Sunday, August 14, 2022


It caught my eye immediately. On Saturday I happened to see the payouts at Churchill Downs on the Fox Network Racing Across America Show: $18.74, $8.04, $4.16. In the DRF chart, dollar odds stated as: $8.37, $2.71, $8.72...etc.


My suspicious were quickly confirmed when I Googled what might he going on with pari-mutuel payouts in Kentucky. Penny breakage.


Believe it or not, it's a good thing for the bettors. A payout is increased because the rounding determination for the payout is rounded to the nearest penny, not the nearest nickel or dime. New York had dime breakage for years; then nickel. Canada always had nickel breakage.

With dime breakage, when the payout is computed it is rounded to the lowest ten-cent number. If the calculation says the payout should be $2.36, then the payout is rounded down to $2.30 for a dollar. Not a great deal, but an erosion of a return.

In the old days in New York, when all betting was done through a clerk at a window, The Seller punched out your bet. On the other side of this bank of windows were the Cashiers, those that cashed your ticket if you won something. 

With dime breakage, the tellers on the Cashier side only ever had to have dimes and quarters ready to hand you. There was no need for nickels, and certainly no pennies. 

You had to be careful when you got a payout. Mutuel clerks sometimes would short you some change if they could get away with it. Everyone was on the hustle. 

And if you had a previous day's ticket to cash, you had to go to a special window where the clerk looked up the payout in a ledger of green-bar IBM paper. If you didn't know what you were supposed to get, they might try and gyp you there too.

Racing would have died a long time ago if it weren't for computers and satellite telecasts. The computer makes all kinds of bets possible. The numerous multi-leg wagers, the rolling Daily Doubles, Exactas, Quinella, Trifectas, Superfectas, The Grand Slam.

The Grand Slam is a NYRA bet devised decades ago that requires you to have picked any horse that finishes first, second, or third in the three races prior to the feature, and couple those selections with the winner of the feature. It's the strangest bet I know of, and they still use it in New York, even to the tune of there being a $72,605 Grand Slam pool Saturday at Saratoga. It paid $23.50 for a $1. I might have played it once.

This year NYRA introduced a Triple Play which involves three designated races on Friday, Saturday or Sunday's card at Saratoga. The bet is a minimum of $3 with a lower takeout of 19%. So far, I'm not having much luck on looking up how that bet has been going and what its payouts have been.

On July 15 Kentucky introduced "penny breakage" which in effect means there is no rounding down—the calculated payout is made however the calculation comes out, even if it involves pennies, like $18.74, $8.04, $4.16...etc.

This does put a few more cents back in the bettors' pockets, and with the voucher systems, and online betting, does not really introduce physically pushing small change back to the bettor.

Dime and even nickel breakage was a subtle way of taking even more money off the top—MOTT—I always like to say. In addition to the takeout, which can vary based on the type of bet, with multi-leg bets being assessed the highest takeout, breakage could amount to 1.2% of the day's mutuel handle. A small percentage of a large number will still be a large number. Otherwise known as gravy. The crumbs can be nutritious.

I can't imagine penny breakage back in the old days when there were no vouchers or online betting. It would have meant the cashiers would have had to have all denominations of coinage available, and would have to dish out payouts like you were getting change at the supermarket.

They would have never stood for it. They would have gone on strike. Mutuel clerks of old were not a friendly lot, unionized over the years by a variety of organizations. At one point I think they were part of the electricians' union in New York.

As I've stated in prior postings, I pretty much stick to win and exacta wagering. I disdain multi-leg wagering because you can really start to bet a lot of money trying to hit one of those, and get blown out very easily. Also, your carefully crafted handicapped long shot that wins, but is inside a multi-leg wager, will reward you with bupkus unless you've separately played it. More money laid out.

Personally, I'm waiting for "build-your-own" multi-leg bets. You pick the races for a personalized Daily Double, Pick 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. Of course this would introduce an incredible number of extra pools into the system, and might be seen to cannibalize the well-liked consecutive multi-leg bets that can build to large carryover pools and life changing payouts with the right mix of long shots.

