Life Stories: June 24th, 1974

You might be wondering why I’d be writing about a date that took place more than a decade before I was born. What’s its significance? I’ll get to that, but not before I do what I do best and convolute my point with way too much backstory.

Anyway, I worked at a 7-Eleven in El Cajon from ages 20-23. My dad called it my “stand around and look at how pretty I am” job, mostly because older women would often come in and flirt with me. I have this working theory about that, though. See, I had long hair and I was always listening to 90’s rock. The way I saw it, these older women looked at me as some sort of time capsule. I reminded them of a time when they were around my age, so they’d take me home and have their way with me. 22 was a good year, despite me being a depressed pile of useless nothing.

During my tenure at Mike Patel’s store on the corner of Broadway and Mollison, I met a revolving door of characters while I treated work like a remake of Kevin Smith’s film, Clerks. If some kind of wild scenario pops into your head, the chances are high that my coworkers and I experienced it. We often had to make the best of a shitty situation. If I’m being honest, it’s an act of God that I managed to make it three years before getting canned.

If there’s one thing you can bank on about working at a convenience store, it’s that people with hardcore gambling problems will treat your place like a low-rent, bootleg casino. Scratch ticket after fucking scratch ticket, people will toss money down on the counter for a chance at winning big. I once saw a young Navy guy spend over $100 on scratch tickets with a pig on them. This happy pig, rolling around in the mud of your life with these big, Disney eyes and a Saturday morning cartoon smile.

“Gimme another one a’ them fuckin’ pigs” he’d say, complete with Southern drawl. How could I say no? Sure, he was trashed, but that was his problem. I needed entertainment, and this drunk sailor was my Kentucky jester. He ended up clearing out the whole roll of tickets. Win some, lose more, win big, lose even more. Sorry bud.

Then there was the lottery crowd, and no, I’m not talking about the person who drops an occasional few bucks on a quick-pick ticket. These were people who came in up to four times a week, playing the same goddamn numbers as if it makes a difference. They’d keep their lottery stuff tucked inside of a plastic envelope emblazoned with big orange L, which was usually provided by a store. People were always doing superstitious shit, like stuffing their envelopes with pictures of Christ or their family. Little Johnny and Big Jesus for the win, except it wasn’t. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but in hindsight the whole thing was pretty fucking depressing. Hard-working people, hoping for a chance at luxury because they know deep-down that their labors won’t bring them anything but a paycheck and fatigue. The lottery should be drug behind a building and shot.

Like I mentioned earlier, a revolving door of characters. When it came to my gamblers, and there were many, one guy in particular always stood out to me. He was short, fat, old, kind of looked like Roger Ebert or this one actor whose name escapes me. He had an East Coast accent that reminded me of my grandpa Bill, but not one of those thick Boston ones. I don’t think I ever asked him where he was from. Everyone thought he was a dick. Except me.

On occasion, I have this tendency to enter somebody’s life like a goddamn battering ram. I just talk, talk, talk, like a hyper dog that wants attention. I was determined to get this gambling curmudgeon to warm up to me, and it worked. He’d come into the store, stand off to the side and always request that I help him and make snide remarks to the other employees. This guy would drop some serious coin on the lottery. All of it: State lotto, Mega Millions, Fantasy 5, Daily 3, but not the horse derby.

So, one day I asked him why he plays all the games except derby, and he says to me, “Son, I ‘aven’t bet on a haas since June twenty-fahth nineteen seventy fah.”

I asked him the significance of that date, and he told me about losing a bunch of money at the track. I was expecting a juicy story, like something involving the mob, but no dice. Just a big loss that caused him to never bet on the ponies again, which was a testament considering that the Del Mar track was just a short drive up the 5.

Fortunately, he never lost a small fortune at my store. On a few occasions, he’d hit the Daily 3 and win a few hundred bucks, but nothing to write home about. He’d just use that money to play more numbers and keep the wheel spinning. The lotto giveth, the lotto taketh.

I think about him every year on June 24th, wondering where he’s at or if he’s even still alive. Did he ever win big? Or did he end up like every other person who plays the lottery and die with the nightmare of never achieving his American Dream of overnight wealth?

I never even knew his name.

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