33 is my number. Not my lucky number, not my magic number, and there is no numerology, or other mysticism-related mystique surrounding it. But it is my number. And no, I am not an athlete – at least in any sort of organized, uniformed way – though I have worn the double-three on my back for various softball teams and radio station flag-football retinues. Even when it doesn’t go with an actual jersey or t-shirt, 33 is written in Sharpie marker on the inside brim of most of my baseball caps.
It is, after all, my number.
And yes, I know my sixth grade English teacher is rolling over in her grave seeing me not spell out ‘thirty-three’ but when you are writing a story about a number…
33 it is.
If you are one of the fellow denizens of the Denver South High Class of 1977, you may remember the number as having nothing to do with me, but rather as the number indelibly rumbling through our collective mind’s eyes on the broad, muscular back of Johnny Wilkins – our star fullback, BMOC, genuinely one of the nicest guys ever.
And a guy who was taken from us much too soon.
Johnny died before reaching his twentieth birthday – felled by a virus that attacked his heart. Johnny was a close friend; my locker partner, protector – and verbal foil. We laughed a lot, screwed around in ways that were at times less than appropriate in some people’s eyes. We liked playing off the personal disparities that skewed how others saw our relationship: our size, demeanor, race. We had fun making fun of ourselves on those levels and more.
For the nearly forty years since Johnny’s death, his 33 has become my 33. I have used it on the aforementioned softball jerseys, employer t-shirts and the like, but 33 also shows up in more esoteric ways – part of my ATM PIN or computer passwords, online login names – that sort of thing. When I am simply reheating something in my microwave, I reflexively zap in 33 seconds. I just do.
33 has become ingrained. My number.
This past weekend, my wife, youngest son, two dogs, and I were out killing time, driving around while our realtor showed our house to prospective buyers. We have gotten used to this routine over the past few weeks, and between having two old dogs with us, and the heat index around 100, there are not a lot of comfortable options for the five of us. So, we usually grab a bite to eat, have a quick picnic someplace in relative shade, then drive around in air-conditioned, vehicular comfort. Besides, showings don’t take all that long.
Except on Saturday, one did.
We had driven around after having lunch (in our own yard, oddly, between two showings) and my wife sent a text to our realtor asking if it was okay for us to return. the response was ‘Nope. People still looking.’ Figuring it wouldn’t be too much longer, and not wanting to get too far away from the domicile, I decided to stop and put gas in our car at our neighborhood, self-serve gas station. I got to the pump, used my credit card, put the pump nozzle in, cleaned the windows on the Pathfinder. The pump clicked off, so I went over, returned the nozzle to the pump, put the gas cap back on, pressed the button to get the receipt. It printed, I looked at it, did a double-take, just shaking my head.
I got back into the car and proclaimed to the assembled masses (all four) that the folks currently looking at our house were going to make an offer on it. My wife, looking dubious, said, “Ohhhhkay. Because…?”
I handed her the receipt. She laughed: $33.00 even. Not a pre-pay, just a nozzle in, let it flow till it stops on its own. I started the car, still shaking my head and chuckling – a bit. An incredulous bit. We drove off to cruise the neighborhood a bit longer.
Not five minutes later came a text from our realtor: ‘Done. They are definitely considering an offer.’
Again, 33 is not my ‘lucky’ number – it is just a figure that means something to me. Do I take it as a sign of some sort? Yes, and no. Is it some sort of divine pronouncement? Maybe, though I don’t see it in the clouds-part-and-harp-music plays vein.
If anything, this 33 is G-d showing his sense of humor and whimsy…
With maybe just a little prompting or cajoling from an old football-playing friend. I’m pretty sure that somewhere close at hand, Johnny Wilkins was laughing like hell.
I’ll keep you posted.