‘A day late and several dollars short’ had always been the story of Eddie Cole’s life. From the very beginning he had been plagued with one misgiving after another. At three years old his parents had both died in an automobile accident. Four years later his Aunt had a stroke and was institutionalized for invalid care; leaving him an orphan. The rest of his childhood wasn’t much better. On top of everything else he was diagnosed as having acute diabetes that would require expensive insulin shots for the rest of his life.
He was shuffled between different foster homes until he ran away at 16 and got a low paying job washing dishes. It was the only thing he could find that didn’t require a high school diploma. After many long hours in front of the sink he saved up enough cash to buy a used car. The jalopy he selected had ‘lemon’ written all over it but he was too inexperienced to know better. No sooner than he had put his money down and drove off the used car lot, he found out how unwise the ‘no refund’ purchase was. The loud, continuous knocking noise emanating from the engine compartment proved to be another drain on his dwindling savings. The junker required major repairs; and so continued his unfortunate streak.
Eddie was a firm believer in luck because he had been surrounded with it all his life; all bad. Soon he hoped it would all turn around but five years and thousands of dollars later, very few things had actually improved. He had earned his GED and he was making a little more money but most of the extra earnings were going for his soaring health expenses.
After years of scrimping and sacrifice, he saved up enough money for a modest vacation in Las Vegas; the place where luck is everything. It was there that he felt big changes would happen to him; and he was absolutely right.
The 600 mile road trip took nearly 13 hours because of a flat tire. When he got to the outskirts of the city, he imagined turning his meager savings into millions with the good fortune he expected to be blessed with.
All he needed was some sort of divine sign. A good omen to signal that his rotten luck was finally going to turn around. He wasn’t sure what it would be but he was positive that it would be undeniable. Hopefully it would come in the very near future. In truth, he had no real justification to believe his life would ever get any better after a lifetime of staggering disappointments. He had just reached the bottom of a dry well of hope. Fanciful delusions or wishful thinking had taken over.
He drove aimlessly around the city; waiting for a miraculous sign to appear amid all of the bright lights and man-made excitement. With a choke and sputter, his jalopy almost stalled and died in front of a large casino. He ‘goosed’ the gas pedal with the expertise of a man who had ‘been there before’ and deftly prevented an embarrassing back up on the freeway. With knowledge of clunkers like his, comes the experience to keep them limping along through most issues.
About 15 minutes later he had circled the strip and was retracing his route for ‘the sign’. To his complete amazement, his car sputtered again and died right in front of the exact same casino! He surveyed the instrument panel for the usual signs of mechanical mishap (the engine overheating, empty fuel tank or low oil pressure) and then he noticed the mileage gauge.
It read ‘77,777 and 7 tenths of a mile’. With it dying exactly on six sevens, it was way too much to be mere coincidence. He knew the six digit odometer on his piece of junk had rolled over many times already. Now the obvious was starring him in the face. He was ‘sure’ it was on its seventh go around! Seven sevens! At last the sign had finally come, he thought. “This must be my lucky day!”.
He pushed his car into the parking lot and walked confidently for the first time in his life. On the casino’s blaring billboard, bright lights announced that the ‘pay off’ for the casino’s $10,000,000 ‘Jackpot’ would occur within the next few days. Intrigued, he asked a ‘hostess’ about the details. She led him over to the machine and explained the rules to play ‘The Big Spender’ slot machine.
“The only thing to remember is that it only accepts $100 tokens.”; She explained patiently. “They are available at the teller window and courtesy counter. This greatly enhances your chance to win because there are less contenders for the Jackpot.”
He quickly tore out his money and cashed it in for as many ‘Big Spender’ tokens as he could afford. When he naïvely asked the teller if he could redeem his unused tokens back to cash “after he won the jackpot”; She laughed heartily.
“That’s the sort of spirit we like around here Sir. Of course there’s no guarantee that ANY of your five tokens will actually win.” She was careful to be absolutely clear about that disclaimer.
“Oh, I know there are no ‘guarantees’ but I feel really confident because THIS is my lucky day!”; He reassured her.
The hostess smiled insincerely and rolled her eyes when he wasn’t looking. She had lost count of how many people had repeated that ill-fated saying to her. Deep down, she felt sorry for everyone that was drawn into the uncontrollable world of gambling but they came of their own free will. She had a job to do; nothing more and nothing less.
Eddie approached the ‘Big Spender’ slot machine as if it was the Holy Grail. Carefully he scanned its features for evidence of being his ‘Lucky Savior’. After scrutinizing it for several moments, he dropped in his first token without further hesitation. He gripped the ‘one arm bandit’ and firmly pulled it down with the confidence of a preacher on Sunday morning. The spinning windows stopped turning after an agonizingly long roll and revealed the unfortunate loss of the first token.
