Friday, March 30, 2012

I See Snow, People...

(And just so you know, I'm not dogging it here -- this must necessarily be a shorter entry, because John and I are in a motel room in Rochester, and unlike home, where I can stay up until 2 am if I need to, here that's not an option...)

It's about lotteries, and weather, tonight.

Well, at about this time, someone is probably wondering if they're crazy, and checking the ticket numbers a thousand times, and then sitting frozen, no knowing what to do next -- or at least, I know that would be me, if I were in my living room with a little slip of paper in my hands, that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  What a challenge, hmmm?  One I'll bet most of us wouldn't mind cutting to the front of the line, to volunteer to face. 

I did buy $7 worth of quick-pick tix, because some unreliable astrologer told me my lucky number is seven.  Then I found out that quick picks usually don't win.  So there you are.  John plays some steady numbers -- birthdays, phone numbers, that sort of thing.  Neither one of us tends to get even one number 'correct'.  It's almost magical, like having a lawn filled only with dandelions.

And I recall the first lottery I ever played.  I was working for Corning Glass, in State College PA, making glass television tubes, and Pennsylvania was instituting its first ever lottery.  I forget the monetary details, but I think tickets were 50 cents.  The jackpot might have been... $2 million?  Some sum for which most lottery players wouldn't even cross the street today.  But in 1973, this was still a ponderous amount of money.  So I bought a ticket.  (It didn't occur to me to buy more than one.  I'm far to Presbyterian for that.  If God wants me to win, one ticket will do.  Besides, He's already decided, so why push it?) 

And then, while I was doing my daily chore of dropping two funnel-shaped pieces of glass into a series of grinding machines, and then hooking them onto a grasping hook, as the ground edges were slowly lowered into a bath of sulphuric and hydrofluoric acids, to seal the roughened surfaces, I daydreamed.  I daydreamed about who I would help with all that money.  How much I would share with which particular friend or family member.  Feeling flashes of guilt when I realized that I'd left someone out.  And so I'd have to start all over again, calculating, while the glass funnels kept coming along on their overhead conveyor belt that looked like a ski lift for Lilliputians.  (I once calculated that, given the average weight of 10 lb. per funnel, and handling two funnels at once, and picking each funnel up at least six times, and having daily runs of 1000 funnels by the time the quitting buzzer rang, I was picking up, on average, three tons of glass a day.  This calculating having taken place before the lottery stole my attention)

As the day of the actual drawing approached, I rewrote my allocations more and more feverishly, in greater detail.  My awful third-grade teacher would have been amazed at how adept I had become at doing mental arithmetic.  I also refined the unquestionable moral value that my winning would have, certain that these plans of mine would...  But wait...

Only days before the lucky winning numbers were to be drawn, I had a horrible thought.  No matter how exquisite my plans were -- no matter how many starving orphans in Bangaladesh I was promising to save -- my chances of winning this lump of money were no better than that of the sleaziest, most revolting reprobate that ever slimed down the dirtiest alley in Philadelphia, to do something unspeakable, again.  This was a terrible slap in the face, metaphorically.  (Well, maybe there was the tiniest splash of that acid bath...)  All that calculation, and for what?  All those mathematical gyrations, for whose benefit?  I realized that I'd been trying to seduce Fate, or Luck, or God, or some primitive computer in Harrisburg.  My daydreams (which did, actually, include at least one pleasure trip, so I wasn't being totally foolish) instantly began to deflate, like a punctured hot air balloon.  When the actual drawing was held, I listlessly went to check the numbers on the company bulletin board (everyone had bought tickets; everyone wanted to call in wealthy the next day), and wasn't at all surprised that I hadn't won.  Not surprised at all.

And come to think of it, that unreliable astrologer has said that I'll probably never win anything significant, ever -- or that, if I should win, I would either lose the ticket, or forget I had it, or give it away to someone else.  I'd really like it if, for once, he were unreliable in my favor.

And, about the snow.

Well, it's the Western New York/Southern Tier Lake Defect Effect.  John and I, and a friend, left South Orange at about 4pm, to come up to Rochester for a memorial service for David Craighead, one of John's organ teachers here at the Eastman School of Music.  The weather report had predicted snow in New Jersey by late in the afternoon; the sky was an impeccable blue when we backed out of the driveway.  The sky stayed clear, all the way up to our first stop, in Harford PA.  By the time we'd filled the gas tank, and had eaten our lurid meals (I especially liked my whiter-than-white mac'n'cheese, served on a melmac platter the color of lawn flamingos), it was getting dark, but still no dampness in the air.  Fine by me, as it was my turn to drive the final 150+ miles.

We were within 40 miles of Rochester, on Rte. 90, when the snow started -- the first snow through which I'd driven in over a year.  Coming straight at me, on a dark highway, where I couldn't really see the dividing lines.  But after six years of just such downpours -- and worse -- it just felt annoying, and kind of normal.  I just kept driving, looking for my exit, hoping no one in front of me went into some stupid skid.  All went amazingly well.

And we delivered our passenger to the Eastman School's theater lobby, where he met his overnight hosts.  Who apologized about the weather, and assured us that, only a day ago, they were enjoying temperatures in the 80's.  Then John volunteered to drive us out here to the motel.  We passed many landmarks, from our time here together, and from John's time here earlier, in the 1970's.  I felt no particular achiness or homesickness -- just a kind of detachment.  I was surprised that Mel's Diner has closed, but then, their t-shirts weren't very nice, so I guess I should have expected as much.

Now, we're ensconced in our 'luxury suite', which means there is a ridiculous whirlpool bathtub, with mirrored walls, in the bedroom, about five feet from the bed.  I feel like we're sleeping in an IKEA showroom.  It has stopped snowing.  I doubt that this little bit of precipitation will have damaged the lovely Bradford pear trees, blooming all over town here.  Their puffy white flowers will have to serve, as a kind of preferable arboreal snow, as the 'real stuff' melts outside, overnight.

But at least I got here in time to see it.  Oh, and I just remembered -- I have those unchecked lottery tickets in my pocket.  Maybe, tomorrow, I'll be rich enough that, if I want snow in Rochester, I can just buy it.  That is, if I haven't lost the ticket by then.  Some things never change.  Fickle weather.  Steady luck.

©     2012         Walter Zimmerman


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