Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog 3: Take me out to the ballgame.

Well ladies and gentlemen, my luck has finally turned. After 21 years I actually had something go the right way. Not exactly 100%, but as well as can be expected, somewhere around 99.99%, and it seemed to build up to this one night...actually last night...the night I turned 42. Notice 42 is twice 21, and my 21st birthday, although it was extremely fun, financially it was horrid. Yes I gambled all my birthday money away back in 1987. I even had to ask my friend Steve for cash to pay tolls to get over bridges and down the toll roads from Atlantic City, NJ to Beltsville, MD, that's how much money I lost. But it was fun...just not financially rewarding.

Now, exactly 21 years later, not counting leap years and stuff like time adjustments for the Earth's travel around the Sun, the tide has turned my friends. A most wonderful birthday night that is so blog worthy I have been thinking about what I would write for the past 24 hours. That's how great it was. And I owe it all to my buddy Rob.

Rob has season tickets to the Washington Nationals baseball team. This year the team is in a brand spanking new stadium, and I haven't been to a pro baseball game in 2 years. It just so happens that the last home game of the season landed on my birthday so Rob decided it would be a good idea to make it a birthday gift. That's schwag reward number one. Everybody count with me. There will be a brief quiz at the end.

As we stood in the guest services booth getting our tickets, this fellow wanders in with a hand full of "special" tickets and a pocket full of wristbands. Hmmmm, I wonder what he's got there. He meanders up to the booth and tells the fellow in there that he's tired of giving out these event tickets so he brought them here. He says, "If anyone comes in asking about the Barracuda Event give them a ticket and a wristband." That's when Rob and Jeff's eyes met, eyebrows raised up and we did the evil grin thing. Did someone say special birthday is a special event too...why not combine the two? So we leave guest services and Rob convinces me to go back in there and say the magic word to mister ticketman. I handed Rob my hat and umbrella and walked back into guest services. "Two tickets for Barracuda" I say, calmly. Lo and behold, we're in with the Barracudas. After a brief quest we find conference room #4, music blasting, kegs a-tappin and chili dogs a-munching. Free beer and food on my birthday, nothing wrong with that. That's schwag reward number two. Try to keep up everybody.

After gorging ourselves on chili dogs, chili cheese nachos and Becks Oktoberfest on tap we decide to do a lap around the concourse. It's about half an hour until gametime, the tarp is still on the field, the wind is blowing and there's a slight drizzle blowing around the stadium lights. I've got a short sleeved shirt on and I'm getting chilly. I need to hit the team store to get my son a Nats hoodie and figure I'll pick up a birthday present for myself in the form of a nice warm jacket...

Nats Kids Hoodie: $36.
Nats Adult Fleece Lined Team Jacket: $175.
42nd Birthday and a belly full of free beer: Priceless

So I bring the Nats gear up to the counter where the Becks starts talking. Chatting it up with the cashier I pull out my check card and, of course, it's got a nice Nats logo on it. I ask the girl if I'm entitled to an extra discount, among some other not so PC things I may have asked her, and she smiles and says, "You get a special discount." I think she liked me because the bill was much lighter than I expected. I wander out of the store to wait for Rob to complete his purchase and whip out my receipt. Sure enough, somebody else paid for the Kids Hoodie, most likely the team owners. Whomever it was, it surely wasn't numero uno, if you get what I mean. And if you lost track that's big fat schwag reward number 3...yup I said three!!! Aren't you paying attention? Sheesh.

Now I'm unstoppable. I mean, nothing can go wrong here. Where else can I scam some more stuff. I know, you're all thinking, this is where old Jeff gets greedy, well you're right. I'm unbreakable, golden boy, the birthday king...I'm not stopping now. So we look up on the old jumbotron. It's an HDTV about 40 feet wide, and there's Cliff, the stadium talking head handing out $50 gift certificates, vouchers for next season's games and lottery scratch offs. Dude, lets go find Cliff. And guess where Cliff was...walking down the concourse about 30 feet in front of us with tv cameras, Nats Girls and 20 fans of all ages chasing after him like kids behind an ice cream truck. Cliff sets up shop after walking a bit and Rob and I join the crowd. I'm positioning myself where I think the action is and wait. But the only baseball being played is the Cubs game on the jumbotron. And Cliff doesn't get the go sign until the inning is over. The Cubbies are playing well, so we all wait. We wait so long I stop waiting and leave the pack thinking my luck has run out.

