I used to think success was driving down a beach-front highway having to choose between breathing in the new car smell from your convertible, or putting the top down for some salt air.
1 week ago, I had neither of those choices and today the very thought of beach air and new car smell makes me fucking sick.
Before I get into this, let me be clear: this is not a confession of guilt for anything I’ve done. I never wanted all this shit. From the very start it was only about one thing: Getting my son, James a birthday present.
I wasn’t even trying to get him the BEST or the BIGGEST or the most EXPENSIVE birthday present. Just
A present. The present I set out to get.
I went to the 7/11 on Santa Monica and bought a MegaMillions lotto ticket.
My name is Daniel Baxter, and this is the day I thought I won the lottery.
April 8, 2022 – 2:03AM
It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’m at the Hollywood Casino. I’ve got every penny to my name spread across the craps table and some dickhead on his bachelor party holds the dice of fate in his clammy little hands.
My last 3 meals have been from discarded room service trays at LAX Hilton, my truck doesn’t start without a prayer and the tires have been leaking air for the last month which is fine because now I know the location of every free air filling station in LA County.
If I’d paid my phone bill, it’d be buzzing a crater in my leg from my ex, Lenora, asking if I’d picked up our son’s birthday gift with the $200 she gave me.
“Gave me” isn’t quite the right term. She handed it to me with a scowl then told me “if you gamble this shit you’ll never fucking see him again.” Things had been tense lately.
But none of that matters because this guy’s been hot and it’s with his help that I’ve turned that 200 hundred into almost 3 grand. The only question is; are the rhythms with me or not?
Maybe you call it God. Maybe you call it Karma or the natural vibe of the earth or mercury or whatever. When the rhythms are on, everything goes your way. You crush your yearly review at work and get the raise you’re after or you’re at some party and you’ve got everyone eating outta the palm of your hand.
Most things are math. Craps is math. Poker is math. Phone bills are math. Divorce rates are math and if I keep having to eat off of room service trays, the likelihood of me waking up with diarrhea is math.
It’s all just probability. But when the rhythms are on, the probability doesn’t matter. You could take a 1 and a million shot back-to-back and hit it twice. That’s what the rhythm can do for you.
Summer of 2018 I was up over 2 million. I couldn’t lose a hand of blackjack, I couldn’t crap out if I tried, I couldn’t say the wrong thing to Lenora and every time I walked into the room my son, James, would light up like a fucking lantern.
It used to be me and Lenora at the tables. The place was always open, the food is fine and the drinks are free. If we weren’t at the tables we were in the lounge talking Black Jack strategy or in the bar talking game theory or hanging out at the slots like a couple’a mice pressing a button and waiting for the cheese to pop out.
Sometimes it’s nice to be a mouse. I’ve got rats in my house. They don’t pay rent or go food shopping. All they have to do is avoid eating a piece of death cheese or poison and honestly that’s not too far off from how I live anyways.
When we had James, things changed though. As Lenora put it “risking your son’s dinner isn’t chasing something it’s chasing nothing.” And I guess the 45-minute commute to the Hollywood wasn’t a valuable use of her time. Lots of people commute to work even longer. When I was working at Goldman, I commuted an hour and a half each way from Connecticut. Granted I was on a train but the point is we all commute to work.
It was nice having her here. It was nice seeing James with a smile. It was nice to check my bank account and feel a life raft around me, rather than a black hole forming in my bellybutton.
But the rhythms shifted.
Now it’s just me here next to Lenny with the beard, Jackie with the cigar and Jonie who’s been serving drinks here so long her face should be on the highway billboards. After Lenora broke it off with me she got together with Kelton who works for a hedge fund which (for the record) is still gambling. He’s just doing it with other people’s money.
James’ 9th birthday is three days away. He wants an iPad and soon as I cash out, I’ll be able to pick one up, maybe kick some back to Lenora and spread some cash around to the litany of people I’m on the hook to.
I’m one big night away from wiping it all out. I just need one hit. One night of pure rhythm... and I’ll be back.
The shooter shakes the dice in his hand then tosses ‘em. I watch them clack on the table walls below me, but before they even settle on the pass line, I can already feel the star implode in my stomach.
