If you don’t know what a “pale” (pronounced pa-le) is, chances are you are not Dominican. A pale is any combination of 2 numbers that a person chooses as their pick for the Dominican lottery. Typically, depending on where you play your numbers, each pale pays $1,100 for each dollar a person plays. So if your Pale were to hit and you bet 5 dollars you would win $5,500. The Dominican Lottery’s range of numbers is from 1 to a 100 as opposed to let’s say the Mega Millions, which is from 1 to 46. Back in the day in the 80’s, Dominicans in New York City only bet on the Dominican lottery on Sundays. Now a person can play their numbers, if they know where to go, any day of the week.
Another thing that has changed with the Dominican numbers game since I was growing up is that is has pretty much been driven, literally, underground – one of the places that I have played my numbers was a basement that you had to go through a nasty urine-smelling alley to get to. Not too long ago, one was able to play their numbers in any one of the many bodegas that somehow exist in the Heights. Believe me, that’s a whole lot of bodegas. There are about 3 bodegas on each block in the hood. That is no longer the case; constant police harassment has sent the Dominican numbers game, better known as Los Numeros in the Heights, to less conspicuous places. Word of mouth is usually the way a person finds out where they can place their bet. It is usually in the back of a legitimate business, a bakery, a salon or a barbershop. In the corner of said business, there will be an older, sharply dressed Dominican man with a beret on his head (Dominicans called these hats boinas) and a toothpick in his mouth. That’s the numbers man.
While the definition of a pale, is pretty much straight forward. How one picks a particular pale, is something else altogether. The pale that I play, every once in awhile (yeah right), is 8 and 13, my birthday.
Other folks play their year of birth or the year that they came to this country, but the real foundation for the choice of which pale to play is a person’s dreams, their sueños. What you dream about you usually dictates what numbers you bet on. There is a whole pseudo-science dedicated to understanding the numerological meaning of everything imaginable. Everyone has that aunt or uncle that can tell you the exact pale to play.
For example, if you have a dream that you’re dancing Perico Ripiao with Fefita La Grande, in the middle of a rice field during a hurricane, that means that you should play 17 and 76. My mom once had a dream of me as a child on a donkey with my back to her. She in turn, played 80 & 31 (my birthday backward) and ended winning about $5,000. Needless to say, I never got my fair share of that money.
Me, well – I haven’t yet hit the big one but I know it’s just around the corner. God is waiting for me to really need the dough before he blesses me with it. This morning in the deli where I buy my morning bagel, I played the Mega Millions, just in case, you never know. You see, I don’t really want to be rich; I just want enough money to live comfortably. To be able to pay the mortgage, feed and clothe the kids without having to work that spirit-crushing, corporate nine to five. To be creative full-time, without having to worry about paying the bills, is my dream. I know it’s out there and on it’s way. So tonight if I don’t hit the Mega Millions, I’ll be looking for the numbers man on Sunday to get my numeros fix on. That big beachfront house in DR is just waiting for me to purchase it. Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?