But if I put together a Pick-3 ticket on three races I pick, then I still think there's a terrific chance that others will pick the same three races, and we will in effect create our own intermittent race pool. Payouts could have wild anomalies to the individual prices, both high and low.

It's a radical thought, but one I could look forward to. And if NYRA wants to climb on board with penny breakage, I'll accept it. Anything that gives you more money back is a good thing.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Novelist

I like to read. I like to write a bit, but I could never be a novelist.

Lots of people could never be a novelist, so I don't feel inferior to anything. I just recognize what the limitations are on what kind of sentences I can string together. And that number could NEVER turn into a book—even non-fiction.

If the high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Bittkower, that I went to see after I dropped out of my second college had sent me to a job opening at the NYT rather than a health insurance company, I might have made my way up from whatever entry position that was to perhaps a byline. Who knows?

I certainly was the clay that could have been molded into a reporter. I knew the city. I was, and still am, sardonic. And in those days drinking was a pastime, so I'm sure I wouldn't lack for a partner or two downstairs at whatever bar was favored by the crew. I did lack a driver's license, but so did Jimmy Breslin. He just got someone to take him to wherever he had to go.

This blog scratches my itch to write, and as anyone knows who might admit to reading it, there is nothing posted that could ever be turned into a novel—at least not one written by me.

A favorite subject of NYT obituaries are those who have passed away and might have achieved some fame in the arts, perhaps writing. So when I read the obit for Susie Steiner I was intrigued by what she might have written.

It was described that she was British and created a woman police detective Manon Bradshaw that she featured in three novels. Having started the first one in the series, "Presumed, Missing" I don't think "police procedural" applies, although the settings are a police detective squad and a young adult missing female from a well-connected family.

Why Masterpiece Theater hasn't caught up to creating a miniseries on Manon is a mystery itself to me. Perhaps one is in the works, although since I'm halfway through the book, I can offer that Manon is not a very exciting person. Or even eccentric by most stretches of that definition. Manon, 39, is unmarried and goes on Internet dates, which gives the author things to write about that have absolutely nothing to do with police work. They do however have plenty to do with Manon.

Each chapter is titled after one of the characters in the narrative, Manon, Harriet, Miriam, Davy, Helena, etc. Sometimes consecutive chapters are titled after Manon. She is, after all, the chief protagonist.

The obit on Susie Steiner mentioned how her books would be said to be "literary crime." Ms. Steiner's London-based agent, Sarah Ballard, tells us: 

"I've lost track of the number of jackets designed to look like hers, and the number of publishers, scouts and film companies who've used her name to describe a genre of writing they want: They mean literary crime, with a compelling plot, an elegance and wit in the writing, combined with a depth of perception about which leaves you feeling deeply satisfied." 

Well, she was her agent after all.

But it's true. There are whole chapters about what someone is doing other than police work: how they're feeling. I'm only halfway through the book and there are only a few people who the police are interested in. Edith has been missing for over two weeks now, and we all know what that usually means for a missing person.

I remember reading about Frank McCourt who taught creative writing at my old high school, Stuyvesant. He was before my time, and of course he went on to some fame for writing about his Irish upbringing, particularly in "Angela's Ashes."

Frank took over the Creative Writing curriculum from the English teacher I had, but who I never took Creative Writing with, Henry Wozniak.

We always suspected Mr. Wozniak might have been gay. Honestly, we didn't care. I might have had him twice for English, and I will always remember he was well dressed, and that he spoke with precision. 

There was a day when he announced that he's become aware that the cut rate for his class has "reached epic proportions." I never cut any classes, and I've never forgotten the use of the word "epic."

I was told that several years after I graduated in 1966, Mr. Wozniak came out of the closet and showed up to say hello in front of the old building on 15th Street in full leather, earrings and hopped off a Harley, clearly enjoying himself. I wish I had seen that. I might have told him his look was "epic." Frank McCourt wrote about in his book "Teacher."

Anyway, I read that McCourt would instruct his students how to write creatively by revealing more detail. A student turns in a story and says, "He came back from the store." Okay, what store, what did they buy, what did they do with the items after getting home, what's the weather like? Creative writing. I could never be bothered to paint in all those details.

