Sunday, May 09, 2004

Pieces of 8

8 is my number. And it is lucky. I picked it by accident in 1980, at a church festival that I was allowed to attend with some older kids from the neighborhood and, more importantly, sans parents. Three significant things happened that night:

1) I rode alone on a ferris wheel with my neighbor Kevin H., on whom I once had a massive, if inexplicable, crush. That was the night I realized how much I liked boys. I liked the funny shape of their knees, their blunt movements, and even (if Kevin were any indication) their incapacity for meaningful dialog.

2) I developed a lifelong relationship to scarcity. My parents had recently bought a house and money must have been tight. My mother gave me a ten dollar bill for the festival (a massive sum!), and I was elated. But then she said, "Well, I hope you're happy. Because you're taking our last dollar." I have a photo-precise image of my father at that moment. He sat in the fading light of the study window, staring pensively at the front lawn. Most likely, they had had a fight, and that had prompted my mother's comment. But, in my kid's imagination, I was the wickedest thing. I had taken their last dollar. And my dad was sad about it. I felt anxious about money for the next twenty years.

3) Okay—that's not entirely true. I've worried over money a lot in my life, but that worry must have started up later that evening, when my mother shook me down for change and marveled that I had returned with less than two dollars in my pockets. (Pretty astonishing by today's standards, but, at the time, I was mortified at this proof of my profligate self.) Apparently, the initial guilt at my mother's rebuke was not enough to prevent me from losing myself in what seemed the high glamour of the festival, eagerly trotting after the older kids across the dirty elementary school parking-lot from the concession stands to the rides to the games...

...and it was the months-of-the-year game that gave me the lucky number. You placed 50 cents on the number of the month you predicted would turn up on an oversized 12-sided die. My friends were playing their birth months, so I did the same, hastily sliding two quarters onto the number 8, which I mistook for representing July. August won and, much to my surprise, so did I. The barker leaned down to place in my arms a homely, stuffed panda. The panda wore an obscenely tight pair of grey-and-red striped trousers and a vacant smile. The oldest neighbor kid thumped me on the back. I felt as if Jesus himself had come down to congratulate me.

8 is symmetry or, with a tilt of the head, infinity. 8 gets the asterisk on the keyboard, as befits its flair. I remain charmed by 8, as several dozen passwords, past ATM codes, and bike lock combinations will attest. The only link to 8 that I resent has to do with sleep. I need 8 solid hours of it, and that seems a crime. Especially when you consider how, in any given August, the 6-hour sleeper experiences 2.5 more DAYS of waking life than I. But this is the only taint of bad luck corrupting 8 and my relationship to it.


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