One golden Yo-Yo in a plastic case with the name of the company I had won it from embossed upon its face. It was one of those game places where you paid in cash, won tickets then traded the tickets for prizes. The golden Yo-Yo was my prize. I would have been happy to slice away the middle-man and simply buy the Yo-Yo but that would have been very unsportsmanlike. The goal was to win it. So I did. I played a veritable slew of cheap, staged games, the exact games you find in the midway of every circus, county fair and traveling carnival. I tossed balls into holes, dropped coins into slots and kicked soccer balls around rotating goal keepers. In truth, I played far more games than was actually necessary to get my golden Yo-Yo. What can I say?
In the end I carried my bucket of tickets to the prize store and dumped them into the bin to be weighed. I still have doubts about the weighing. What if I had actually had more tickets than the scale measured? I hadn’t counted them all before I dumped them so I guess if I was short changed I had no one to blame but myself. Still, I tend to obsess over things like that. Regardless, I had won more than enough to get the Yo-Yo so I shouldn’t complain. In a fit of bravado I offered to spend the rest of my tickets on the seven year old son of a stranger.
The boy was tow-headed and had a slightly lazy eye that tilted inward just enough to make me stare at him in my peripheral vision for a while trying to figure out what was off about him. I had passed by him several times on my quest for the golden Yo-Yo. The small prize claw machine had captivated him. The father had been dutifully positioned along the open side giving encouragement and advice as the claw jerked around in multiple attempts to grab a particular prize. I judged the small, round duck head clutched in the boys’ hand as being the achieved goal. It was about the size of a tennis ball with yellow fabric stretched over it. Slotted purple sunglasses had been painted on to give it a cool appearance along with a sewn orange bill and a small tuft of feathers at the top of the head. He called it Steve.
Trying to not sound like I was making an offer of pity I explained that I would not be back to spend the extra tickets and didn’t want them to go to waste. At first the father looked suspicious and my stomach clenched at the possibility of rejection. I was a thirty-five year old, grown man playing games without a child of my own in sight. Until that second I hadn’t considered that I might appear to be a predator. Ignoring the warning of my knotting intestines I grinned and pointed at the central bar where a large sign boldly displayed a five dollar nacho offer with a two dollar draft. The father, somewhere in his mid to late twenties judging from his black Five Finger Death Punch t-shirt and faded Levis, stared in the sign for a couple of seconds before eyeballing my department store slacks and white collar shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He shrugged and agreed to let his son spend my tickets. A weight dropped into my stomach as I felt myself judged and I had to force down my sudden irritation with the man. I was giving his kid free stuff! He should be thankful! Instead, I felt as if I was the one being granted the charity.
The man steered his son into the candy aisle and helped him pick out enough sweets to cover my ticket surplus. Once everything was spent and the boy had his bag of treats hanging from his hand and Steve nestled between his ear and shoulder, I said my goodbyes and walked away. My Yo-Yo was stuffed into my jacket pocket.
During the fifteen minute drive home I questioned my own thinking about offering the man the tickets. What had begun as a simple offer of generosity had turned into an emotional disaster. I didn’t feel good about the tickets anymore. The father had stolen my happiness without even lifting a finger.
At home I was greeted by a silent apartment. Living alone had its advantages, especially when I was feeling ashamed of myself and couldn’t figure out why. Still sulking I hung my jacket on the peg and pulled out the Yo-Yo. I’m a grown man about to play with a Yo-Yo, I thought. I couldn’t even smile at the idea. An hour ago I had been captivated by the thought. Yo-Yos had been a pretty big deal when I was in grade school. We all had them and had spent our recesses showing each other the tricks we had learned. I had been the hands-down master of walking my Yo-Yo along the playground. The idea of being able to reclaim that feeling had been what had pushed me to play the games in the first place. Hindsight pointed out that the two dollar draft with the nachos may have had a little something to do with it also.
I grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer and cut my way into the plastic casing. The golden Yo-Yo was a wide-one, a style that had been referred to as a butterfly Yo-Yo when I was young. That style had been my favorite. I had owned a red one that lit up when I played with it. This gold one wouldn’t light up but just being able to walk-the-dog again was a very large motivator. For a moment I forgot about the man and his son. I slipped the looped string over my middle finger and assumed the position. The Yo-Yo dropped smoothly from my hand down to the floor and spun. The memory of how it was done came back in a flash and I gave a gentle upward tug. The Yo-Yo remained at full extension and didn’t return. Piqued but not discouraged I grabbed it with my other hand and spun it to tighten the string then wrapped it up and tried again. A gentle tug and still the Yo-Yo did not return. I tried several more times without success, eventually wrapping the string so tightly that the Yo-Yo wobbled badly when I dropped it toward the floor. The whole scene at the game store came flooding back and my shoulders slumped in defeat. If I had just abandoned the extra tickets instead of trying to be that guy maybe my Yo-Yo would have worked? Even if it hadn’t, at least I wouldn’t feel as if I had just wasted two hours of my life and made a public joke of myself. Sighing deeply I removed the string from my finger and dropped the golden Yo-Yo in the trashcan.