I just finished a chapter in "Missing, Presumed" that is devoted entirely to Harriet, the missing girl's mother, and the emotional roller coaster ride she's going on because the police have really made little to no progress in finding her daughter—in any state.

The rain spits into Miriam's face, spattering the shoulders of her beige Burberry—too thin a layer for January—and she squints into the wind up Chamberlayne Road toward Kenal Rise station, relieved to have said goodbye to Jonti [Edith's old boyfriend] and the guilt.

Only in England would there be a thoroughfare named Chamberlayne Road, and an ex-boyfriend named Jonti. God bless the Brits.

I could never be a novelist.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Vin and David

We recently lost two storytellers, Vin Scully and David McCullough, whose voices held the sound of time.

They both  excelled in widely different formats and subjects, but like a description of the old Penn Station that Thomas Wolfe wrote in "You Can't Go Home Again," "the station was murmurous with the immense and distant sound of time," their voices held the sound of time. Vin's the stories of baseball; David's American history.

Both had similar ancestral backgrounds, Scotch/Irish and Irish, and perhaps that's where the gift of storytelling came from. Relatives at the dinner table.

I wasn't a Dodger fan growing up in Queens in the 1950s. It was the Yankees for me. As such, I didn't grow up with Vin's voice on the radio. I was of course familiar with his calls later in his life when he did national broadcasts on TV.

I remember a few stories he told. One had to do with his keeping a sand dial in front of him to remind him to give the score before the sand ran out. Once he gave the score, he flipped the sand dial over and waited through another cycle. The listener was always informed, not through graphics, but through voice.

Another story had to do when the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series, the only World Series they won while in Brooklyn before they abandoned a city's fans. There are those who will tell you that the demolition of Penn Station in the middle '60s was an urban sin. Some of those same people will tell you the Giants and Dodgers leaving for the West Coast after the 1957 season was another example of Original Sin.

Vin described the intensity of baseball fandom in that golden era of three baseball teams in New York City; The Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers. No other city in the country boasted three major league teams. No other city was big enough to hold all those grudges.

Vin described the drive back from Yankee Stadium after Dem Bums beat the Yankees in the seventh game. There were no celebrations of fans along the route out of the Bronx or Manhattan as he headed toward the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel that connects lower Manhattan with Brooklyn.

Once the car emerged from the tunnel in Brooklyn, Vin described a scene of "Bedlam." Horns were honking, people were dancing in the streets, paper was flying everywhere; joy was in the air. There were no celebratory fans along the route in The Bronx or Manhattan for the Dodgers. Those boroughs were as quiet as a bank on Sunday. Such was the localization of baseball fandom in the New York '50s.

Until the obituary for Vin Scully I didn't realize his New York roots: Fordham Prep, Fordham University, schools in The Bronx. But Vin grew up rooting for the New York Giants because he felt sorry for them. Those who grew up in Manhattan, like my father, rooted for the Giants since they played at the Polo Grounds on 155th Street, pretty much across the Harlem River from the Bronx and Yankee Stadium.

I didn't remember that it was Vin Scully's voice I was listening to as he New York Mets came from behind against the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 in the 1986  World Series in the 10th inning with two outs to force a Game 7, and eventually extend The Curse of the Bambino over an entire New England region.

Mookie Wilson is famously at bat. He skips rope to avoid a wild pitch which allows Kevin Mitchell to score form third. Ray Knight goes from first to second. Game tied. Mookie still at bat. Count is 2-2.

Mookie's been fouling them off, but finally connects with a ball that goes fair, a cue shot along the first base line. The Sox first baseman Bill Buchner crows hops over to field the ball, only to watch it go between his legs and dribble into right field.

Ray Knight rounds second, third and scores. If Bobby Thomson's homer against the Dodgers was "The Shot Heard Round the World" then this was the dribbler that was heard around the world. 

BEDLAM. 55,078 at Shea are going NUTS. The Mets have tied the Series. My phone rings. It's my father, calling from Crystal City, Virginia where he lives, one eye nearly closed because of the encroaching cancer, but still able to see.

