“DADDY! DADDY! DADDY! DADDY! DAAAAAAD! DAAAAAAADDY!”
For the sixth time that hour, Chris pushed away from his desk and walked across the house to the boys’ playroom. Three-year-old Gabriel’s bloodcurdling scream would have inspired a much more frenzied response from an unknowing bystander, but after having been employed four times since lunch, it had quickly become a “boy crying wolf” scenario. Well, a “boy crying daddy” scenario.
As he walked into the toy-littered room, Chris saw the likely source of the emergency: five crackers sat between Gabriel and Gideon on a tiny toddler table.
Gabriel started explaining. “He pushed on the crackers while I was eating them and one went on the floor!” His story checked out; a sixth cracker lay on the floor, easily within reach of both boys, although neither was making a move for it. They stared at Chris, as if he was King Solomon deciding the adoptive fate of a disputed baby.
“Oh no, how awful for you,” Chris said even though he did not think it was awful for him. “It’s a good thing you screamed at the top of your lungs about it, because a cracker falling on the floor is definitely important enough to merit immediate parental intervention.”
“Here’s your cracker. Share with your brother.” Kids these days just don’t understand sarcasm. “Hey, why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”
Gabriel tilted his head like a dog who thought he heard the word ‘outside.’ “I was hot.”
“It’s December! It’s twenty degrees outside; I’m wearing a sweatshirt and a blanket, and you were hot?”
“Yeah! I was!”
“Whatever.” You’re only three once; if you want to go topless, go topless. “Make sure you put your shirt back on before Mommy gets home.”
* * *
By 9:30, both boys were asleep (at least temporarily), and Chris and Christina were settling in on the couch to watch some TV before bed. It had been a busy week, so the TiVo was bursting with potential. Chris picked up the remote, and started negotiations: “Modern Family or The Amazing Race? Or there’s a Guys With Kids…”
With both of them being Minnesotan by birth and by residence, neither could just choose a show without consulting with the other. That would be taken as a display of aggression, and neither wanted to upset the friendly balance of power in their relationship. So, every night, they quickly debated which recording would be acceptable to them both.
Christina called an audible. “Do we have anything that we can just have on? I have some stuff to do.”This changed the question fundamentally, since Modern Family and The Amazing Race aren’t shows that you simply have on. Shows that you have on are ones that you’re interested in following, but it doesn’t matter if you miss a joke or a line. They can’t be skipped outright, but they don’t merit undivided attention. They’re the airline seatbelt demonstrations of the television world.
“I could put on The Voice. Or there are a couple episodes of Storage Wars that I don’t think I’ve seen.”
“Whatever you want.”
That was a frustrating thing for Chris to hear, since even though Christina genuinely meant it, he heard it as “Neither of those options sounds remotely interesting to me, so I would be suffering through either of them. Do what you must, but do not make me choose my poison.”
Storage Wars it is. No matter; Chris also had work to do. He and Christina were in the midst of a project to organized and digitize all of Christina’s family photos from the last thirty years. (Four thousand pictures, each taking about a minute to scan, crop, caption, and date, meant that it would take roughly a million years to finish.) He sat on the edge of the couch, set up a portable scanner next to his laptop, and a grabbed the pictures from the fall of 1985. Christina’s younger sister was born that September, so the stack was taller than usual, although not as tall as winter of 1984, when Christina was born.
He tried to scan a season’s worth of pictures each night, so when the season was home to an important event, it could mean a long night. He started the process: Wipe dust off photo, open scanner, remove previous photo, wipe dust off scanner glass, place photo in scanner, close scanner, click Scan, wait, repeat. That didn’t even include the post-processing that happened after all of the snapshots had been digitized.
Three episodes of Storage Wars later, Christina reluctantly shut her laptop and headed up to bed. They said their goodnights, and Chris continued cropping and categorizing the scanned photos. Only fifty-five left to go.
“I’ve had enough of this crop.” It’s too bad nobody was around to hear that. Note to self: write down that line so I can use it in a book some day.
He kept cropping, and dating, and captioning, and organizing. If I were rich, I would pay a lot of money not to have to do this myself. No, he wouldn’t. If he were rich, Chris would still be scanning all of his own pictures, because he wouldn’t trust anyone else to guarantee the same level of quality that he could ensure.
His hands paused; something clicked in his head. Rich? The lottery ticket folded up in his wallet behind his driver’s license suddenly became marginally more important than the remaining unprocessed pictures in his iPhoto library; the lottery drawing had taken place an hour ago, and here he was, playing around on his computer like a chump.
He ran silently to the kitchen counter, displaying heretofore unseen agility and nimbleness, and grabbed his wallet. Pulling the ticket out, he dropped the wallet on the floor behind him as he returned to his computer.
Firefox was already open. He calmed himself for a second, typed “powerball.com” in the address bar, and hit return. A few seconds passed, and the page loaded. Chris couldn’t believe what he saw.
“503 Service Unavailable??” The site must be overloaded with people trying to check their numbers. He started clicking Refresh every three seconds, hoping to slip in as soon as the Web server had available resources. After about thirty seconds of this, the screen changed from the black and white error message to the red and blue of the Powerball logo, but the message didn’t get transmitted from his eyes to his fingers quickly enough, and he automatically hit Refresh again, bringing him back to the error page. Sigh.
He started refreshing again, but more carefully this time. A few clicks, and then: “POWERBALL: WINNING NUMBERS.” Suddenly superstitious, he didn’t know how to proceed. Should he read through his own numbers first, and then read through the winning numbers, just to see if there was an obvious match? Or should he check his first number against the first winning number, then the second, the third, and so on? Maybe he should go though the odd numbers first, then the evens… There’s no time for this foolishness!
He unfolded his ticket, which he had never actually looked at before stuffing it in his wallet, and scanned the printout for the numbers. 04 09 21 23 58 P06.
He focused on the screen, checked that the results shown were for tonight’s drawing, and started comparing digits.
His first number: 04. The first number on the screen: 04.
What are the odds?
09. On the screen, 09.
Well, this is fun!
At least I’ve won something. Matching three white balls wins $7.
His breath quickened; his heart started pounding in reverse, like it was trying to pull itself from his chest.
Oh my goodness. Matching just the five white balls paid one million dollars. He had just won one million dollars. Oh my. Oh my.
The Powerball: 06. 06.
Oh my. Oh my. Oh my.
After confirming that the sixth and last number on the screen matched the sixth and last number on his ticket, Chris looked away from the computer. His eyes glazed over, his heart stopped, and he died.