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Full Circle: The Prize
There was a big drawing on the radio. It was my lucky day.

My mother was a hater. She hated kids who ran on her lawn, potatoes from New Jersey and, most of all, she hated Little Richard. But, after today, her life would never be the same. 

The sun was shining on my walk home from school that day. It was a wickedly warm fall day where the temperature hit 80. And the World Series was just around the corner. So I stopped, as was my habit, at the Unity-Frankford market, which was barely bigger than the phone booth out front. The Unity-Frankford, where the Tastykakes were wrapped in wax paper, where the wax lips rested alluringly against the jawbreakers, was a one-stop shop for my daily lottery – a five-pack of baseball cards with a pink powdered slab of bubblegum that was made in the 1860s. 

Who would I get today? The anticipation, like my mother’s tomato sauce, put a pain in the pit of my stomach. Willie Mays? Stan Musial? Maybe the Mick? Never. Not me. I got Marv Blaylock and Choo Choo Coleman and Jim Greengrass. Jim stinking Greengrass. This was not going to be a great day.  

When I got home, the neighbors were already sitting out on their rusted patio chairs, their tiny radios to their ears.  

“Are we at war?” I asked one of them. 

“No, dummy,” she said. “This is the day of the Joe Niagara drawing.” 

Of course. Every Thursday, at just about this time, Joe Niagara, the Rockin’ Bird from WIBG, would reach into his big bolted barrel and pull out the name of one lucky winner. Sure, it was only a record album. But to those of us who lived in little brick houses, it was a trip around the world.  

Antsy with anticipation, I ran up to my room to play a little music. 

“You got a C in arithmetic,” my mother said, “but you’re spending your time listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Who cares about rock ‘n’ roll?” 

Certainly not my mother, who was still dancing the Charleston at weddings.  

Two days earlier, she had heard me playing “Keep a-Knockin’” 23 times in a row, and she ran up the stairs.  

“My god,” she said, “I thought you were dead. That record player keeps playing the same damn song. Put on something decent, at least. Put on Perry Como.” 

And then we heard it, the neighbors calling through the screen door. “Come on out, it’s time for the drawing.” And so it was. Everyone turned their radio up high. And the Rockin’ Bird did his thing.  

“The week’s winner is…” There was a pause you could drive a Frank’s soda truck through. “This week’s winner is…Maury Levy of Calvert Street.” 

Huh? Did he just say my name on the radio? This had to be a dream. Neighbors came running out of their houses. “He won, he won,” they screamed. Not since the end of the Korean War had there been such excitement on my block.  

He said my name. He said my street. Was my picture going to be in the paper? My sister’s picture was in the paper once, when she guessed the weight of Elsie the Cow. 

The neighbors were cheering and shaking each other’s hands. They could go into work tomorrow and tell people they knew me. I was 10 years old, and I was a celebrity. Will the neighbors carry me on their shoulders down the block? I saw that in a movie once.  

“How much did you win?” one of them asked. 

“I won a record album,” I said. 

“That’s all you won?” Billy the Bully Flanagan said. “A stinking record album? Wow, that’s worth a whole four bucks.” 

But he wasn’t going to bring down my spirits. Not today. I was the king of the world. 

“So, tell me, Mr. Lucky,” my mother said, “whose record album did you win?” 

“Perry Como, Mom. Perry Como.”

November 2018
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