We've long ago become Met fans as soon as a National League team moved back to New York. Shea Stadium was less than two miles from the house in Flushing.

Scully just lets the TV audience see and watch the crowd. He takes his time. This is what it must have looked like in 1955 when his car came out of the Battery Tunnel in Brooklyn after the Dodgers won the series. 

Scully lets it sink in. It takes a while, but he returns to the microphone and tells us; "If a picture is worth a thousand words, you have just seen about a million," I never get tired of reliving that moment.

David McCullough was born in Pittsburgh. For anyone bad at geography that's in Western Pennsylvania. He was born in 1933 into a Scots/Irish household with multiple generations at the dinner table. It can be no surprise then that he took an interest in the famous Johnston Flood of 1889, in a city 56 miles east of Pittsburgh. Surely someone at his dinner table knew the news first hand; 2209 people died when the South Fork Dam burst.

As a youngster, he read about the dam bursting, but personally found the stories lacking in the ability to hold the reader. They didn't make such a cataclysmic event personal enough.

He entered Yale in 1951 that then boasted an English faculty that counted John Hersey, Robert Penn Warren and John O'Hara as members. His major was English literature, and he graduated in 1955. Imagine having those people on campus with office hours.

McCullough recalls lunchtime conversations with Thornton Wilder that helped him shape his first published work, "The Johnston Flood" published to positive reviews in 1968. He quits the day job at Sports Illustrated. His career has started.

His biographies on John Adams and Harry Truman won Pulitzers. I have to admit I once tried to read "1776" but got bogged down in the minutia and quit soon after starting. I guess I'm not good at reading  biographies or history. I never finished the book, but always enjoyed the sound of his voice when he narrated documentaries on PBS. The HBO series on John Adams was great. The Brooklyn Bridge story as well.

In his later years, McCullough had the gravitas of Walter Cronkite. You know if he said it, it was true.

The photo of McCullough above was in 2001, the year his biography of John Adams came out. I find it more than interesting that the photo was taken in the main reading room of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue in New York.

The reading is room immense. I took a tour there once and the guide told us the ceiling is the size of a football field. That's about an acre.

If you look up at it long enough, you realize it holds the sounds of time. Just like the voices of Vin Scully and David McCullough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

I'm Just Me

Even though I'm probably like hundreds of millions of other people who are not in any kind of legal trouble, I still get great assurance that no one is after me.

No one is stopping by in front of the house carrying a search warrant. The only vehicles to stop by today have been the newspaper delivery service, depositing three papers on the front lawn: a pink wrapper for The New York Post, a white wrapper for The Wall Street Journal, and a blue wrapper for The New York Times.

Additionally, since it's Tuesday and it's summer, the lawn people were here. And at some point before I awoke, the town garbage truck was here to take things away left at the curb. It's not recycling day, or yard waste day, just household trash. They thankfully come twice a week for that.

In other words. The F.B.I. did not stop by and raid the place looking for something incriminating. No one is after me, and when I read of all the people who someone is after, I take pride that I'm anonymous to those who might be trying to throw those in the slammer. Not that I've done anything to warrant that kind of attention, but that's the point. No one is after me. Like Frank Costello, I pay my taxes. 

The headline across the front page of today's print edition of The New York Times is not as large as the Monday evening online edition. It's above the fold, two-column spread in the upper right hand corner that tells us: TRUMP SAYS F.B.I. SEARCHED HOME IN SOUTH FLORIDA. The sub-heading goes: Focus Said to Be on White House Files—Sign that inquiries Are Widening.

Yeah, you think so?

The story jumps to page A13. There are no photos. Thus, we do not see a phalanx of F.B.I. agents in blue slickers with yellow F.B.I. lettering on the back pouring out of Suburban vehicles charging the place.

The Wall Street Journal carries the story on the front page, above the fold, centered between the left and right columns. They do have a photo, that carries the caption "Secret Service agents stand at the gate of Mar-a-Lago after FBI agents searched the home of former President Donald Trump." One agent is talking into his fist; the other agent is poised with an assault rifle as they flank a parked Suburban.

