“¿Qué número salió?”
It was the question everybody asked around 5:00 pm every day in my neighborhood growing up in Brooklyn. People would walk into my family’s bodega and immediately ask, “¿Qué número salió?” — What number came out? — to see if anybody knew yet, to see if the number they had played earlier in the day, when they had whispered it into the bookie’s ear and handed him a dollar or two, was the lucky one that day.
My father usually played our house number (868), sometimes his license plate number too (769). If a number appeared in a dream, he would play it. And every summer when we came back home from vacation, he would play the number of our hotel room for about a week.
“Ese numero esta bonito, lo voy a jugar” — That’s a pretty number, I’m going to play it — my father would often say when he came across a number he liked, but like Hemingway’s fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea, my father was “definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky.”
The answer to “¿Qué número salió?” was never his number.
Not long after my father retired, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Eight months later, he died, the day after my birthday. Like I said, salao.
Before he died, my father shared these words of advice with me: “You can’t lead your life waiting for things to happen, waiting for your number to come up. You have to make your own luck.”
My father (as well as my mother, aunts and uncles, and grandparents) certainly made their own luck. They made many sacrifices (including leaving what little they had in Cuba) and worked hard for many years so that their children wouldn’t have to deal with the hardships they went through. They provided us with opportunities they never had growing up.
It will be eleven years next week since I left the comfort of a relatively secure job and paycheck to make my own luck, start my own business. It’s been 11 years of hard work and sacrifices; there’s no way around those two vital ingredients for success. But unlike the rough and calloused skin of my father’s hands, mine are less weathered and beaten.
I sometimes wish my father, my Papi, was still with us. I wonder what he would think of what I do for a living these days: a materials science engineer who sits in his office and writes blog posts and records videos about supply chain management. I know one thing: it beats the hell out of cutting sugar cane in the hot sun.
Before today, I never thought much about 11, but it’s actually a pretty number, un numero bonito. A decade +1 of doing something I truly enjoy thanks to all of you: my clients, my readers and followers, and my family and friends.
On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful to you all for helping me make my luck.
When it comes to playing numbers, however, I won’t be betting on 611 or 811 or any other number with 11 today. Like my father, I’m salao too.