Aug 18, 2004

Standing in line to lose

George is playing Tunk on the trunk of the Cadillac in the street, cards spread on a towel, playing for fives and tens and the neighborhood guys stand around talking loud and teasing brave. He swears at his five of spades, rubbing his hand through his curly hair and grinning goddamns and they all laugh, him standing there in his khaki work shirt and untied boots.

George comes to the gas station every day, after work. His name isn’t George but Parnel or Pernel or something but his shirt says George Allen Sewage and every day he comes into the gas station to swear at the daily numbers I mark up permanet black.

Numbers, he says numbers.

He says he should give them up and I say he should give them up and just swear at the board every day, keep the excitement and save the money. But quitting isn't winning and he just comes in every day with his losing grin, his laughing-at-himself grin and curses at me and the state of Pennsylvania, at himself and his numbers, at the numbers that didn't come out and did come out and almost came out.

They know the number’s you play, he says. I gotta give up these numbers.

It’s rigged,
he says, me nodding from behind the green machine waiting to type his tickets for tomorrow because maybe, maybe they'll drop this time crack this time, waiting to tap the tickets for luck for hoping for a break.

It’s rigged, I say, from my dropout gas station, red rag wiping at red-topped counter again. Everything’s rigged.

Man told me the other day he promised he’d quit. By this Monday because he knows he’s addicted. Thinking of the numbers before he moves from his pillow, before the alarm goes back still into the gray of morning shading in, before the shower stops gobbing spits of cold water down the porcelin drain. That's when you know you're addicted, he says. So he's out. 'Sposed to quit by this Monday and be done with it all but, damnit, now he’s won three times this month and what’s he gonna do? Stop when he’s finally cashing in?

Ain’t no good for the poor boy, Jim always says to last night’s numbers, his wrinkles running blacker, white eyes wide and his numb-tongued West-Virginia voice guessing at the sleight of the spin of the government-run roulette wheel of numbered balls dropping always almost.

One two two, super straight a dollar, he tells me, one two two. One se’n two, fiftyfifty, one se’n two. One se’n three, fiftyfifty, one se’n three. Two quail, dollardollar, two quail.

But they ain’t no good, ain’t no good for the poor boy.