In a flash, my hard work is raked away by some new guy named Carl with a moustache and not a single ounce of sympathy.
The party’s at Lenora (and Kelton’s) which was fine because honestly, I didn’t just have rats.
The rats came in chasing the cockroaches but when a bunch of them got into my Cadbury Mini Egg stash and died under the living room floor, a pack of fleas picked the carcass clean before making their way into the carpet above. So, yeah...at the moment I have fleas, cockroaches and rats. I had a bug bomb guy coming in a couple days but things were gonna be a little itchy until then.
It's three days until the party. I’ve got no gift and if I show up without that 200 bucks I may never see my kid again.
April 8, 2022 – 6:32AM
There’s only so much you can do on a security guard’s salary and being paid $12 an hour to guard millions of dollars in Mercedes automobiles is hilarious. What am I supposed to do if some guy comes in to steal a car? Lay my life on the line and hope my out-of-pocket HMO covers bullet wounds?
I don’t even have dental. I got a root canal that needed to be recapped 10 minutes after it was put in.
I’ve been on Mr. Jenkins about a raise but he keeps telling me “we gotta sell more cars, Davey,” as if I’m the one selling cars. I’m a fucking security guard what the hell’s that gotta do with me? Last I checked it was my job to keep cars on the lot and getting them off was yours.
Jenkins owns every car dealer on Van Nuys. Maybe you’ve seen his ads on TV where he slides into frame wearing a suit while riding a surfboard just to say “COME ON DOWN!” He can afford to buy a surfboard for tv ad that has no mention of surfing or aquatic sports of any kind but he can’t pay me an extra $3 an hour so I can re-introduce cold foods to my diet.
I spend most of my shift eyeing the mint green on onyx black SLS convertible they keep in the lobby. It’s flashy but it’s got a nut sack under the hood so you know you could back it up if you went toe-to-toe with some clown at a red light. Sometimes I just stare at it but I never touch it. I only wanna touch it when it’s mine. Which it would be...
Maybe I could steal it and sell it to get the iPad and some other shit. I know all the codes but then again I wouldn’t need the whole car. The thing costs half a mill. Maybe I could lift a rear-view mirror. Who would notice? Then again with the way the rhythm’s set I’d probably bump into the fucking FBI on the way out.
I’ve been doing my best to get things together but the cards aren’t falling my way and there’s not much you can really do about that. I’ve been going to the Hollywood for 15 years so I know I’m due for a run.
Me and Lenny talking about this all the time at the lounge. Sometimes you’re on the downbeat and sometimes you’re on the upbeat. Lately I feel like it’s been all downs but the thing about being a father though, is that you’re not the only one on that ride.
It used to be that I could take a few down weeks or months even. Sleep in the car, call the landlord and talk them out of breaking down the door but when you got a kid everything changes. You suffer, he suffers. Lately Lenora’s been paying for that but you see she keeps a tally. She says she doesn’t but she does.
Every time she has to pay for something she looks at me like I’m the biggest piece of shit then says “It’s ok, David.” Which it really isn’t.
The fees and stuff aren’t the real problem. It’s being able to take James out and take care of him. She wants to take that away from me and honestly I don’t blame her.
Last week my card got declined trying to pay for ice cream. James had already eaten half of his and the lady made us give it back. He didn’t talk to me the whole way home then 2 days later Lenora told me James didn’t really like spending time with me anymore. A week after that she filed for sole custody and told me they were thinking about moving to Chicago. Who the fuck would want to live there? It’s cold as fuck and the people are assholes.
April 8, 2022 – 12:20PM
I do pickups for a porta-john company on the side. It’s just temporary. I don’t clean the shit I just spray down the units and suck out cans and shit with a wet-vac before this guy named Pete sticks a hose in the back and drains the whole thing out.
I’m always surprised by what people put on the walls of a john. Usually it’s just drawings like hearts and shit but sometimes the rhythm finds you there too. One time I spotted a phone number Sharpied on a toilet seat but it was missing 1 number. 8 digits. Kinda like 4 roulette numbers right?
