I once got completely suckered into one of those “you’ve won a free vacation” phone calls. It was about nine o’clock at night when my cellphone rang. “YOU’VE WON!” a man exclaimed.
“Not interested,” I interrupted, about to hang up.
“No, you’ve really won! You’d filled out a slip, last year at the Towson Spring Festival, remember?”
“Okay, what did I win?” I asked dryly.
“A Bahamas All-Inclusive! Do you like the beach?”
“What? Yeah. Who is this?” I asked.
“George P. Hamilton,” the man said.
Gee, he gave me his middle initial. That seemed important. Valid, even.
“Did I really win?”
My resolve was beginning to crack, and the man on the other end of the line could sense it. He could smell it, like a shark happening upon fresh dripping blood.
“The resort has everything! A pool bar! Hammocks! Tropical drinks with little umbrellas!” he said.
I peered out the window. It was blustery and cold and week-old snow matted the ground. I wanted to believe. Besides, I always fill out those little blank contest slips every time I see them. I do it all for the swag: the free pens, stress balls, and rubber frisbees advertisers give away at the street fairs. But I’ll also do it for a lot less: generic lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, or absolutely nothing at all. I can be a cheap date.
“We’re going to get so much junk mail,” the girlfriend says. “No one ever wins these things,” she’s always telling me.
So I couldn’t wait to strut upstairs and tell the girlfriend that I’d won. Yeah, I’d won other stuff before. One time I won a hat from a radio station. I won ten bucks playing Keno, too. And now this. This was the big one, the one I’ve been waiting for. It wasn’t even the prize that got me excited. It was the fact that I’d been right all along, that I’d proved her wrong. There’s no vacation trip as awesome as an ego trip. See? It’s not silly to fill out those slips! It was ME. ME. ME. ME.
Now the man on the other end of the line was giddy. I thought it was because he was excited for me; in truth it was because he knew he’d found a sucker. He even complimented me on filling out the slip thoroughly. Yeah, I know, right? God, I’m so freaking good at that kind of thing.
“And your handwriting was so neat! I could read every word!” he said.
Wait a minute. My handwriting sucks. A crippled-paw monkey with cataracts could do better, the poor bastard. I quickly brushed the thought aside and continued divulging all of my personal information to the man I didn’t even know. But I pictured he looked like somebody trustworthy. Like Chuck Woolery with pink cheeks and sparkling eyes.
Then I spelled out my address carefully to make sure he didn’t send my grand prize vacation to the neighbors. They’re sneaky. Well, I don’t even know them, really. They seem nice. Every time I see the guy, we’re always dressed the same, wearing a hoody and basketball shorts. I wonder if he’s ever noticed this. Awkward. The girl seems nice, too. She always waves first to me. I like her.
“You like her because she waves first?” the girlfriend asks when I explain this.
“Yes,” I say. Because waving is like Russian Roulette. It’s nerve-wracking. Who’s going to do it first? I hate it when you wave to someone and they don’t see it, and then you try to act like you were going to touch your head randomly the whole time. Wait, what if they were just pretending not to see it? Or what if they saw it in the last moment out of the corner of their eye, and then felt too ashamed to wave back after that? Ugh! I hate waving. It freaks me out. Anyway, the girl always waves first. Thank God.
But we definitely can’t risk my prize vacation ending up in their mailbox. I spelled out my address a second time for the man. “You’re going to LOVE the nightly luaus,” he said.
Then he asked me for my credit card number.
Oh. So it was that kind of gig. A shakedown. A sham. I looked at the snow on the ground outside, which was in that gross stage where it’s all grody and mixed with the mud. Better tie myself to a tree with roots. I ain’t going no where.
And that also meant—it couldn’t be. But it was true—all those nice things the man said were only a put-on. A lure. Lies! I wanted to run to my bedroom and sob and write all about it in my diary. But no. I won’t fall apart. I will grow strong. I will survive. Sing it, Gloria.
Instead of strutting back upstairs, I sulked.
“Who were you talking to for so long downstairs?” the girlfriend asked, looking up from the television, an extra-special episode of Teen Mom 2, MTV’s groundbreaking foray outside the world of music videos. We pay $100+ a month for cable for the girlfriend to watch this and something non-specific on Bravo. Oh, and Jersey Shore. But that’s totally worth it.
I told her everything, about all the pretty lies. About the Bahamas All Inclusive. Six days, seven nights. The lines that man fed me. About how I was so smart to fill out those slips. About my beautiful handwriting. How I’d even filled out my email address. Most people never do that, he had cooed. And how he had looked just like Chuck Woolery, with those impish eyes…
“There’s something really wrong with you,” she said.
But, you know what, that’s okay. It’s just not my time yet. Just not my time. It will come. Oh yes, it will. One glorious day, I’ll fill out that slip so neatly, making sure not to miss a single line and to dot every last i. And it will be my golden slip that’s plucked out of the fish bowl of so many, as though it were chosen by the hand of God. One day.
I am prepared for incredible things to happen—though not necessarily something like aliens landing on the earth. Because that would be absolutely terrifying. I’m thinking more along the lines of standing in front an ATM somewhere, and suddenly it will just begin spitting one hundred dollar bills at me. I’ll be stuffing them into my drooping pants like a cartoon character.
Maybe I’ll just find buried treasure. First, I’ll have to find a map. I’d settle for that.