I get back to Rob who was waiting on the outskirts of the people-knot just as the Mets get the third out against the Cubs and a frenzy ensues as Nats fans see the camera lights come on and Cliff comes alive like an anamatronic Lincoln at Disney. He spots a peanut vendor and calls him over. The guy walks right past me as Cliff clears a path through his human buffer zone and peanutman starts juggling bags of peanuts for the cameras. Then Cliff starts handing out cards. And Cliff looks down the channel between red clad Nats fans and sees me standing at the end of his escape route in a new blue Nats jacket and a bright red Nats hat and thinks, "This dude needs to be on the jumbotron." And yes, he walks past about 20 screaming fans, kids and old ladies, even one in a wheelchair, sidles up next to me, the king of birthdays, mister "42 today" and asks me, "You want a lottery ticket?" And in my best Elvis voice I respond, "Thank yuh, thank yuh ver much." Guess who was on the jumbotron. Guess who got a free scratch off lottery ticket worth up to $5000. Guess who pulled an Elvis impersonation in front of 1500 soaking wet, shivering cold, desperate baseball fans dying for freebies. You guessed it. Mister lucky birthday boy. Hello schwag number 4. And I leave with the knowledge that my 15 seconds of fame are past me now. I don't have to worry that those 15 seconds will be my mugshot on the 11 o'clock news or in some Darwin Awards email sent round the globe 42 times.

Does it get any better than that? I couldn't make that kind of stuff up, really. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Rob has this look on his face like, "I can't effing believe this guy!" He was truly flabbergasted. It usually takes a bit to ruffle old Rob, mister chill, Joe Cool himself. He was visibly disconcerted, yet happy for my fortuitous evening. So I turn to him and say, "You scratch it." I mean, I felt sorry for him. He picked me up from work. He drove me to the stadium. He gave me a ticket. He even bought me a birthday funnel cake. I had to do something. The guy wouldn't let me take my wallet out all night (except when I paid for that jacket). So I hand him the ticket, and a penny. Time to get to scratching. And Rob gets this epiphany. "Dude, you've been so lucky tonight I couldn't possibly scratch this ticket. You've got to do it. Just split the winnings with me."

He had a point. Free ticket...for my birthday. Free food and beer...because of me. Free hoodie...for my kid. Free lottery ticket...because I was looking good. How could I not scratch the thing. I'm a goddamn walking leprechaun with shamrocks for hair and a pocket full of horseshoes. I'd be an idiot to let anyone other than me scratch the thing. What was I thinking? So I scratched the ticket. And that's where my luck ran out. Maybe I should have walked around the concourse looking for a heads up penny to scratch the ticket with. Maybe I should have taken the ticket home to my wife and let her scratch it. I got greedy and got nothing...and I was still smiling from ear to ear. Maybe it was all the free Becks Oktoberfest. Maybe it was the schwag. Maybe it was because it was my birthday. Who knows, but I smiled all the way home.

I tell you was the best damn birthday I've had since I can remember, and the only time I ever scored any free stuff just by being in the right place at the right time. Now I'm just waiting for the karma to come full circle. Hopefully it will hold off for another 21 years.

So who was counting? How much schwag did I collect? Do you remember without scrolling up? How many said four? Yeah, four....nope. The total count was 5. It was a trick question. Only one person could get that quiz correct, and that would be Rob. Because at the end of the night Rob, the generous friend, always the bridesmaid never the bride, mister watch all the luck get sucked away by mister birthday, gave me his all-in-one printer.

I realize now where my luck has been all along. My luck has been in finding friends like Rob, Steve, Tim, Bonnie, the Teresas, Andy, and Vic. It's been finding my wife in the basement of a government building and in the two wonderful children we have together. Too bad it took 42 years to finally figure it out.