I took em to the Hollywood and won 5 grand on one roll! Hasn’t worked again for me yet... but that’s the thing about it man.
But today I’m cleaning out a row of johns after some music festival which by the way is far and away the worst clean ups to get. Sure you see these kids all cleaned up online in some tweed outfit or some shit but you should see the shit that comes out of these kids. It’s like paving tar with glitter and red bull cans.
I look down in the last john I’m hosing down and I see something. Peaking out of the mounds I see: a $20 bill.
I stared at it for a second but I could hear Pete coming down the line about to suck it into oblivion. I never seen cash in the john before. Sometimes you hear a coin clank through the hose but a 20 bill just staring you right in the face?
I did what any man would do. I grabbed it and when I pulled my hand out I was half expecting it to be missing a layer of skin.
Later I’m sitting in the truck staring at this 20 bucks thinking “why would this come to me?” There had to be a reason. It wasn’t just on the floor of some john. It was in the last john after the nastiest event at a time when all I needed was one shot.
It was the rhythm.
But having to do that for just $20 didn’t add up. There had to have been a greater purpose and you know what they say about money. You don’t let it sleep. You wanna get that money out and get it working.
Craps kicked my teeth in this morning and you can’t do shit with 20 bucks on a blackjack table. I had to think bigger.
Then I’m driving home from work and I see the 7/11. Powerball was at 2.11 BILLION. The biggest in history. If you got all 6 numbers right you got the whole chicken. If you got 5 you got just shy of 8 million bucks. Boom.
I had my usual numbers but this wasn’t a usual day. I told the cashier to give me “all randoms today.” 10 slips at $2 each.
That night I sat down on my couch waiting for the Powerball to come on tv... then I blacked out.
The next thing I knew I was staring at 6 numbers lit up on my tv screen: 08, 07, 14, 29, 40, 16
And on my slip: 08, 07, 14, 29, 40, 22
I had 5 out of 6 numbers. I’d just won 8 million dollars
April 9, 2022 – 9:01AM
I’m standing in line at the California Lottery Offices. It’s not some huge expansive place. It’s a shitty little line up of people with various ailments trying to dispute their $5 winning ticket.
My mind is racing. Who do I pay back first? Do they give me the cash here? Is it in a duffel bag? When do I have to hold that big ass check? Do I wear a mask? I saw a guy do it in a scream mask once to maintain his anonymity. Honestly it might be nice to be seen. Not only has everyone seen me as a piece of shit forever but also I haven’t exactly kept a detailed list of everyone I owe money to.
It’d be good for people to just hit me up, I can cut a check and tell them “thanks for your patience.” Maybe I’d even give them a little off the top as a tip.
The guy a the counter basically spat in my face; “It’s gotta be reviewed. Takes 2-5 days. We’ll email you a link to collect any winnings.” It was like I just accused him of something. No congratulations or anything which at first, I was pissed about but then I realized that clearly I wasn’t the first asshole who thought they won the lottery.
Except I really did. 2-5 days was nothing. I’d been living in the shit for years I could do another few days.
Stepping outside, everything looked the same. The air wasn’t purer or the sunlight any more sunlightier and I still had to fill up my tires at the Shell on Cahuenga. There’s something about being rich without actually having any appearance of being rich.
That secret alone is like having a bomb in your pocket. People treat you regular, they smile and make conversation but deep down you think...if I pulled this out I could kill you with it.
But when people do think you have money, the more of it they give you.
I rolled in the doors of the Hollywood like I always did. Lenny called me a bullshitter, Jackie barely even put her cigarette down and Jonie didn’t even bring me a drink because I didn’t actually have any money on the table. I didn’t even have money in my pocket. I’d spent it all on the Megamillions and I hadn’t eaten since perusing the halls for leftover room service the night before.
Then news hit. My face was on every TV in the place. “Local man wins 8 million dollar jackpot.”
I checked my phone to see if it was blowing up, then remembered I still hadn’t paid the bill in months. So I was good there.
