By Vito Delsante

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been, “Lucky Eddie.” If not for the fact that my birth certificate and social security card both say, “Edward F. Munson,” I’d believe my first name was Lucky. Not sure how it all started or who started it. As is the case with most family legends, there are always different origin stories. It gets disputed a lot; my mom said she almost lost me in the delivery room, while my dad says I fell out of a tree and didn’t have a scratch. My first lucky memory happened when I was about five years old, maybe six, and being handed one of those lotto scratch off tickets. My parents spent tons of dough on those things, looking for the quick fix. Being as curious as a five year old could be, I asked my dad if I could scratch off one of them. Even though he was frustrated, he handed me a card and a penny and said, “Knock yourself out, kid.” We…I mean, he…won $7,500. A few weeks later, he left my mom, and after the divorce, he ended up winning me, too. And that’s when I remember being called, “Lucky Eddie.”

My dad quit his job when he left home and instead of finding a new one, he’d just use some money to buy scratch offs and handed me the penny, the lucky one. That’s how he paid rent, bought me clothes and groceries, and, generally, that’s how he got by in life. When he lost the penny…man, I thought he was going to lose his mind. He quickly realized that it wasn’t the penny that was lucky; it was me. This went on for thirteen years. Once I graduated, I joined the service, where my luck kept me from getting killed at least three times in Iraq. One day, right before I was honorably discharged, I got a letter from the State Correctional Institution in Greensburg. My dad. Inmate #497896.

Once I graduated, his life hit the skids. He had to get a job and move into a cheaper apartment in Jeannette. Dollar after dollar was spent on lotto tickets. He’d gone to the Rivers Casino once or twice, but no luck. He was evicted and started living in his car. When the car broke down, he sold it for junk parts and hit the Rivers one more time. He got caught cheating and got his ass whipped but good. And even after the beating, he was still arrested. That wouldn’t be the last time he’d be in the joint either, but it was the first.

“Dad,” I said as I shook my head, “I’ve only been gone four years.”

I got set up in an apartment in Greensburg, just to be close to him when he got out. I walked into the local Sheetz and saw that the lottery was up to about 140 grand. I figured, “Why not?” I gave the clerk five bucks, rattled off a few numbers and went home. It never occurred to me that I’d win. I hadn’t been “Lucky Eddie” since June of 1999.

Five people hit that number. With my share, I hired a lawyer, a good lawyer, and got dad’s sentence reduced to time served and community service. He was home 12 weeks later. As he walked into my apartment, he set his duffel bag down, kicked his shoes off, turned to me and said, “Lucky Eddie, you gotta hit that casino.”

*****

As I entered the casino, I went over the plan. “Play the tables.” Roulette, Blackjack, maybe even Poker, but no slots. The stakes weren’t big enough. “Unless you have a big bet, you’re not going to get a big payoff.” My father’s voice, desperate, kept droning on in my head. He wasn’t with me, but every twist, every turn, no matter how loud the machines were, I could not lose his words of advice. In the past, I stayed away from big shows of my luck because they immediately got the wrong kind of attention. Dad thought I’d be taking the casino for all it was worth, but I formulated my own plan; spread the wealth. Move from game to game, table to table, and look casual. They expect you to lose money, and even to win it, but if you get up from a table, they assume it’s for a bad reason. Keep moving.

Roulette. $25 dollar table. Played $50 a spin. Played the numbers 30, 8, and the color red. Won $500. Move on.

Blackjack. $100 dollar table with a three to two payout. Played only two hands since I got blackjack on both. Bet $200 on both hands. Walked away with $1,200.

No one had noticed me yet.

Craps is where I lost track of how I was doing and how much I was making. It was easy to stay there and just throw dice. It looks random. No counting cards, no magnetic spin. As a precaution, I always had someone hand me the die, just so it didn’t look funny. There was so much excitement, I forgot the plan. Walked away with $75,000. Time to cash out.

I was getting comp offers left and right, but I had to decline. The casino wanted their money back, but I wasn’t willing to play that game. Walked out, into the night air, and took a deep breath. The stadium was lit up for a Monday night game. A lot of attention on that side of the street. As I crossed the street, I saw him, barreling through the light at 60 miles per hour, at least. Tried to brace for the impact, but there was no use.

My dad, the man who chose me in the divorce, had run me down.

Before I passed out, I could feel him going through my pockets, taking the money. He never said a word. He didn’t even say my name.

I woke up almost a year and a half later. A coma, they told me. I was lucky to be alive, they told me.

“Yeah,” I said, “Just call me Lucky Eddie.”

 

–Vito Delsante

Illustration by Julian Lopez