Lottery & Meatloaf
For his birthday he wanted Golden Corral, so I drove 30 minutes in the rain to one of the only 2 Golden Corrals still open.
He’d talked for weeks about the meatloaf at Golden Corral. He even called to ask me for Golden Corral’s number.
I asked him, “Why?”, since he had no way of getting there besides me. He said he wanted to ask them about the cost of lunch, even if he couldn’t go.
I got the hint. I promised to take him to The Corral for the meatloaf on Saturday.
On Saturday, we went. By the end of the meal, he’d barely touched his meatloaf.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “I thought you’d have had 3 pieces by now.”
He’d turned 80 a few days before. He’d tripped over his dog on his birthday and his eye was purple and black from the fall.
“It’s not as good as I remember it.”
We’d argued when I was picking him up for our trip to The Corral. Our argument, much like the rain outside, had severely damped our moods.
He’d left me standing outside his trailer in the rain when I’d gone to pick him up. He’d assured me he was ready but, when I got there, he wasn’t. And he left me standing in the goddamned rain since his junkie granddaughter was running around inside his trailer undressed, so they couldn’t let me in. Not that I wanted in anyway since his trailer’s so fucking filthy. Still, it sucked standing there in the rain while I was trying to do somebody a fucking favor.
When he finally came to the door, his granddaughter was standing in the background in her underwear. She mumbled that she wasn’t dressed, the reason they hadn’t let me in. She said they’d been fighting too.
“He’s threatening to call the cops on me,” she said.
“And I would but I hate the cops,” he told her.
“He told me to suck his dick, so I shoved him,” she said from over his shoulder.
I offered a quick prayer to the deity I don’t even believe in. I prayed that, if this was true, it was only a metaphorical statement, not a literal request.
“You punched me,” he protested. “Right in the chest.”
“No. I shoved you. For telling me to suck your dick.”
“Are you ready?” I interrupted. “I’ve been waiting out here in the rain.”
He said he was ready and in addition to The Corral, he wanted to go to Kroger and Walmart and Dollar Tree for a bunch of shit he didn’t really need. I knew he just wanted to waste as much time as he could away from his junkie granddaughter who, with an ankle monitor, was stuck in the trailer with him.
I said, “No.”
He got pissed and asked why.
I was already pissed too, so I said, “Cause this is my time too and I’m not wasting it running around in the rain for stuff you don’t really need. Secondly, I’m already doing you a favor by taking you out to eat. You can either be grateful for that or bitch and complain that you’re not getting even more out of me. As far as our future together goes, I’d advise you to focus more on the being grateful part. And thirdly, I’ve done far more for you than I’m obligated to, so there’s no reason for me to justify anything.”
“Well, if you’re gonna be this way, maybe we shouldn’t go,” he said.
“You’re choice,” I said. “But, like I told you, my nephew’s in the hospital. When I get time off and if he gets better so I can see him, my time’s going to him and my sister. So I can’t guarantee when this can happen again.”
“Alright then,” he said. “Let’s go. But I never imagined things between me and you would turn out like this.”
Following that, we rode to The Corral in an awkward silence. It wasn’t until he got a plateful of food, including the meatloaf, that the mood lightened.
As we ate, he complained about how he hated being old. He said, as he always does, how lots of money would be his ultimate salvation, even to his dilemma of old age.
He said if he won the lottery, he’d be happy. He said with millions of dollars he would buy the compassion and courtesies of a young woman who’d treat him right. He also likes to fantasize how, if he wins the lottery, he’ll buy me a chauffer’s outfit and pay me a million dollars a year to take him wherever he wants to go, whenever he wants.
He admitted if he won the lottery and used the money to pay for the affections of a young women, it wouldn’t be real. He admitted he’d know her affections were purchased, not given out of love, but he said he wouldn’t care. He said it would be an exchange, just like any other. And, as an agreed upon exchange, he could still take pleasure in her comforts and affections, even if they were only pretend. He said there would be no need for her affections to be genuine.
He pecked at his plate and kept going on about money. As always, he uttered the phrase, “You can’t buy happiness.” And again, he followed that with, “But give me a few million dollars and I’ll show you exactly what happiness looks like.”