April 9, 2022 – 11:11AM
If you’ve ever been on a casino floor you know that it’s never silent. But I swear to God if you were on the floor when that news hit, you could’ve heard the rats eating my Mini Eggs 20 miles away. Everyone’s eyes were trained on me. For a second I even felt all the security cams shift over in my direction.
I couldn’t stand being on the floor with nothing to play with so Lenny set me up with his guy who got me a little walking around money. Japanese guy who I met in a Burger King across the street. Weird dude. Not sure what his name was.
I didn’t wanna go too nuts so I just took out a small loan. 50k at 20 points. I thought about it for a second then realized I didn’t really give a shit about the interest. 10 grand to me in a week doesn’t mean nearly as much as 50 does now. It’s just value proposition. It would have been stupid NOT to take out the loan honestly.
Walking into the casino with 50 grand in my pocket and slamming it down on the table feels a lot like taking out your dick at an orgy only when your dick comes out it’s a 60 foot cigarette boat with flames painted on the side.
But then I learned what I remembered years ago. Losing money and gaining money at that point meant almost nothing.
So losing 2 grand a hand wasn’t such a big deal because I could be making 5 on the next. That’s why I needed a little more when I lost the full 50.
Another 100k or so at another 20 points should do the trick.
It didn’t take long to realize that both winning and losing money meant almost nothing to me. So I ventured out.
A tailored suit for me (ready in 2-3 days on a rush).
An iPad for James with all the bells and whistles.
6 dozen roses sent to Lenora’s house signed “your secret admirer.” just to fuck with Kelton.
A watch for me, Lenny and Jodie.
Some special cigar Jackie had always been eyeing.
New pairs of Nikes for all of us.
And a limousine to my dentist’s office.
I paid in cash for the cap replacement, they gave me some pills and told me not to mix them with alcohol but honestly I was a little distracted by the old molar cap sitting on the table. I had an idea.
“Are you gonna just throw that away?” I asked her.
By now I realized I didn’t have a phone to receive my winnings via email. So, I stopped a guy in the lobby and paid him 2 grand cash for his before popping a few pills and slugging some champagne in the limo.
There was barely enough time to sit back and relax. I had a lifetime of debt and yearning for shit to burn through.
We made it to the Mercedes dealership but the pain killers kicked in and I could barely feel my hands as they ran across the SLS’s mint green paint. Bummer.
Jenkins sauntered over asking if I was working today and all I remember saying was “I want it.” He scrunched his eyebrows in confusion, so I put the remaining cash I had down on the table and said it again. “I WANT IT.”
They ran my credit (which was dog shit. Didn’t matter) and I looked Jenkins in his fat little face again and said “I don’t give a fuck.” He sold it to me, financed at 25 percent interest. Then when he went to fetch my paperwork and keys I took a shit on his desk, shoved the molar cap and a $20 bill in it before using his jacket to wipe my ass. Felt right. Don’t really know why.
I had walked into the CA lottery offices at 9am to start the review process on my ticket’s authenticity.
By 11am, I was watching news break from the Hollywood Casino.
By 10pm I had accrued more debt than a small country.
I hadn’t received a dime from the lotto.
And I needed more walking around money.
April 10, 11, 12 – who the fuck knows what time
The next few days were a blur but there are a few things I’ll never forget.
Quitting my job.
Hiring the limo for the week.
Trying to shit after 3 days of having nothing but fast food, champagne and pain killers.
Fielding questions at the party from Kelton’s asshole friends who told me “lotto rich isn’t real rich.”
And the heat of my house burning to the ground as James and I stood there watching with a can of gas in our hands.
He didn’t even want the iPad.
The rhythms were sliding back. James had that smile plastered back in his face and even Lenora was happy to see me.
April 16, 7:35AM
“Dear Mr. Baxter. Congratulations! You’ve successfully matched FOUR of six winning numbers. Below please find a link to collect your winnings of $10,000.”
I read it over and over again. Over and over and over.
When I called the offices an nice woman on the phone informed me that due to a printing malfunction the ticket had appeared to show the number 8 when in fact it was a 6.
They even managed to maintain a sense of excitement. I mean why wouldn’t they? They think I just won $10,000. They had no idea I’d bought a car I couldn’t afford, burned my house down, taken a shit on my boss’ desk, maxed out 3 new credit cards and borrowed a inordinate amount of money from people at a borderline illegal interest rate.