The headline beneath the large photo stretches four columns and goes: FBI Searches Trump's Home In Probe of Classified Records. No sub-heading 

[Note: The WSJ and The NYT style guides obviously differ. The WSJ does not insert commas after the initials in F.B.I. No big deal.]

Neither story carries any reporting on how many agents might have been searching the home. both papers report a quote from Mr. Trump, "They even broke into my safe." It's good to know they came prepared.

The WSJ reports that a Trump lawyer, Christina Robb was present during the raid, which started Monday morning and continued into the evening for nine hours. It is a big place.

The New York Post carried the front page headline: FEDS RAID MAR-A-LAGO. The sub-heading goes: Seize Documents, Open Trump's safe. Inserted after the word RAID is a photo of Mr. Trump in a pose that could be used for Mount Rushmore if there were even any thoughts of adding to it. Not likely.

The Trump news is at the bottom half of The New York Post front page, sharing space with a photo of Olivia- Newton-John who just passed away: So Long Sandy.  The Sandy reference is of course to her character in the musical 'Grease.'

The New York Post story is by far the more descriptive of the three papers. 

"A source who was at  Mar-A-Lago at he time of the FBI raid told The Post that it was 'like a scene of a Die Hard Movie' as armored cars came screeching up to the Palm Beach residence Monday morning 'and at least 100' FBI agents charged into Trump's home." Now we get the picture.

This is not a one-day story. Wednesday's New York Post carries a full front page headline/story: Exclusive: Inside the Trump raid. They even searched Melania's closet."

Oh-oh. The hope is that there was not an opportunistic agent who carried off Melania's Manolo Blahnik shoes or underwear for sale on the Dark Web. Or worse. Sniff, sniff We've all watched television.

Did The Donald, Melania, or the kids and grandkids have overdue library books from The Library of Congress? There have been reports over the years of zealous searches for overdue books.

The official statements goes that the search was for classified documents which would not be allowed to leave the White House. Time will tell all. Maybe.

I once attended a fraud conference umpteen years ago and the closing speaker was a retired F.B.I. agent who commented that he picked up the newspaper that morning and there were 17 accounts of people being sought or investigated for fraud that day. Sounded like a lot.

No matter the number, the point is a stroll through the news of any day will yield stories on any number of miscreants. 

And so it goes if you try and count the number of people who are being sought for something, whose lives are complicated enough that we're reading about them.

And that's not considering the fictional ones that populate movies, TV and books. A complicated life makes for a good plot. I often marvel at these stories how complicated these lives are, and mine is not. 

A former president is perhaps that most extreme example of someone in trouble, but for Mr. Trump, it's just another day at the office, wherever his office is these days. I have little in common with the former president other than we're about the same age, and were born in Queens, a New York City "outer borough" as the NYT loves to tell us. I have a pretty good head of hair as well. However, it's not orange.

I've been retired these days for 11 years now. No one is even looking for me to show up at work. Life is good, which coincidently is the name of the recent winner of The Whitney Stakes at Saratoga this past weekend. It's a good feeling, and he's a pretty good horse.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Consolation Payout

Winning any kind of money at the racetrack is hard. Just ask anyone who goes there regularly. If they're honest they will tell you of their slumps as well as their successes.  But usually asking a horseplayer how they're doing is as good as accepting their answer as an unaudited financial statement. You should just listen.

Last week on the FoxSports show 'Racing Across America,' Anthony Stabile, (@TheBigAStabile) a NYRA handicapper, went on camera with a fellow from the crowd and asked him how does he snap a losing streak.

You only have to look and listen to Mr. Stabile to be fully aware of his horseplaying bona fides. You might take him for a typical de-and-doe guy from Brooklyn, but don't let that fool you. He knows how to properly use the word "penultimate."

On camera at Saratoga behind the stands, Mr. Stabile interviewed a fellow who proudly proclaimed he's been to 51 racetracks. The guy was easily in his 60s, perhaps early 70s, and had to be playing the horses a long time to achieve that number. I'm not sure there are currently 51 racetracks in operation in North America at this point. He could of course been overseas.

