Monday, September 11, 2006
I wasn’t looking for luck. I was just trying to take apart the place where we’d spent six weeks of the summer, cramming it all into boxes and suitcases. All except the Woosh. The donut-shaped flying disc had landed on the roof a few nights before, to the dismay of my sons.
I couldn’t do anything about the Woosh, but I had to get all of our other belongings across the continent somehow. The deadline was an early plane flight the following day. The luck came in small doses, from unexpected directions.
I arrived at FedEx/Kinko’s with two large suitcases, four large boxes, and two smallish helpers. The silver-haired man behind the counter looked us over stoically and handed me a stack of forms to complete. He was patient with the boys’ hijinks and, to his credit, didn’t bat an eye when I realized midway through the process that I would save some money if I opened a new account. “Well, I’ll have to start over, then,” he said, gently enough.
By noon, amazingly, the packing was complete and the boxes were dispatched. I felt light as air, free to play.
I’d promised the boys a round of miniature golf at a large entertainment complex we’d glimpsed from the highway. The GPS unit was uncharacteristically vague about where to turn. Then it ran out of power before I could examine the map. But when I found a place to pull over, I realized that the golf course was just a stone’s throw away. We laughed about how I’d accidentally managed to go the right way.
I spent the first few holes trying to keep my young partners on the correct green, giving them directions, making them take turns. Then I took a deep breath, stopped expecting them to play by the rules, and started to have fun. E managed a hole-in-one, and C showed some finesse with his shots. They begged for another 18 holes, but one round’s my limit, so I lured them away with arcade-game tokens.
Almost immediately, E scored on a game of chance and won 50 prize tickets, to his delight. C chose another game, trying to make a large superball bounce into the high-scoring slots on a roulette wheel.
I noticed a pair of adults next to us, playing an identical machine. They’d been there for a while, judging from the mound of paper tickets on the floor. I thought some patronizing thoughts about why an adult would spend time and dollars at a mindless game, for trinkets.
Then C hit the “jackpot,” and a stream of paper tickets burst from the machine. C was as thrilled as any Vegas tourist hitting the slots. Our neighbors cheered for him. “One hundred dollars!” C hollered gleefully. “No, they’re just tickets,” I corrected him. But the man next to us said, “It’s a hundred dollars to him.” Of course it is, I thought, sheepishly.
Another man must have noticed the boys’ excitement. He appeared at my side and handed me a huge fistful of tickets, muttering something incomprehensible but clearly gesturing at E and C. The boys stared at him, then whooped and danced and high-fived.
Our benefactor came back twice, solemnly handing me dozens of tickets and receiving our thanks with barely a nod. He seemed almost embarrassed. He was large and round and vaguely threatening in appearance, and I would have avoided him under different circumstances.
Instead of taking home a cheap plastic toy, the boys left the game room clutching large glittery superballs, a ninja figurine, and a two-foot-long, wildly psychedelic stuffed frog.
E said, “I wish we could thank that man MORE somehow.” I explained the idea of paying it forward, and they understood right away. Someday when they’re older, I hope they find a similar way to make another child's day, and perhaps they'll think fondly about a quietly generous man and a fluorescent green frog.
Late that night, I found the wayfaring Woosh on the patio near our front door. A fortuitous gust of wind? A helpful neighbor? Somebody or something came through at just the right time.