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A Not So Rude Awakening
Harry had lain in bed awake for many hours already, nervously staring up at the ceiling and out the window, even as wave after wave of near insurmountable drowsiness swept over him. Each time his heavy lids experienced a fresh attack of weariness, anxiety-his already long-unwelcome companion of many, many years-easily fought it off.
Harry had gone to bed a working stiff and awakened a new millionaire. If he wasn't presently delusional, or hallucinating from lack of sleep, this was something he had always dreamed of. Winning the lottery was something he and many people like him counted on more surely than they counted upon Social Security, a lifelong savings account, or stock investments for when their retirement eventually rolled around.
And here, at last, lottery winnings had finally become a reality. Saturday night he was ordinary Harry Volvoy. Today, Sunday morning, he was a very rich man indeed. The previous Thursday he'd been awakened by a pleasant dream in which he prophetically fantasized that he'd become the richest Nuyorican in the world. But that was just a dream, and now he was wide awake.
The early morning Sunday sun streamed through the window, guiltily beckoning to Harry that he should rise. But he could not. A malaise had begun to set in. Harry was experiencing an affliction unlike any he had felt since his high school days, when his lack of direction in life had really first begun. The rays of light beamed into his bedroom, motes gliding in and out on glowing columns like commuters on a train platform. Harry lay frozen on his bed watching the dust for just possibly the ten millionth time inhis existence. He could not for the life of him figure out what he should do next.
Everyone who had ever worked for a living dreamed this day would come. For most, it never did. But for Harry Volvoy, it had. Years of playing the lottery, the same numbers each time, week after week, month after month, and year after year, had finally paid off.
Where he grew up, everybody played the lottery. It was considered the only real ticket to a better life for many in his socio-economic category. Men and women would line up outside the stationery and liquor stores early every morning just to get their lotto tickets and their scratch-and-win game cards. They would spend twenty dollars just to win back five or six. Most times they wouldn't win back anything at all. But the ever hopeful merely figured there was always tomorrow. Tomorrow might yield better results. This was especially true of those who were eternal dreamers. They would convince themselves that their time had not yet arrived, but soon would.
That's what kept everyone going for another day.
It was a pathetic sight to see a welfare mother putting her last bit of cash down on a game of chance. Or a retiree, in mid-month, spending his last dollar, full knowing that his next Social Security check was still weeks away. But all this wasn't uncommon where Harry was raised.
Most people worked for a living, and working for a living didn't get you much. It usually made the boss rich, enabling him to live life to the fullest while his workers struggled merely to survive. Making the rent, paying hospital, gas, electric, and grocery bills were worries of the working people, not of the rich. The worries of the rich were things the poor would welcome with open arms, for they knew that with those worries came all the benefits that being rich entailed. While the concerns of the poor were concepts the wealthy lost all ability to fathom. It was easy to forget the struggles of the past when your stomach was full at night, when you lived in a nice house, in a good section of town. But for the poor and working classes, their worries oftentimes kept them awake long after everyone else was asleep and resting.
It was in this atmosphere that Harry had chosen his numbers very carefully, selecting only those of special meaning. This he did in secret. Whenever anyone at the packaging plant where he worked ever mentioned that they'd chosen their own numbers, Harry would pay attention. If the numbers seemed the least bit similar to his, he would stop and change his, convinced that he couldn't possibly win with a shared number combination. In his way of thinking, the old numbers had become tainted.
Once he'd decided he would use the lottery to change his life, Harry chose one set of numbers, never spoke of them to anyone, and never again discussed ever playing the lottery with any of his co-workers. He carefully guarded his specially selected digits, and wouldn't let a single person see them. He wanted to win with his chosen numbers, and wanted no one else to ride on his coattails. While in the past he may have been lax about letting others in on his desire to win the lottery, he now kept such thoughts and feelings well hidden.
In time few people even remembered that he played the lottery.
"The fewer, the better!" he thought to himself. "Then when I win, I won't have to share the jackpot with anyone else. I've worked too hard for this."
He had a ritual-faithfully going through the same motions every week, purchasing a two-dollar ticket in order to double the chances of his winning, immediately stashing it in his wallet for safekeeping. Harry always bought his ticket at the same store in Park Slope, on the north corner of Seventh Avenue and Ninth Street. He called it his "inconvenience store," because although he wished for the lottery to change his life, at times he had his doubts. Harry's life was awash in doubt and always had been.
Even now, with the amazing developments of this past evening, Harry saw nothing but more doubt and uncertainty in his future.
In any case, the store was on his special corner. It had been there ever since he was a youngster. And Harry had always felt a unique bond to this area of the Slope. Even back then, he'd always imagined a day somewhere in the future when he would come into money. The first thing he thought he would do was buy a house here in the elite area of the neighborhood. He dreamed of buying one of the many brownstones that lined the street just below the park. There he'd live out the rest of his life in tranquility and luxury, the envy of all who set eyes on him.
When he was a child, his family regularly walked up Ninth Street on their way to Prospect Park. Harry's father, a proud and angry man-well aware of the wealth that existed in this part of Park Slope-had a difficult time navigating the few blocks it took to get there. He was likewise well aware of his station in life. This made things tough for the intense, high-strung and principled man. He was working class, whether he liked to admit it or not. How could he not remember this? Everything he did and everything he saw made him painfully aware there were wealthy people and there were working class people. That some people looked down on others for this and for all sorts of other reasons, and that was just the way it was.
He did what he could to even the playing field for his family-even refusing to let his children learn Spanish, the native tongue of the Volvoy clan-encouraging them instead to always to work hard and to get better educations, so that they could lift themselves out of their lower class. His logic behind his refusal to let the children learn Spanish was that others would never be able to discriminate against them on the basis of language, since the only accent they'd have would be identical to that of every other American they'd come into contact with. But he soon found that there was always something that people could single you out for. He began to realize that he was fighting a losing battle, but he still couldn't allow himself to give up the fight. In the meantime, he continued to be a very bitter man.
On many family walks through the area, he would secretly admire the homes that stood on the beautiful tree-lined streets. But when the homeowners were present, Harry's dad never let on that he'd even noticed any of the architecture, front gardens, gas lamps, stoops or porches that decorated the homes. Features that only a moment before he may have commented on. Instead, he stared straight ahead, with only the gates to the park seemingly in his sight. He would never acknowledge that he'd been charmed by someone else's property. He resented the situation and class differences in Brooklyn-indeed in America-that kept populations separate and peoples oppressed. He knew many refused to acknowledge their existence, but he was certain they did exist. And it was these same class distinctions and social orders, he believed, that were more significant than racial divisions.
These were dividing lines that could never be crossed. This was what Harry's dad and many others believed. In this world, some would be forever wanting for the bare necessities, while others didn't even have to wonder where the money for daily living or luxuries would come from. That was just the way it was.
Copyright © 2007 Robert Segarra.