Tattslotto, the weekly ritual that embitters people around Australia. You know the type if you have ever worked at a newsagent, or partake in the many guises of organised gambling staggered throughout the week. The phrase ‘bright-eyed and bushy tailed’ comes to mind as they approach the counter, staring up at you with hopeful eyes, the circumference of a saucer, stumbling through their words, trying to pretend they know what they’re doing. They grope into their purse, wallet or pocket to present their offering as if they had just walked on water. You take their money impassively, they seem crestfallen you cannot share their enthusiasm. They leave the shop, mentally spending their newly acquired millions of dollars. For those fifteen to forty seconds, you are the most important person in their world. It’s a lot of responsibility being the person who can make all of their dreams and fantasies come true.
Most customers are polite, but some are too friendly. Over Christmas, a perpetually cheerful septuagenarian grabbed my arse, and mock kissed my cheek, then wished me a flirtatious happy Christmas. If she was half a century younger, I wouldn’t be emotionally scarred, but now I make it a point to be behind the counter whenever she comes in. Luckily, she would break a hip if she pole vaulted the counter to get another grope. She is the type who would look down your cleavage, pretending to rummage through her wallet when you look up, if gender roles were reversed.
You can tell the seasoned veterans from the newbie’s. When one person wins the jackpot, they cynically shake their head and mutter ‘fuckers,’ and you echo their words, commiserating with them; ‘fuckers…’
Then there are the honest customers. The brutally honest ones who say too much when you ask how they are. Mrs. Weigela told me how her daughter has, just yesterday, been diagnosed with an inoperable lymphatic cancer, and how her grandson died in a surfing accident a few weeks ago. She asked my age, and when I answered, wondered aloud what he would have been like at twenty. They say it comes in threes, and you hope for their sake number three isn’t as bad as numbers one and two. I can’t help but think of the line from Fight Cub when these customers come in; ‘strangers with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.’ We avoid each other now, Mrs. Weigela and I. We both understand an unarticulated rule of interpersonal communication has been transgressed.
There is, of course, the inevitable urge to pretend a customer has won millions of dollars. It could probably get you fired, if not clobbered, but sometimes when you’re really really bored, you wonder what if? What if I told this struggling mother of twelve, that she has just won sixteen gajillion million dollars? Would she feel better? At least for a few moments? Or would she start to worry about how the money would change her kids, make her friends and family so jealous they would not be able to stand her presence. Would she worry her kids will grow up snobbish, spoilt and ostracised from family and former friends, due to colossal wealth and disfiguring snooty up-turned noses. Or would she just thump me over the head with a stale baguette which, unfortunately for me, has the pliancy of a lead pipe. Lying on the floor in a pool of blood and bread crumbs, I wonder, would people be happier having real or imagined wealth?
‘Can I interest you in trying a syndicate?’ The words that fill every seasoned Tattslotto customer with dread. Now, I get enough of explaining what a syndicate is, suffice it to say, it’s about as useful in winning the lottery as cross eyes in a staring contest. A story did the rounds about a man who won first division in a Twenty-Two million dollar Superdraw with a syndicate. He only got five-hundred bucks. The big people at Tattslotto don’t want me to tell you, but it’s true.
‘How to extricate myself from this… politely;’ the customer wonders, but if you’re any good at selling people things they don’t want, things they don’t need, you know that to give a customer time to think, will kill the deal.
• Rule no. 1: Never let customers think for themselves.
Just keep talking until they agree. If they happen to be a wily bastard, or bastard-ess, you will need the standard issue silver tongue (available by order from Tattslotto HQ). One size fits all.
• Rule no. 2: Always anticipate what a customer will say, and have a quip, preferably devilishly witty, to counter their every argument.
Trying to sell a syndicate is very similar to being in a 1930s Hollywood duel. Think of yourself as Errol Flynn, the dashing rogue, clashing swords with the archetypal dark-haired, scowling villain. Parry and thrust, counter their thrust, move back and forward, through the myriad staircases, and court rooms of the castle or other such lair of the wicked, and finally sink the Syndicate Sword into their flesh. Maybe I’m just having fantasies about sword-fighting customers… but really, anything to break the monotony.
