Sunday, March 05, 2006

untitled story

Tall buildings shake,
voices escape, singing sad, sad songs.
~Wilco

Who told you that numbers are cold and unemotional? All you need to do is watch the New York Lotto drawing one night and you will know whoever says that is wrong. Some people make the mistake of believing it’s only the humans who bring emotion to the lotto. The truth is that the numbers are emotional. Maybe it’s fate or God behind the numbers, working, toying, loving.
If I said I could understand numbers, mathematicians would laugh at me. I use “gambler’s math,” which says if a certain set of numbers hasn’t come up in a while, it will come up soon. It’s like flipping a coin; fifty percent of the time it’s going to be heads. A mathematician, of course, would explain that there is no guarantee one hundred flips will be exactly fifty-fifty, because the law of averages doesn’t guarantee a percentage within a certain number of flips. You could flip a coin like Rosencrantz and never get anything except heads. But at some point, tails is going to come up, and what I do is try to guess when. I also guess combinations. The lotto drawing is never a simple either/or. It’s strings of numbers; it’s combinations.
In truth, though, there is little method to my work. I don’t crunch numbers. Crunching numbers is for calculators and idiot-savants. I am not logical. I intuit patterns. I am creative. I am an artist, crafting from reams of numbers. The truth is I laugh at the mathematicians. They see nothing when they watch the lotto. I see beauty. I see humanity. I see meaning.
* * *
“Turn on the TV, man.”
“Huh? Who is this?”
“Quick! Turn it the fuck on!”
I reached under my bed sheets and grasped blindly for the remote with my right hand and limply grasped the phone with my left. I found it near my ankles and pulled it out to turn on the TV. The TV lit up with the image of one of the Twin Towers smoking. As my mind began to understand the image, a plane flew into the second tower. I heard someone say “holy shit” and I realized there was a busy signal coming from the phone in my hand.
* * *
I run a small website that makes lottery recommendations. Believe it or not, I have several thousand members, and they all swear by me. Of course, none of them win all the time. I don’t give the winning numbers, I just make recommendations for what would be best to play. To be honest, I don’t actually play the lottery myself. I used to, but I never won. That doesn’t stop me, though. Does it stop the writer from writing if he never writes the perfect story? The artist has the drive to create, and that’s why they do it; not because they think they can accomplish artistic perfection. The artist creates because he must. The truth is that it’s not about the money. It’s about the numbers. When I predict sevens on the odds and they come up, I feel the same expressive satisfaction a poet does when he reads his finished poem aloud.
* * *
I was lucky. I caught the last ride to the financial district, and I emerged just in time to see the first tower collapse, like a train speeding downwards, puffing soot in all directions. I tried to escape the cloud, but it overtook me. The soot was the building and all its inhabitants in gaseous form. I inhaled it. It smelled mostly like dust, but there was the faint smell of burnt human hair.
For a while, I couldn’t see, and I made my way along by grabbing onto cars and trying to work towards the faint light I assumed was the direction away from the tower that had fallen. The soot covered everything. Whatever my hands touched collapsed; the caked soot crumbling away to reveal the actual object beneath: a car, a lamppost, a bicycle.
* * *
I used to watch the Lotto drawings when I worked as a security guard. That’s where it began. For years I drew no contentment from my work. I went from job to job with little grounding because of an overwhelming dissatisfaction with each one. It was a dissatisfaction I could never pinpoint and the security job was only the latest on a long list of jobs. My shift began at six at night and went until seven the next morning. One night I happened to turn the TV to the New York Lotto drawing. It’s not that I hadn’t seen a lotto drawing before, but this one struck me. The numbers made sense to me; it was like I knew they were going to come up. I didn’t care that I could have won money. It was with these numbers my life finally began to find its expression: 08, 13, 26, 35, 45, 51.
* * *
I saw people jumping out of the second tower before it went down. They fell out of the windows like sacks of potatoes, lifeless in their plunge. The people standing around me were silent. There were no gasps when the north tower fell. The people watched in a numbed reverence. I imagine it was the only time New York City was quiet.
* * *
On the subway home one day a woman told me she takes pills for her sickness. “Sometimes I take them because I’m sick, and sometimes I take them to help me die.” When I got home, I recommended double threes for tragedy. Some guy told me later he won $750 on that recommendation. I’d like to think that the people who view my web site see the art of the numbers that I see. I know they believe in it, because they keep coming. I guess it takes a belief, a hope? that these things I predict are somehow expressive of something. Maybe through it I can connect, and begin to put together all the particulars of my life.
* * *
It took four showers to finally wash all the soot off my body. I had to return to work the next day. The numbers for September 12th were: 08, 13, 26, 35, 45, 51. I still remember the lotto drawing that night and what was said after calling out those numbers: “The prayers of the New York State Lottery Family are with those who were lost in yesterday’s tragedy.”

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