The limo company took my ride away and with no home I’ve spent the last 2 days parked on the Pacific Coast Highway, sleeping in the brand new Mercedes I can’t afford, in a suit I shouldn’t have bought, showering in the YMCA down the street, and eating 2-day-old coconut shrimp.
All of a sudden I’m fucked again. But as I stare out at the Pacific, my phone dings. It’s an alert from the Chase banking app. My lotto winnings of $10,000 have just hit my account and the only question is...
Are the rhythms with me or not?
Physically transcribed memory:
Michael Perst, Civilian Date [Unknown]
I jolted awake, drenched in sweat. It felt like somebody punched me in the chest. I take a few moments to collect myself. I shiver slightly due to the temperature; there must be some sort of cold front that hit us. I quickly unpacked the jacket in my rucksack and threw it on before stepping out of my tent; hopefully I didn’t oversleep.
"What the fuck?
" Confusion and shock wash over me as I take in the sight presented to me.
The once sparse open fields with small groupings of trees were now a densely packed forest, with a mix of orange, red, and yellow leaves littering the ground. This was not the prairie land where we had setup camp the night prior; this was like nothing I’ve seen before. I quickly looked around the camp; everything that I brought was still in the same general place that I had put it. Even though my car was still there, my confusion mounted as I looked on.
Jake was nowhere to be seen; it's as if he were never here to begin with.
My mind quickly starts to attempt to rationalize the situation, but unfortunately, my brain was already two steps ahead. I begin to panic. My head starts to inject nonsensical ideas and theories on what happened to my friend; none of his supplies were present, and his truck was nowhere to be seen either. What is happening—did we get kidnapped?
Did something happen at camp and I slept through it and he had to leave? Are they okay? My breathing picked up, and my chest tightened. My CGM beeped a high-pitched monotone sound. Temporarily grounded, I grab my pump and notice my blood sugar is climbing and is already somewhat high. I need
to calm down and try not to get too worked up; there has to be some sort of explanation for all of this, and he probably just had to leave early. I decided to check my phone.
Taking my phone out of my pocket, I notice the time is 9:36 in the morning. However, not only do I have no notifications from Jake, I also have no cell service. Hmm, that's not good. This just adds more to the growing list of questions and concerns I have. The wind picks up a bit, and I begin to fully calm down; for now. I’m keenly aware of how much bite the wind has, it feels just like fall.
I hastily break down the camp site and throw all of my belongings into my car; no time for tetris. The only thing on my mind is getting out of this forest and into the city so I can get some sort of cell reception to get ahold of Jake. I need to get to the bottom of this. After a quick breakfast of granola bars and water, I begin the task of attempting to get myself and my car out of this forest and onto the road.
What was usually a half-hour gravel road before country back roads was an almost 2-hour trip at a snail's pace just to get out of the woodlands; this forest took up far more land than I would’ve thought. The thought that I might still be at the original camp site was starting to become a fleeting thought—was I even in Nebraska anymore?
I was pulled from my thoughts as I realized I’d met fully paved roads. Hope bubbled in my chest, and I started to think that maybe I had been drugged and tossed off to some random spot in the prairie. I’m brought back to how and where Jake was. I decided to drive and lookout for road and highway signs to advise me of my location. Which didn’t take me long—a sign that advised me that I was in the town of Wayne.
My mind raced as I gripped the steering wheel. I should be in the right place. However, the town doesn't have that big of a forest; it is just rolling hills with small patches of trees. None of this was adding up and was only adding more to my anxiety; eventually I was met with something that cemented that something wasn’t right at all: a sign with a rather large city that was showcased in the distance. WAYNE POP: 314,352
My knuckles went white with how hard I was gripping the steering wheel, my mind was filled to the brim with far too much stimulation at once, and I had hardly noticed how out of place the cars looked, their architecture foreign yet recognizable. The large skyscrapers and massive buildings didn’t present themselves at all as the small college town that I was used to. Driving past the residential area, people seemed to go about their business as if nothing was out of the ordinary—too many new things all at once, too much information to process. It was beginning to weigh on my conscience.