Eddie’s mind whirled around in disbelief. There were no bells or glaring siren lights announcing his triumphant victory over bad luck. The silence of failure was deafening. Out of his pocket came the second precious token. He slowly dropped it in the slot with less confidence and touched the lever hesitatingly. For several moments he stood there frozen in indecision before pulling it. Again the wheels stopped spinning and (again) he came up a loser.
With that shocking setback, his mind referred back to the events that led him there. Few skeptics would have been able to discount the incredible signs that had led him to ‘Mecca’. Those strong omens reassured his fading confidence and he had three remaining tokens left in his pocket to turn it all around. Unfortunately three quickly became two with another episode of defeat. To calm his frayed nerves and churning stomach he decided to get a soft drink to regroup his ‘gamblers courage’.
The soft drink machine was out of sugar free diet drinks so he had no choice but to select a regular one. With his health he had to be careful but Eddie felt he could handle it since he hadn’t had any other sugar that day. He could always take an insulin shot to neutralize its effects if he started feeling jittery; he reassured himself.
To his absolute horror, someone else was using the ‘Big Spender’ when he walked back to it. He watched a well dressed man drop in nine tokens in only a few minutes. Each time the man pulled the handle, Eddie prayed the winning numbers wouldn’t come up until he was back in front of it. When the ninth token failed, the man shrugged indifferently and walked off.
Eddie hurried over before someone else had a chance to claim it. He quickly inserted his 4th token and hoped it would be the one to hit the jackpot. Before he could pull down the handle however, his vision began to blur and he felt faint. He weakly pulled the lever and waited for the bells to go off. He squinted his eyes as the spinning windows of the slot machine rolled to a stop. He stood in disbelief as yet another token failed to deliver the prize to him. For a long moment the cloud of his enormous disappointment dominated his thinking. Then the weakness in his knees and dimming vision caused him to realize that he needed an insulin shot.
He reached into his pocket and retrieved his medical kit. When he staggered into the casino’s bathroom to administer the insulin shot, he remembered he had already injected the last one the previous day. He had intended to go to the drugstore when he made it to Vegas but had forgotten about it; in his zeal to finally become ‘a winner’.
Now all he had left was the final token and it was burning a hole in his pocket to be used. The reassuring words of the teller that he could redeem any remaining tokens back to cash (AFTER he won) echoed in his head; but he didn’t want to face her after he had been so confident. He still had a desperate hope to win the big jackpot. It occurred to him that the ‘gods of fate’ might have been testing his mettle by waiting to smile upon him until the very end (so he couldn’t cash out and leave). He also fearing that the well dressed man would return and win it all.
After he won with that last token, he felt certain the casino would advance him money to purchase some insulin and comp him a motel suite. His vision was failing rapidly and he was as weak as a kitten but he managed to stagger back to the rows of slot machines. Hazily he felt his way over to the ‘Big Spender’ for the last drop and draw. Now completely blind and with every ounce of strength he had left; he inserted the last token and pulled ‘the bandit’s greedy arm’. Impatiently he waited for the sound of victory but he didn’t have to wait long. Bells went off, alarms and sirens sounded; and the ‘Big Spender’ had its promised winner! With the bells of victory and vindication ringing in his ears, Eddie Cole slumped over and fell to the floor into a fatal, diabetic coma!
The well dressed man was immediately surrounded with casino security people and well wishers (or those who wanted to stare at the winner of the 10 million dollar prize). Meanwhile the casino’s bouncers were instructed to quickly drag away ‘the passed-out drunk’ near the ‘Big Spender’. They laid him down in the back alley because television crews were on their way to feature the jackpot winner. The casino’s management didn’t want viewers to think they would be harassed by ‘bums’ at their casino. They only wanted them to see huge ‘winners’!
That evening as the security crew removed money and repaired broken machines, they found Eddie’s last hundred dollar token jammed into an ordinary slot machine right next to the ‘Big Spender’.
“That drunk must have dropped this in here by mistake before we dragged him into the back alley!”; Laughed one of the repairmen. They all began to roar at the thought of ‘the drunk’ almost winning the big prize. None of them were laughing the next morning however when his dead body was found next to the dumpster. Criminal negligence charges were filed by the authorities against the casino owner and security personnel.
After living a miserable existence where few good things (if any at all) went in his favor (only to narrowly miss a stroke of ‘good luck’) most would contend that there will always be some who are ‘lucky’; and others like Eddie Cole. Maybe they would be correct but regardless, Eddie Cole was no longer miserable; and that must count for something. Perhaps in a very twisted way, it was his ‘lucky’ day after all.