There I am, spending the evening the same way I have spent so many, holding down a bar stool at The Pit.
It‘s our local tavern.
During brighter days, the sign above the door read The Pit & Paddock as an homage to the establishment’s racing theme, but over the years, the harsh Minnesota weather and the decline of its clientele reduced the name to a more simplified form.
The building itself is a weary structure, barely able to lean into the wind rather than shy away from it and its regulars are an equally weary lot. So much so that local opinion holds that The Pit, and all within, dangle precariously over the edge of oblivion.
Its regulars disagree.
They deny their watering hole teeters over the crack of doom – but when pressed however, they will concede that you can clearly see it from there.
None the less, it is a happy place. Happier than most because its social fabric is bond firmly together by the magnetism of the bottom of the barrel – and the basic essence of that attractive force is – complaining.
This evening is more dour than most, so Dewey the bartender, raises a simple question to elevate the crowd’s spirits.
“What would you do if you won the lottery?”
Eddy, a guy who still wears road safety yellow, years after being laid off the county crew, is first to take the bait.
“I’d send a sympathy card to each of my former coworkers,” he remarks, then waiting a full three measures, adds, “every… single… day…”
Another guy whose name I forgot says, “Hell, I’d buy a house so big it would have to have climate control rather than a thermostat.”
Not to be outdone, Sid, a young man with wit but no ambition, quips, “I’d get a SUV with a fuel tank bigger than Kuwait.”
“You know what I would do?” Dewey muses.
The crowd turns its attention.
“I’d buy a one-way space tourist ticket.”
No one is sure how to respond.
“And give it to my ex.”
We all shudder, knowing Dewey’s former Mrs.
Sid then asks the question on everyone’s mind, “Is space far enough?”
“What would you do?” Dewey asks me.
“Worry,” I tell him.
“Both good and bad luck respect the same mathematics,” I tell him, “Asking for a hundred million to one odds is just tempting fate to reach down deep into its nastiest bag of tricks.”
“Gosh, aren’t you just a ray of sunshine?” says Eddy.
This leaves only a retired farmer named Walt to venture his opinion.
Being near the end of the month, he cradles a penny jar on his lap. It is is how he manages to afford the small glass of light beer he has been nursing all night.
“I already won the lottery,” he says.
“How so?” we want to know.
“I was born in the age of painless dentistry,” he says. “It don’t get no better than that.”
It takes a moment for the crowd to realize that by being born in a modern country during a modern age, every single one of them had won history’s greatest lottery. The conversation then launches in a new direction.
“And being born into the age of indoor plumbing,” someone says. “Imagine sitting in an outhouse during a Minnesota January.”
“And electric lights…”
“And central heating and air conditioning…”
“And cold draft beer…”
“And canned peaches,” the guy whose name I forgot says.
This gets a few bewildered looks.
“I like peaches,” he explains then emphasizes, “all year around.”
This counting of blessings goes on well into the wee hours…
And sometime during the night, as its regulars tally their luck instead of their misfortune, somewhere beyond the weathered walls of a bar named The Pit, quietly and magically, the brink of the abyss shifts just a little further away….
Probably in the direction of Iowa.