November 06, 2022

Article at Medium

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A Billion Dollar Lottery Ticket and a Bag of Ruffles, Please

Orrin Onken

I live in a community dotted with convenience stores. We call them convenience stores, I think, because there are so many of them you don’t have to travel far to find one. That‘s convenient.

No matter what they are called or why they are called that, what all convenience stores have in common is that they don’t sell anything I am allowed to have. I don’t mean I am legally prohibited from buying what they sell. I mean that, as an old man, the stores don’t sell anything that won’t kill me, make me sick, or make me feel worse about myself than I already do.

I can’t consume alcohol or nicotine in any form without it leading to abject misery and self-loathing. I don’t tolerate energy drinks or any other caffeine-laced concoctions other than my morning cup of coffee. The candy aisle is off limits because of the sugar, and the salty fried starches, whether they be corn, potato, or some corporate mystery product, are enemies of both my waistline and my blood pressure. I don’t do scratch-off, keno, or take any of the strange new not-yet-illegal substances that promise to get me high without attracting drug enforcement agents.

So what would entice me into a convenience store?

When the prize is over a billion, I bestir myself, rise from my La-Z-Boy, and head to the nearest convenience store.

I grew up in Nevada where I was taught and still believe that gambling is a tax on people who are bad at math. I know the paradox of large numbers. The chance of my winning is as close to zero as the human mind can imagine, yet if enough people play for a long enough time, someone will win, making the improbable event — winning — both impossible and inevitable.

I don’t buy a Powerball ticket because I think I will win. I buy it for the joy of the twenty-minute fantasy about all the things I will do if I have an unexpected billion dollars to play with. What houses will I buy? Where will I go? Which of my relatives will I help, and who will I screw over?

One time I tried thinking those thoughts without having purchased a ticket, but it didn’t work. Without holding a ticket, I could still make goofy plans, but the pleasure was not there. It felt empty. To enjoy the thoughts, I had to have that ticket in my pocket.

I don’t buy a ticket every week. No matter how convenient the stores are, I will not expend the energy to climb out of my La-Z-Boy unless the pot is over a billion. Anything less and the fantasy isn’t worth the two dollars and the bother.

I could buy my ticket at my regular grocery store from the big green lottery-ticket vending machine by the entrance. I don’t do that because the machine intimidates me, and if there is a line of people, which there often is, I don’t want experienced lottery-ticket folks judging me for not knowing which button to push to get my ticket to drop.

The other reason I choose the convenience store is the same reason I buy shoes in a shoe store and not at Walmart. If I am going to engage in the vice of gambling, I want to do it in a place that specializes in vice.

At the convenience store closest to me, I will almost certainly be the only person in the store. There will be no line of people smirking at my inability to operate the vending machine, only the dark-haired woman behind the counter — the stoic doge of all things forbidden. Before coming into her presence, I screw my face into my best version of Clint Eastwood confidence. I don’t want her to think me a pathetic old man, out of place, uncomfortable, scurrying in to grab his shameful booty before rushing back to the safety of his white-bread home and neighborhood.

Not me. When I walk through that door, I’m a gamblin’ man. A risk taker.

As I enter, my eyes meet hers, and she nods. She is cool. Jaded. She been there, day-after-day, and seen from her stool at the register the full spectrum of human depravity. I am cool too, taking in the store as if I go to these kinds of places all the time and am unimpressed. I stand in front of the glass case containing the hot foods — corn dogs, taquitos, and pizza sticks — deep fried from frozen and kept hot with heat lamps. They all look good, but not today. I walk down the candy aisle and peruse the offerings. I think seriously about a man-sized Butterfinger, but something inside me says no. Maybe next time. I stop at an end-display of beef jerky. I had no idea they made so many kinds. I consider the salty dried meat, but harbor worries that my dentures would not be happy. I peer through the frosty glass doors at the wall of beverages, pretending that I can drink anything I choose. If I want to.

Turning a corner, I start down the salt aisle, and strike gold. Ruffles! The ridged, crispy, extra-salty, extra-oily, potato chip that — either alone or dipped in onion-infused sour cream — epitomizes junk food decadence. I remember Pringles advertised the addictiveness of its chips with the challenge that you could never eat just one, but for me the heroin of salty starch is Ruffles. The bag of Ruffles calls to me. Two and a half ounces of salty, oily delight. Four hundred calories. Decadent, but not deadly.

I take the bag to the counter and lay it in front of the dark-haired woman. “One Powerball ticket,” I say. She moves toward a machine that I cannot see and a moment later lays a lottery ticket next to the bag of Ruffles. I pay her with a five-dollar bill and put the loose change in the little tray for the benefit of the next guy who finds himself a little short of dinero.

“Do you want your receipt?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “I’m not a receipt kinda guy.”

She laughs.

Back in my car, I open the bag of Ruffles and position it in the cup holder so I can eat out of the bag on the way home. As I drive I make plans for the billion dollars, constructing a mental list of those whom I will give money directly, and those for whom — to protect them from themselves — I will fund a trust.

I eat the chips. I can feel my body retaining water to dilute the sudden infusion of salt. My blood pressure rises. The Ruffles are, as always, delicious. I finish the bag sitting alone in the car in my garage to avoid having to share even a single chip with anyone in the house. The taste lingers for a long time. I wish I had another bag.

Later that evening, my wife happens to see the empty Ruffles bag in the garbage. “When did you buy Ruffles?” she asks.

“Today, at the convenience store. When I bought a lottery ticket,” I tell her.

“Oh,” she says, pretending to be indifferent, but I can tell from her voice that she likes being married to a badass.