A Long Flight Home
[The short story which follows is one I wrote recently and mailed with the Christmas cards our family sent this year. So if you’re not on our Christmas card list, this is new to you. If you are on our Christmas card list: It’s the same story. Didn’t change a thing…so feel free to re-read, or not. Either way, enjoy!]
“No, sorry. No N. And Nick, we’re back to you. Go ahead and give the wheel a spin!”
Nick’s face grew hot as he reached for the wheel. He couldn’t believe it—an actual stroke of good luck. For HIM.
He had started this round in control but had landed on BANKRUPT on his very first spin. Because OF COURSE he had, because that was the kind of game he had been having.
Control had gone to Cassie, who had put an S on the board, followed by a P.
(He had no idea why Cassie had chosen a P—he never would have guessed that—but one was there. Nick had the feeling she knew something he didn’t, a feeling he had become accustomed to in the short time he’d been acquainted with perky little Cassie, a college sophomore who was seemingly incapable of an incorrect guess. This in spite of the fact that she could not have cared less about either the money or the prizes up for grabs. By her own admission during the beginning “meet the contestants” portion of the show, she was there for the sole purpose of having fun. That she had been doing so well with this attitude had infuriated Nick to no end.)
But then—THEN!—on her third spin, Cassie landed on LOSE A TURN and control had moved to Khalil; he had successfully bought a vowel before incorrectly guessing N.
And just like that, Nick was spinning the wheel again. It was late in the game and he had yet to solve a puzzle or even get on the board at all, but he had been gifted another chance.
(Good old Khalil! Nick had felt genuine camaraderie with him over what he assumed was their mutual frustration with Cassie’s dominance of the game thus far. Khalil’s luck had been about as lousy as his, and Nick honestly would’ve been happy for the guy if he’d gone on a run and solved the puzzle. But Nick was also secretly delighted this hadn’t happened. Khalil was nice enough and all, but it felt right to Nick that he was the one spinning again, that he was the one with the chance to solve now. It felt appropriate. Khalil was too affable; Nick WANTED it more.)
The wheel ticked away, finally coming to rest on $2500.
$2500! The audience preemptively applauded Nick’s good fortune.
A slightly longer than usual pause from Pat, and then: A ding, a lit tile, Vanna in motion, more applause.
Nick looked at the board:
S T _ P _ _
_ _ _ O _ _ _
He spent a few seconds weighing the pros and cons of buying a vowel vs. spinning again.
But then—in a moment that was the closest he’d ever come to an actual out-of-body experience—something clicked somewhere in his brain and his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his own voice saying:
“I’d like to solve the puzzle. STUPID! RUDOLPH!”
A short but deafening silence from Pat, from his fellow contestants, and—most ominously—from the studio audience. Followed by:
“No, Nick. I’m sorry, that is…incorrect. Cassie, you’re up.”
Things moved quickly after that. Cassie spun, guessed R, was given two of them, and promptly solved the puzzle—moments after Nick had solved it himself in his head, cursing himself for not spinning one more time and choosing R when he had the chance.
The show ended and Pat shook his hand and was genuinely super nice, offering his condolences that things hadn’t worked out so great but that it wasn’t too bad because Nick wasn’t going home completely empty-handed, at which point Nick realized he was one of them: One of those Wheel contestants who—through some combination of bad luck and idiotic guesses—would be leaving the show with nothing but the consolation prize to show for it. He watched from offstage as Cassie won $50,000 in the bonus round.
He returned to his hotel room and spent most of a sleepless night mentally preparing.
Preparing for a few weeks from now when the show would air up North and he’d begin his new life as the STUPID RUDOLPH guy, answering questions like “Why didn’t you spin again?,” or “Why didn’t you just buy a vowel?”
Or, “You do know that STUPID RUDOLPH has two Ps, right?”
He started bracing himself for the distinct possibility that he might become an accidental YouTube star, and as such, may never again be taken seriously. By anyone, in any context, ever.
But mostly, Nick began mentally preparing for the fact that—by blurting out on nationally-syndicated (and internationally-viewed) television the phrase he had uttered to himself under his breath dozens of times in the past few weeks since his “top employee” began demanding a contract renegotiation—he had put himself in a position from which he would almost surely have to grant that shiny-nosed ingrate just about everything he wanted.
Oh sure, he would try his best to put a positive spin on what had happened. Or, dismiss it as a joke—not a particularly funny one, maybe an insensitive one which in turn required some measure of contrition from him, but still—just a joke.
But he knew—he just knew—that Rudolph’s weaselly agent would cite Nick’s dumb, heat-of-the-moment, terrible Hail Mary of a guess as “evidence” of a “hostile work environment” for his client (I mean, not only had Nick called Rudolph STUPID, he had classified his employee as a THING—a THING!), “evidence” that he and his client would “graciously” choose not to “dwell on” and would consider “a momentary lapse in judgment” on Nick’s part…for the right price, of course.
It was going to be a long flight home.
And once he arrived back up North he’d have to keep mentally preparing for the Wheel backlash while also tackling his regular work—work which had almost definitely and horrendously piled up during his vacation (a break Nick had taken at his wife’s behest, a break he had very much needed but could ill afford).
But the first thing Nick was going to do once he got back? He was going to go straight to his office, find his staple remover, and throw it in the garbage. He never wanted to see that thing again as long as he lived.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU ALL, AND THANKS FOR READING!