• Rule no. 3: Never mention a deal-breaker until you have their money. A deal-breaker can be anything from having to come back to this shop to collect any winnings to it only being a regular prize pool that night.
Deal-breakers are only to be added on as a polite addendum. Pretend you forgot, and oh, just that moment you recalled; what a silly person you are.
Sometimes you wish a customer would just tell you to fuck off and die when you ask them if they want to buy a syndicate, just to save the exasperatingly fake tête-à-tête. It helps to think of it as a shotgun effect, for every thirty people you hassle, one naïve soul agrees.
Tattslotto Lines can be dangerous places for the uninitiated customer. One dismal Thursday night in September, a tussle broke out between two immense men which distinctly resembled the running of the bulls. The crowd parted, like the proverbial red sea, to let the behemoths duke it out. Just for some excitement, you catch yourself hoping these two men will beat the living hell out of each other. With bated breath you wait, and you’re not the only one. Other customers look on in barely suppressed glee. You can’t help but hope those ten thousand years of civilisation hasn’t destroyed the ferocious animal instinct and your entertainment. A collective ‘Awwwh!’ is exhaled by the crowd as unfortunately, the two rotund gladiators manage to avoid physical blows, except for the odd jowl rippling shove.
The inevitable catch phrase of the service industry pops out of your mouth, like a piece of embarrassing, half-eaten food, trailing your shame in its crumby wake. ‘Would you like a bag?’ ‘Would you like anything else?’ You utter them fifty thousand times a day often twice, or thrice to the same customer, while they look on in an uneasy confused apprehension, wondering what other verbal diarrhoea is going to come streaming from your mouth. OhmygoddidIjustsaythatagain? I am suuuucccch a fuckwit. When you get home, you catch yourself asking your cat if he would like anything else after his Whiskas. Almost that time, thinks the cat. If only he’d ask, so I could have a bowl of milk.
My greatest fear is instead of asking, ‘Do you have a Tatts card?’ I ask, ‘Do you have a tits card?’ Time would stop at that moment. People in the street would stare at you, their jaw dangling by its sinews. The particularly well endowed woman would probably hit you. The overweight man definitely would. I hope that day never comes, but I’ve been close.
Those once enthusiastic people have become bitter with their constant losing. The dad who still spends a hundred dollars a week on Tattslotto, and never wins more than twenty dollars, and obviously can’t afford it. The stuttering woman whose boyfriend you want an asteroid to hit because she always comes in with black-eye concealing sunglasses. The Chinese house renovator perpetually covered in beige paint, who looks so desperate for cash he’d sell a kidney on the black market. Is that why he always has one less child with him… One of the manifold pensioners who flock in every pension cheque day and cringe when you tell them the damage. Of course there are the customers you pray don’t win and when they do they say, “Oh it’s better than a kick in the face/shin/arse;” but you want to help them make absolutely sure.
After selling Tattslotto for almost a year, you start to wonder if you’re any better than a drug dealer. Psychologically, what can be more addicting than Tattslotto? Once it has its claws into you, you can’t help but buy a ticket every week. What if this week is my week? What if this week my numbers come up? Sorry to be a downer, but you have more chance of winning Tattslotto than getting struck by lightning, twice, mid-way to the ocean in your spiralling out of control alien spaceship. I’ve shared sober moments with people who’ve been playing the same numbers since Saturday Tattslotto started thirty years ago, and never won more than third division. If they hadn’t spent so much money in the pursuit of riches, they probably would have found it already. Tattslotto is proof there exists an indefatigable trend toward optimism in humanity, which stands against all reason.
Come to think of it, I have an allegory for you. Scary-eyes Rod Banfai, a regular customer named for his most obvious feature buys a syndicate every week. The week he decided to stop forever, the syndicate won second division in a Superdraw. Every person in the syndicate was five thousand dollars richer that night. Except Scary-eyes. You don’t want to be like Scary-eyes Rod, do you?