Jake is a nice boy. You can tell because he says so. But even a nice boy can get awfully confused when he wins $100,000,000 in the lottery ... and can't tell anyone about it.
I can’t say that Friday, April 13, was a good day even though that’s when I won the lottery.
It’s not that my standards are too high. It certainly wasn’t a bad day. It was more like a complex day: That Friday took my simple kid’s life and made it as knotty as a sweater knit by a squirrel who just got off a roller coaster.
You’d think that having money would make everything easy. If you get grass stains on your best pants, you just reach into your closet where another hundred pairs hang. If you can’t decide which video game to buy, you buy them both and throw another dozen into the shopping cart…which is being pushed by your butler. But being rich had exactly the opposite effect on me. Maybe it was because I became so rich so suddenly. Or maybe it was because of the way I became rich. Or maybe it was because buying pants and video games is the easy part.
Or maybe it was because … Well, it’s a long story.
On the Monday before that Friday the 13th, I was at the Pick-a-Chick. That’s what the sign said outside, although it wasn’t really a Pick-a-Chick anymore. It was Herb’s This ‘n That Store. I’m only thirteen, and I can name three other businesses that used to own that store. First it was McCardle’s Milk, which was cool because they had Pop Gums, a slime-green ice cream bar with bubble gum in the middle of it. Then it was Moishe’s Meats, which pretty much put it off my map since when I was seven I was unlikely to want to browse in a butcher’s store that had slabs of dead cows and featherless chickens in its window as if that would really draw people in. I think that’d be true even if I weren’t a vegetarian. Then it was The Nickel House, which sold newspapers and comics and other things that cost a lot more than a nickel. They went out of business, maybe because you can’t lie in your store’s name and expect to get away with it for long. And then someone named Herb bought it and I guess gave up on trying to figure out what he would be selling, so it became the This ‘n That Store, which was exactly what it was. But, throughout all this time, the old Pick-a-Chick sign stayed where it was, running the long way up the side of the brick building. By the time it got to Herb, the Pick-a-Chick sign was practically a local landmark. So, there the sign hung on the This ’n That store although chicken was one of the few things you absolutely couldn’t get there.
My parents hadn’t exactly outlawed Herb’s, but they weren’t crazy about my going there since there was hardly anything in there that was Good For Me. Candy but no fruit. Comics but no books. Joke soap that turns your hands black but no ruled notebook paper. So, when I went, I tried to do it on the way to somewhere else so I could just sort of sidle on in.
Sidling is the right word because Herb – whoever he was – had put in three rows of shelves where only two really fit. So you had to walk sideways, and if you ran into someone in the same aisle, one of you had to back up all the way and move down another aisle. In fact, I always thought it cruel that Herb put the diet foods in the middle of one of the aisles, because if you really needed them, you probably wouldn’t be able to fit in to get them.
But that’s not why I was there on that Monday. My violin lesson was over and I thought I would treat myself to a Ding Dong Doggie before walking the eight blocks back home. You know you have to really like Ding Dong Doggies to be willing to ask for one by name. What Ding and Dong and Doggie had to do with a butterscotch cake with vanilla creme insides I’ll never know. But I liked them, and so I sidled on in to the Pick-a-Chick.