was on fire.  It didn't take them long to put it out but everything inside was destroyed.  We all were grateful that there wasn't a loss of houses or life but Steve was very disappointed about his machine.


What surprised me the most was that he never rebuilt it.  When I asked him about it he said that his late mom must have known something he didn't and they weren't meant to have the big money.  A few months later Steve and Sarah moved to Florida and we never heard from them again.  I guess he never tried to win the lottery again or if he did he was going to just leave it up to luck.  Good luck to you.