By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If I ever won Powerball, I’d never collect the money because I would either put the ticket somewhere in the house for safekeeping and never find it again or realize I had the winning numbers and drop dead from shock.
But that hasn’t stopped me from playing when the stakes get high enough (the most I ever won was two bucks, which I used to buy another ticket) because it gives me an excuse to go to my favorite store, 50 Percent Off Cards in Coram, New York.
On a recent morning when the jackpot was $155 million, I walked up to the counter and handed $2 to owner Peter Shah, who handed me a ticket and said, “You are going to win. I know it.”
“If I do,” I replied, “I’ll share the money with you.”
“If you don’t,” he said with a smile, “I’ll find you.”
Peter, 50, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1993, doesn’t need the money. That’s because, in the estimation of his customers, including me, he’s priceless.
“Peter is wonderful,” said Ann, who came in to buy a ticket for herself and four of her co-workers, adding: “We recently won $500, so I think he’s a good luck charm, too.”
“Then how come I haven’t won that kind of money?” wondered Peter, who said he buys a ticket once in a while but that, like me, the most he has ever won is $2. “A couple of years ago, somebody won a million dollars here,” Peter recalled. “I don’t know who it was.”
“You didn’t find the guy like you said you were going to find me?” I asked.
“Maybe he dropped dead,” Peter theorized.
Bobby Jolly described Peter as “a great guy, a beautiful man” as he paid for the Daily Racing Form. “I don’t play the lottery,” Bobby said. “I play the horses. I’ve been following them for years.”
“You must run really fast,” I suggested.
“I should enter the Belmont Stakes,” Bobby said. “Then people could bet on me.”
Suzanne, who recently won $4 in her office pool, said Peter is the store’s main attraction.
“This gentleman is very kind,” she said. “And he knows what I play. What do I play, Peter?”
“Mega Millions,” he reminded her. “One day, you’ll win the mega part of it.”
“That would be nice,” Suzanne said. “The most I’ve ever won is $7. I can’t quit my job with that.”
As Suzanne left, in walked Malcolm Abrams, 86, a retired statistician who is Peter’s most loyal customer and half of a comedy team that performs daily routines for amused patrons.
“If I knew I was going to be interviewed,” Malcolm told me, “I would have worn clean underwear.”
“How would you describe Peter?” I asked.
“He’s a great guy,” Malcolm said. “That’s what he would say if you interviewed him.”
“I would say that if I was sleeping,” Peter retorted.
“I don’t play the numbers. I tell Peter I print my own money,” said Malcolm, who volunteers at a nearby hospital.
“He doesn’t wash his hands when he operates on people,” Peter said.
“I do brain surgery,” Malcolm said. “And I’ve been carrying the weight of Peter all these years.”
“When were you born?” Peter asked Malcolm. “It was 1878, right?”
“I’m not that old,” Malcolm shot back. “It was 1879. Let’s get it straight.”
“I gave Jerry your Social Security number,” Peter told Malcolm.
“See what I have to put up with?” Malcolm said to me as he paid Peter for a newspaper. “I come in here every day because I feel I have a spiritual obligation to Peter. He wouldn’t survive without me.”
With that, Malcolm, who lives around the corner but has resided in many places, including 31 years in Schenectady (“It took me that long to learn how to spell it,” he said), tipped his cap and said to Peter, “If you’re lucky, you’ll see me tomorrow.”
I was lucky to have witnessed all of that but not so fortunate with my Powerball ticket: I didn’t get even one number.
“One of these days you’ll win,” Peter said a couple of days later. “And you won’t drop dead. Then,” he added with a smile, “you can share the money with me.”
Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima