If you’re searching for something to do on an uneventful Tuesday night, look no further than your local bodega—or any bodega, on any corner, in any borough—for some fascinating reality performance art that portrays the resilience, and unwavering resolve of the human spirit.
When you walk in, you might grab a 6 pack, Juicy Fruit and some unmarked deli “toffee,” which is great, because you’ll likely need sustenance for what you’re about to endure. As you stand on line, contemplating whether or not to ask for a one-hitter, there will probably be one of them ticket-buyers just ahead of you, preparing for The Day—Win Day—which is of course, Today.
You rest the 6-pack down on the (filthy) floor in preparation of the wait; somewhere across town, a savings account in an anonymous bank is being depleted.
It’s always the same — a “Go big or go home,” “take no prisoners” approach with these people. No one-time buyers, or single-ticket purchasers here. They go hard, barking out digits for the Powerball & Mega Millions, while scrupulously running a quarter against multiple scratch-off tickets, with little regard for the fact that there is a guy jonesin’ for a pack of Camel blues, and Sudafed, 4 people down the line.
The Korean lady who owns the dry cleaning business next door begins to mutter, the only distinguishable words of her rant being “Downy” & “Tide”; uptown, a beer-belly-bearing statesman is laughing maniacally.
The most compelling aspect of these episodes is typically the exchange between the cashier, and the customer, in which the customer, despite all rational thought, and demonstrative evidence against him, acts as though he has been ordered to play the lotto, and thus, he’d like you to know this whole charade is a nuisance and a burden, thankyouverymuch.
He leans against the chips rack, rolling his eyes, tar scratch-scraps matted to his clammy palms as he looks to you, as though asking, “Is this guy for real?” while the poor Pakistani man behind the counter starts to break a sweat just trying to remember all the numbers he’s been ordered to log. Lotto-man continues to look pissed.
The bodega cat hisses at a passing rat, giving waiting customers even more of a reason to remain in the non air-conditioned, enclosed space; out in Staten Island, lotto-player’s wife begins to envision her future home renovation.
Lotto-man does the requisite foot tap, then the tongue click with the crossed arms—which is totally justified, since everyone in the deli forced this guy’s hand, and told him to buy lottery tickets every single day for the last 19 years, despite the fact that the likelihood that he’ll win is as great as finding a single pin on a football field while blindfolded—after which, he’ll continue to rattle off numbers from his arsenal of combinations. He still has his niece’s birthday, his second cousin’s son’s baptism, and the date he got his appendix out…
Potential customers begin to file out — “I’m going to 23rd and 6th,” yells a man with his pants so far down his ankles, it’s unclear if he walked into the bodega mistakenly hoping to purchase a belt; in midtown, local news stations are gearing up for the Big Spin, which will occur sometime this week.
Finally, when it’s just you, a Latina immigrant with her screaming child, some of the regular bodega loiterers—they neither work nor buy at the bodega, just chill—and the Korean lady, Soon-to-be Mr. Moneybags, satisfied with his choices, is finally ready to retreat.
The child stops screaming, no doubt in shock that the numerical stream of consciousness is over; all around town, other lotto enthusiasts are reviewing their own tickets in anticipation of the results.
SMM collects himself, ready to leave, when suddenly he hesitates.
The Pakistani cashier looks distressed.
“Do you need anything else, sir?” he asks, though he really means to say “Good god, I came to this country for a better life, please don’t make me regret that decision. Just leave, go, have mercy.”
SMM looks up, and decides, “Nah, I’ll see you tomorrow,” and walks out.
The next morning, there is a “closed for a personal emergency until further notice” sign on the 24-hour bodega’s door; over at JFK airport, a Pakistani, former bodega owner buys a one-way ticket to the Cayman Islands.
SMM gets in line at a bodega on the next block; in all 50 states, the gaming commission breathes a sigh of relief.