I needed to figure out what was going on; my stomach was starting to do flips. Nausea began to creep up my throat. Was this what a panic attack felt like, and why can’t I just calm the fuck down? I quickly spotted some sort of gas station; I didn’t attempt to study the sign or the people that left and entered. I parked my car and put it in park while tearing out the keys; my hands eventually stopped shaking as I took multiple deep breaths to regain my senses. I quickly administered a dose of correctional insulin to curb my high blood sugar; that should help.
After a good couple minutes of R&R, I take a final breath in and then out before exiting my car. If I want to get answers, I need to stay calm and blend in. Maybe I can even access what money I have, if that's a possibility. I quickly enter the convenience store and am met with a nice and warm interior. The cashier barely seems to notice me, as they seem more preoccupied with what is playing on the television near them. I quickly walk towards the ATM and pull out my debit card; just looking at the user interface saps what little hope I had for this project.
"Fuck is this shit," I ask no one in particular.
It doesn't even look like it would take my card; this whole situation feels more like a shitty, b-tier movie plot as time goes on. I have to be in some alternate universe. As I look closer, I see what looks like some sort of extension sitting on the side of the ATM that looks like it would fit my card. Now we’re getting somewhere! I excitedly insert my card, and the machine seems to stall for a moment before loading with an error before quickly switching to the pin entry screen.
I quickly enter my pin and look around before pressing enter; the store seems to be empty, and the cashier seems to have gone to the back. I hit enter, and a whirring sound emits from the machine before I’m met with the basics of an ATM. I think to myself how odd the UI looks as I punch in to withdraw from my checking account. Right as I press the button, the screen goes black, and the whirring picks up in intensity. Worry splashes over my face as I think I’ve just broken it and probably alerted the authorities. Before I cut my losses and my card,
it quickly displays how much I’d like to remove from the account. I enter an amount of one hundred; that should get me by. The screen stutters as all sorts of sounds take over.
As I stand there looking like an idiot, I begin to criticize myself over such a ridiculous plan. Eventually the machine starts beeping and starts to spit out hundred-dollar bills forcefully enough that they fall to the ground; I quickly go to grab them in confusion. It seems to be nearly emptying the machine; I don’t really have enough in my account for this!
Eventually it stops and spits out my card, but not before thanking me. I scoop the bills into my pockets in fistfuls. I try to act as natural as possible and pretend I didn’t just rob an ATM, quickly looking at the drink section and settling on some energy drinks and some mixed nuts. I quickly make my way up to the checkout, and wiping the sweat off my forehead, I notice that the cashier seems to still be in the back.
"Um, hello. I'm ready to check out" I said, projecting my voice the best I could to the back.
Eventually, a tall and lanky man with long brown hair emerges from a side door behind the counter; he looks young, no older than 19 or 20. He looks at me up and down but seems almost uninterested. I place the items on the counter, and he rings me up. "Sorry for the wait, I was making some phone calls with everything that's going on; it's been rough on a lot of people, ya know? That’ll be $6.49.." I can’t help but notice the sadness in his tone.
I hand him a hundred dollar bill, and he quickly checks it before proceeding to quickly hand me back the change. "I’m sorry, but what exactly is going on?" I ask in a hushed tone, and he gives me an almost quizzical, confused look. Like I just asked if water is wet. "Have you been living under a rock, dude? The aliens that attacked our planet and killed like a billion people?" he echoes back.
"I'm sorry; I’ve been on a pretty lengthy camping trip. So I’m unaware of everything that's going on."
His demeanor instantly softened; a look of pity was etched across his face. He wordlessly swiveled the television towards me, and my blood ran painfully cold. What was broadcasting on the screen was incomprehensible. An aerial view of what was
a major city was being shown; a news broadcast detailing the destruction dealt to Omaha. An untold death count of nearly a million and growing—different angles show search parties working tirelessly. My brain is only focusing on one thing during this mind-boggling experience.
My home, everything I’ve ever had, and everyone and everything I knew at that point were gone