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I gripped my handful of tickets like my life depended on it. I’d done all I could and was ready to claim my prize. I held the bounty low, so as to not attract too much attention, walking past flashing lights, to the counter in the back, ready for redemption.

A step above me, behind the counter and in front of the rows of shelves, a spirited employee stood awaiting. “See anything you like, buddy?” he asked me as I scanned the offerings under the neon sign that said “Redemption Area.” On the bottom of the display case, and the low end of the ticket market were tchotchkes. A whoopie cushion, the rubber half ball that pops off the table, fake dog shit, way below my ticket count and station in life. My eyes ascended quickly up a tier.

Next was what I could only describe as plastic junk, and I had no interest in diving into it.

Sunglasses and slap bracelets and pens. A colorful plastic Slinky. If my destiny was a Slinky, I at least hoped I earned enough to go metal.

My dissatisfied gaze was interrupted. “You can do better than that,” assured the redeemer, staring at my tightly wound fist. “Want me to get a count on those tickets for you, while you make some decisions?” I handed the loot over carefully, a life’s work distilled down in the palm of my hand and then in the palm of a stranger’s hand.

“Whoa, you did pretty well,” he said as the counter shot up past 100 and settled at 173. “Let’s not waste your remaining time here, come this way,” and he led me through a door marked “Authorized Personnel Only.”

The door led to a room that looked exactly the same as the last one: a counter and shelves of prizes, but a bit less… everything. “I think these options should suit someone of your earnings level a bit more appropriately,” offered the redeemer.

The man opened a glass case, filled with pictures of things.

“You don’t want to spend your next life as some plastic disposable item. Those things can’t even break down, so you’re stuck in a trash pile unless you get lucky and hit the recycling bin and then you can come back as a bottle or something else recycled and round and round until someone drops you in a river or a trash can.”

The options that now laid out around me were a lot more desirable. “I’d start by checking out the third shelf, which all take at least 150 tickets,” he suggested. “There are some really good options here.”

I counted up to the third shelf, eyes flicking past a kite, a snowglobe, and a fish swimming around a small bowl. The third shelf had some good options: a hamster, a park bench, a novel, a throw pillow.

But my eyes were drawn to the aura of the top shelf.

Up there I could see a golden retriever, a treasure chest, and a star! As I was getting ideas of grandeur, I spotted the 400 ticket sign, and it made sense, as those really were the best options for another life. Mufasa became a star and that guy was practically a saint.

Back on shelf three, I tried to analyze the pros and cons of each option, trying not to covet a shelf for which I had not earned enough tickets. If I had just been a little more generous or gentle or introspective, perhaps I would have a few better options for another go around. Immediately I was flooded with memories of times where I came up just a bit short of the way I wish I had treated someone else.

“Funny, the scale must have missed a couple of tickets. There are 175 here now,” happily reported my redemption escort. “That’s a big jump to the next shelf.”

Shelf four was still significantly below top shelf, but it still opened up some better options.

Highlights of shelf four included a house cat, which likely entailed a life of relaxation and rarely having to deal with humans; a pair of running shoes, which offered a life of almost daily exploration, even if it had a faster expiration; and a noble tree, an option that ensured plenty of time outdoors and a useful albeit mostly observational life.

While I was still short of the requisite tickets for reincarnation into a bicycle or a hawk or a small town gazebo, shelf four felt right. This was my lot. “I’m ready,” I told the redeemer.

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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