He’s not the first person in his position I’ve known who was poor for most of his life and believes that money, even at the end, will be their ultimate salvation. I’ve know these old people, decrepit and alone, rarely considering if, instead of money, maybe more love and genuine affection would be of more value to them than winning the lottery. Then I’ve realized, for many of them, they know the person they’ve cultivated themselves into being. And they know deep down that the person they are isn’t the kind that receives much genuine love or affection. They know it. So, in their place – in their minds – money, not love, becomes their ultimate salvation.
He picked at his plate. He pondered about the sugar free choices at the dessert bar.
I asked, “Have you ever thought seriously about Jesus?”
I’m not a Jesus freak. I was just grasping at straws.
“What do you mean?”
“All this suffering of yours in your old age. How about giving your suffering over to Jesus? Seems I’ve heard a lot about Jesus carrying people’s burdens.”
“I would if I could believe in that stuff,” he said. “But I can’t. I use logic and there’s too much in the Bible that’s not logical.”
“Of course,” I said.
“Like spreading your seed,” he said. “There’s something in the Bible about it being better to put your seed in the belly of a whore than wasting it by spreading it on the ground.”
“Okay,” I said. “Alright. Okay. I get it.”
I didn’t want to spend another fraction of a second talking or thinking about masturbation or ejaculation over my plate of Golden Corral.
“See, it don’t make no sense. It’s like it condones sleeping with whores, but how can that be okay? But it is, right? That’s what it means?”
He’d told me about paying for whores and paying to fuck other men’s wives. He’d even told me how he filmed some of those encounters. So I figured there was some strange justification for his behavior in this passage that he’d selectively chosen to remember.
I said, “Who cares? Nobody cares if any of it’s true. Nobody believes that much of it anyway. Like you wanting to pay for the affections and attention of a young woman. You said yourself you’d know it wasn’t real, but you’d want it anyway. You’d just pretend it was real for the comfort it would give you. So maybe doing the same thing with Jesus and your burdens would do you some good.”
He went back to his plate. Knowing a jackpot wasn’t likely to ever land in his lap, I asked, “Instead of having to buy love and affection, what if you were the kind of person who’d earned it? Some people do earn it, you know, through an exchange of things other than money.”
“Other than money? Like what?” he scoffed.
“Kindness. Decency. Real consideration. Stuff like that, I suppose.”
“It’s too late. I’m too old.”
“It’s never too late.”
He knew what I was getting at.
“My second wife crushed my heart,” he said. “She didn’t just break it, she crushed it. That’s what happened to me.”
I wanted to say, “Ah, so you’re blaming all your troubles on her?” But I didn’t. We were, ostensibly, celebrating his birthday, after all.
He is old, but in many ways he is as much a selfish, self-centered asshole as I’ve ever known. It’s what nobody at Golden Corral or anywhere else understands. All they see is a black-eyed, broken old man shuffling within the confines of his metal walker. They don’t know about his abuses of others. They don’t know how, like a magnet, he draws the worst out of anyone who knows him intimately. They don’t know how he knows about these flaws in his characters and how they adversely affect the lives of the people around him. They don’t know how he knows about his ugly impact on others and simply doesn’t care.
We got up and went to the dessert bar. He got a piece of sugar free strawberry cake. I didn’t get anything.
After dessert, I drove him home in the rain. We stopped at the gas station. I got each of us a $2 lottery ticket. The jackpot was over 400 million.
I gave him his ticket. I wished him a happy birthday. He kissed the ticket. I put mine in my wallet, then drove him home.
On the way, he said, “If I win, I’m not only gonna spend it on making myself happy. I’m also gonna give a few million away to kids with cancer. And animal shelters. Things like that, too.”
“Good,” I said.
I didn’t bother to ask about any of the good he could have done over the course of his life. Good that he could have done for others but chose not to. Minor acts of goodness, far less glamorous and dramatic than giving millions of dollars to suffering children and dogs and cats. I wanted to ask, but knew it wasn’t worth it.
I didn’t ask cause I know how the reaction goes. Anybody can point to an act or two of decency or generosity, then claim they’re decent or generous just like anybody else. This especially applies, it seems, to those whose generosity will come through luck in attaining the means. Only luck. Never labor. Never sacrifice. And, even then, only giving away the surplus, even when what they’ve attained was never truly earned.
I finished driving him home, then I went to my home and fell asleep.
I slept right through Saturday night’s lottery drawing. It happened last night. Even now, I don’t know if anybody won. Even now, I don’t care.