The Traveling Encyclopedia Salesman, Clutching at Odds

I’m such a cliche, running away like a little kid, leaving town on the first bus I could find. I might as well have grabbed a stick, wrapped up some bread and an apple in a bandana, and skipped out of the house into the woods with it flung over my shoulder. Funny how those stories never go on to tell you what happens after the bread and apple are gone, and all that’s left in its place is bitter hunger. I didn’t even have time to grab an apple, let alone my wallet- and a lot of good that was, I barely had enough money for the bus ticket.

    The number 26 bus to St. Louis. It didn’t matter much to me where the bus was going, just that it was going anywhere other than where I was.

    Huckleberry Finn floated by St. Louis on his little wooden raft, and nothing bad, or good, or anything in particular happened to him there, besides him just floating by. I hope I just float by and nothing happens to me too, because anytime anything does happen to me it’s almost always the wrong thing.

    I am notorious for my bad luck.

    I won’t get into the specifics about why I left. Let us just say I owed a few bad men- and to be honest quite a few good men- a fair bit more money than I had.

    I’m a logical man. I know how numbers work. I understand how statistics work too. I know how to determine chances. Yet, still, if I’m honest, I just know, I just know that if I could only play one more hand, spin one more wheel, scratch one more ticket, I’d make it all back. I would finally win, as I always knew I would sooner or later- the issue is that so far it hasn’t been sooner, but later.

    Charlie Bucket got his golden ticket to the chocolate factory because he, “wanted it the most.” And let me tell you, someone out there must really want it bad, because I sure as hell want it bad. I need it bad too.

    I know that’s not how the world works, but yet I cling to the unfavorable odds like a man stranded at sea to his wooden barrel.

    And If I’m honest with myself, if that barrel were full of whiskey, I’d drink it till I’d drown.

    I wasn’t’ always this way, I wasn’t always a loser, the sick irony is I became a loser because I was a winner once. Just once. That’s all it takes with gambling- winning just once. It’s like heroin, you only need to taste victory one time, and it grips you. I’ve been dancing with odds ever since.

    After that, it’s a vicious spiral to the bottom. The more you lose, the less you have to lose, and it somehow makes the odds seem more in your favor. I mean, you’re already at rock bottom anyhow, and when you can’t get any lower the only way you can go is up. Right?

    And let me tell you, I don’t have anything left to lose, but I’ve got just as much left to win as any man out there. Those seem like pretty good odds to me.

    The sky starts to take on a new lightness along the horizon, a dark blue, the first hint of a sunrise. The sun never fails to make its appearance, those are odds I wish I could bet on, yet somehow I always feel nervous that this dawn the sun won’t rise and the world will be lost to darkness forever. It’s a fear I’ve had since I was a little boy. I used to sit and look out to the horizon and pray to god the sun would come- I never failed to sigh in relief every single morning when it did. You could say I had a stressful childhood.

I start to see the silhouettes of towers and apartment buildings against the horizon. The bus drifts through the outskirts of the city, passed big industrial complexes where god only knows what they make, build, refine, or produce- wood, petroleum, dice, playing cards, or maybe wooded roulette wheels.

The bus pulls into the St. Luis central station. As it pulls up to its stop within a giant painted rectangle on the pavement I look out the window and see a group of men I don’t recognize, but who I suspect would recognize me. Overcoats, tophats, big, mean looking. I know the type. They’re the kind that gets paid by wealthier people to stand outside places and wait for poor people who owe money to rich people to show up. I’ve been running away from people like this my whole life.

The fools think they can catch me. I’m Pete Huffor goddamnit! The Traveling Encyclopedia Salesman

To be continued…

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