My husband walks in at 11:43 Saturday night, eyes downcast, clothes rumpled, a smudge that looks like lipstick on his collar. He is four hours late and I am furious. My stomach knots, but I have to ask. He knows that I have to ask.
"Where have you been?"
He shuffles his feet a bit, then reaches for his pocket. "Don't worry," he says. Clenched between his forefinger and thumb, he produces the orange-and-white ticket. Our marriage is saved.
It's Lotto time. Every Wednesday and Saturday, regardless of health or mood, we ritualistically plunk down two dollars for two Quick Picks. 7-11. Bob's Liquor. Mark's Valley Drugs. It's doesn't matter that in almost two years we have won only $10 and have spent $212. It doesn't matter that the odds of winning big are 14 million to one. Driven by the California Lottery's "Dream a Little Dream," we enthusiastically make the purchase.
Tom Petty was wrong. The waiting isn't the hardest part, it's the best part (so far). Since we always wait to read the winning numbers in the morning paper, we have approximately 12 hours, twice a week, to fantasize about how we will spend the millions we have won. By 7 a.m., there is $57 left of the $12 million and we are out of milk.
How did we spend it? Not on chalets in Switzerland or Rolls-Royces or yachts or Beverly Hills. Call it proletarian, but my big dream is to pay off our four maxed-out Mastercards. And then sending the banks a note. A nasty note.
I dream of paying an inventor to invent a tracking device that can locate my 20-month-old daughter's shoes.
I dream of buying out the major magazines that have sent rejection notices back with my untouched manuscripts and dedicating a whole issue to my writing.
I dream of buying See's Candies and refusing to sell to people who weigh under 135 pounds.
My husband is a schoolteacher and his dreams, understandably, are different. He dreams of summers without starvation (or, at least, the threat of starvation).
He dreams of taking over my job, being able to stay home with our two young daughters. (I suspect, however, he privately dreams of hiring a part-time nanny).
Together, we have power dreams.
We dream of being able to own our own house, in any place but Sacramento, sometime before retirement.
We dream of being able to afford a baby-sitter once a week so we can see movies like "Skin Deep" and complain about wasting $13 on the tickets.
We dream about replacing all the burned-out light bulbs in the house.
We dream about being able to afford the processing fee for the nine rolls of film sitting in the kitchen drawer.
We dream of hiring a person to pick up and deliver videos for the rest of our lives and the lives of our children.
We dream of buying the beer factory on Roscoe Boulevard and turning it into a flower factory. If we don't have enough money for that dream, we dream of buying oxygen tanks for everyone who's within smelling distance on warm days and nights.
We dream of hiring someone to organize the 8,423 toy pieces scattered throughout the house and garage.
Of course we have your basic liberal, border-line communist dream of feeding the hungry. But realistically, $12 million isn't enough to feed millions of hungry Americans for too long, and it's not nearly enough to run for President.
Some dreams are scheme dreams. We dream about making more millions by owning the first facility where you can work out, sip a margarita and do your laundry at the same time.
We have a lot of revenge dreams, too. They involve the computer store that turned us down for credit in 1985 and the man in the red Mercedes that jumped a traffic light and smashed into our car. They involve the person who stole our Hyundai's stereo and the insurance company that refuses to buy a new one.
But these particular dreams shouldn't be detailed in writing.
It is now Sunday morning and we have lost. We didn't even get one number. Ouch.
But there is sunshine in the forecast, and at age 30 Joe can still play a mean game of basketball; our kids are healthy and brilliant, and after four years of marriage and motherhood, I still get carded. Things aren't too bad.
And, of course, Wednesday is just 72 hours away.