Remember the poll that I placed at the end of a post a while back? Yeah, me either. So, for us forgetful types here’s a link to get us to the poll. Now the good news is, there have been some votes, but I would like to see a couple more before I go ahead and close it up. (Which I’ll do in about 24 hours.) If you could be so kind as to click a pick I would greatly appreciate it. I’ll use the selected locale to write this weekends ‘post over coffee’ episode. Could be an interesting time!
Onward and upward. I really don’t like that expression. I think I heard it in a movie from a character I didn’t like and ever since it’s just been ruined. Anyways. Just in case some of you are keeping score, I’ve another prompt to write this week. There’s not supposed to be any real lead into the story, I guess some people like it that way. Can’t blame them really, who doesn’t want to get right to the action? So my friends, grab a drink, get comfy, and let me tell you a story.
The Sportsmen Dinner
I arrive with my Father-in-law, some of his brothers, and a guy whose name I can’t remember, to the community center in Irishtown. There is a four leafed clover painted on the roof, big and bright green. The beacon of this little New Brunswick village, I’m sure.
The year before we stood outside a while before going in. Some of us smoked back then and it takes me a moment to remember that the smokers have quit since. The awkwardness of not standing outside those few moments wears off as I step inside. If anything you can’t say a room full of sportsmen are not superstitious. The layout is exactly the same as last year, as it was the year before that, and I’m sure the 30 years since The Sportsmen Dinner has run.
I cross the interior threshold into the main hall of the center and am greeted by the gentlemen sitting at the first money trap. Raffle tickets on a rifle ((Say that then times fast, you’ll sound like a redneck)) and the guess jar. Every year they place so many bullets into a large jar, whomever is closest wins something. It does the trick though, gets wallets out of pants.
Superstitiously we discuss about sitting close to where we were last year, or if a change in table could bring a change in luck. After a couple of shrug of shoulders we settle on a place to sit. We split up here, some headed for the bar while the others check out the prize tables. I choose the prize tables, working my way from grand prize to dollar table.
On my way over I look up at three hundred names written on strips of paper and taped to the wall. My name is up there, number seventy. I hear someone new asking how it all works, why the names were taped up like that. The same exact breakdown that I received my first time was given to this man by his friend.
Three hundred names on the wall. Three hundred film cases in the drum. ((I’ll post a pic of one of these for the younger crowd :p )) First name drawn out, wins. Every tenth name after that, wins. Last four are guaranteed to win. Last name get’s that. I look at the grand prize table as he says it. Roughly thirty-five hundred dollars of sporting equipment sits on that table. It’s what we’ve all come here for. The man nods his understanding, and I move my way past a camouflage blind I wouldn’t mind winning.
As I get to the dollar table, same place – same guy selling tickets, I buy four. As you may have guessed they’re a dollar each. At the end of the night when all is said and done, they draw the other halves of all the tickets. If your number comes out, you go up and pick something. This year they have nice quality things, but not as many things. Something new! I commend the ticket seller on a job well done and head for the bar.
With my Budweiser in hand I find the guys sitting at the table. They serve us a turkey dinner. It’s not what we’ve come here for, and the taste reminds us why. Definitely not what we’d get at home. Then again, we are a spoiled lot with our wonderful wives who create masterful meals for us. If anything it reminds us to be thankful for home cooking.
Dessert is self-serve and is typically eaten out of respect for whomever has made it. The coffee resembles motor oil. So after another round at the bar – it may have been two rounds, but who’s counting – they announce that the main draw would be starting soon. At our table we all ante in. Two dollars each goes on our table, the first of our group drawn out gets the pot. This year eight-teen dollars fills the pot. The smokers smoke, the drinkers drink, and we all settle in for a couple of hours of “Sorry my main man, hate to draw ya out like this but, better luck next year!”
About halfway through they break to let the smokers and the drinkers and ticket guys make their rounds. I remember the ticket guy from Wildcat hockey games. He used to walk the aisles between plays and yell “FIFTY FIFTY TICKEEETSSSSSSSSS” just like that, as loud as he could. He carries the same enthusiasm in the small center and makes me wish the smokers in the group picked up the habit again so we could go outside.
I see the main guy heading back to the microphone. The sign that more names are going to be torn off the wall relieves my ticket pain. The main raffle carries on.
Something strange happens after this midway point. Time shifts. It slows down and speeds up all at once. It feels like an eternity between names, but people are going up to get a prize just about every time I turn around. I start to feel nervous as I realize that most of the group I’ve come with has been drawn out, their name torn off the wall, one of the nine between the prize. I know my time is coming and all I can do is sit and wait.
In this temporal time shift I lose track of how many names are left. It’s my brother-in-law who gets my attention. “You’re one of the last four, you need to go up.” He says to me. It doesn’t sink it at first. I’ve never gone this far in the draw before. I stand up and make my way to the front. One of the four is not here tonight so it’s only myself and two other men standing in front by the raised podium. The head guy asks us if we want to sell our tickets. We all shake our heads side to side. No tickets sold tonight.
He draws the fourth-place name rather quickly, it’s the guy who isn’t here. Serves him right, I joke to myself and my nerves crank up a notch. Guaranteed third place. The thought leaves my mind as the head guy calls out one of the other names. We shake his hand and now I stand with one other.
The head guy draws it out. Joking, he calls out for a break. That he needs to smoke. It draws the polite chuckle from the group. They want to see this as much as the two of us left standing want to experience this. He or I are going to be walking away from this center tonight with everything a person would need for a sportsmen lifestyle. They roll the drum a few times and pull one of the canisters out.
I’m not looking at the grand prize table any more, I’m too nervous. I pace in a tight line as the head guy waves the second place canister in his hands. It takes too long but is over too quickly. I hear the pop of the plastic lid and can feel the paper slide out from fifteen feet away. He reads the name. It’s not mine.
I’m numb now, I shake the second place winner and say congratulations. “To make it official,” the head guy says ” we’ll draw the last canister. The winner of the thirtieth anniversary dinner is, Nick Langis. Number seventy.” He says something else but I don’t hear it, some people laugh so it must have been directed to me. It doesn’t matter, I’m headed over to the prize table. My prize table.
I’m suddenly thankful that we came down in my uncle-in-laws van. We’ll need the space. The canoe fits nicely on the roof and we tie it in with straps from the prize. The rifle and shotgun we stick in the trunk. We use the box from the four thousand watt generator to put the trail cam, handcrafted knife, handheld gps, rifle ammo and shotgun shells, xcel (kind of like a go pro) camera, binoculars, life jackets, and fishing rod into. The ores we stash under the seats. We stick the generator in the van first and then set the box on top of it.
We head home. My father-in-law and I spend an hour or two in his living room playing like kids on Christmas morning with everything. He pours me a shot of rye and we drink. The rye in my throat is the first thing I’ve felt since the second-place name was drawn. It becomes real then. I realize it wasn’t a dream. It’s real. It’s real.