reaching for the brass ring

The pay-to-play lotteries intrigue me until I remember grocery store contests. I have scratched, torn, rubbed, glued, taped, pasted and filled in the blanks. For years I followed the instructions on all those wonderful free contests promising prizes to hundreds of dollars and vehicles.
Twice I was an instant winner. Let’s see the box of crackers lasted a couple of days, but the store never did carry that particular kind of chips.
When I have a grocery store lottery card, I tear into it unless someone is watching me. Then I feign indifference as I casually reveal the numbers, casually tuck the little bitty pieces of numbered paper, sort and attach them to the playing cards. Doesn’t matter though, I always lack one number in every row of the bingo, tic-tac-toe or make-a-line cards.
When I lived up north, my neighbor got on a roll with the yearly grocery store contest. One year he won $5. The next he matched and won $10. The third year, when he had covered all of a row to win $50, he ran into the store, talking about how he was sure to win the big prize next year. He gleefully demanded his money at the courtesy booth. The manager pointed out that he had mistaken a 35 for a 53. Mr. Neighbor came home very mad, determined to never pay another contest.
But me? Hey, I play it cool. I make a joke about how many times I have been invited to “try again.” I quit believing the hype of “You too could be a winner.”
If where I choose to shop has a contest, I open the store’s lottery ticket toss the card on the pile with all the rest and add one more for the odds against winning.
But once upon a time, I was shopping in a store the last day of a contest. Clerks handed out play lottery tickets by the dozens. I did not begin looking at my fistful of cards until I hit the freeway.
The first card said I had won a free can of coffee. Lucky me. I don’t drink enough coffee to even own a coffee pot. I put the card aside to give to an addicted friend.
The next one promised a free packet of fudge cookies. That’s an addiction near to my heart. I was not sharing that with anyone. I stuck the car in my shirt pocket.
The next few cards were cents off coupons. Then I hit the jackpot: Free lunch meat, chips, cookies, crackers, candy more coffee and of course more coupons to save on specific products.
I could not believe it. I had never seen so may free food coupons ever. At home, my kids were thrilled. We decided to cash them in all at once.
At the store, I met a woman I knew and asked if she drank coffee. She did. I gave her coupons for free coffee. Then I met a friend with her children and told them about my luck and gave them a coupon for free fudge cookie.
I didn’t match-a-line for the big prize, didn’t even win cash, but for a little while I was a winner with more than enough to give away and still have overstocked cupboards. My luck didn’t last. During the next contest, I didn’t even get a box of crackers. Can’t win’em all, but that one time sure was fun.