No matter, the guy wearing a Chicago Cubs insignia shirt offered some sage advice on trying to break a losing streak. Mr. Stabile admitted that after a few weeks into the Saratoga meet, he might not be doing so well. He's reached the right guy to interview.

Mr. Cub said he does something different on his way to the track. He might take a different route to the entrance. Anthony quickly acknowledged that he came to Saratoga that morning using a different route. 

Mr. Cub further explained in the old days when he did his betting at the windows, rather than now using an app, he would go to a different teller window if he had been buying tickets on losers at one window. I will freely admit that while I might have once done that myself, I now see little value in changing the SAM machine I might be using. However, I will unashamedly admit that after a few losing races I will now choose a different urinal to void my bladder.

These of course play into superstitions, a more psychic approach than a nuts and bolts approach to snapping a losing streak.

But Mr. Cub gave what perhaps was the best advice of all. Maybe stop playing all those Pick 3, 4, 5, 6 multi-leg races and get back to basics. Make win and exacta bets. Stop trying to put together a 50¢ multi-leg wager that with all the chosen permutations could easily run you $40 to $50, and just play it straight. After all, when I started playing the most exotic bet available was one Daily Double, a bet you had to have in 10 minutes before the post time for the first race. There weren't even exacta opportunities until the '70s.

I will gladly tell anyone who listens, that the only bets I make these days are win and exacta. I might now and then try a 50¢ Trifecta Box in a relatively short field, but that's as exotic as I get.

Mr. Stabile nodded at the advice to get back to basics, and said that maybe now he was going to be making across the board, or show bets. Winning does produce confidence.

The multi-leg payouts usually return a handsome return on the price of the ticket you put together—but you have to HIT it.  Most players put these tickets together by handicapping the choices they make. They usually don't rely on randomly selected numbers, like the lotteries that are immensely popular. That's the one aspect of playing the horse with any kind of bet that appeals to me: you make the selections.

My aversion to multi-leg bets is not just the final total you run up with even a modest number of boxed permutations, but that you might have in there a $28 winner on what ultimately becomes a losing ticket. Unless you play your choices singly as well as on multi-leg tickets, your $28 horse gives you no return.  You hit a longshot and don't collect a dime. Not for me.

Because multi-leg bets play out over time on the card, they are subject to being buffeted by scratches and surface changes. If you put one of these combinations together, and your choice for the first leg is scratched, you can cancel your ticket and start again. If you have time, and if you want to.

If a choice you made is scratched after your first leg you are assigned the post time favorite. If you already picked a selection that becomes a post time favorite, then you've selected the horse twice. This may improve your payout at the end if you hit. Multi-leg wagering can get confusing when there are scratches and surface changes.

A surface change that's announced after the first leg results in an ALL selection. This is a good thing for the bettor, because a key element of handicapping a turf race is who is good on turf. If because of a sudden downpour (and Saratoga has plenty of those) a race in one of your other than first sequence is changed from turf to dirt, then you in effect have made an ALL selection. No matter who wins, your ticket stays alive.

But consider this. Because you're not the only one affected by the change to ALL, all the people who played the multi-leg bet get a gimme. This in effect puts more combinations out there that will pay out, and therefore diminishes the final payout. More winners, less money individually distributed per winning ticket.

Now imagine that another turf case in your sequence comes off the turf and goes to the dirt. Now there are two ALL selections on two legs of the sequence, making even more winners if they complete the other legs as winners.

Just such a thing happened on Thursday last week, July 28, at Saratoga. Two races came off the turf to dirt, and two races were declared as ALL bets, creating a ton more winners. Since several of the sequences end after the last race, there are a lot of computed payouts. and when you consider there are Consolation Pick 6 payouts, pick any 5 of the six winners in the sequence, you get agate printed results that run several lines. Often there is a delay in posting the payout after the last race because there are so many calculations that need to be made by the computer.

I've written about before, but several years ago four of us in The Assembled put together four $2 Pick-6 tickets with single selections, costing each of us $2 for an $8 outlay.

It was Super Saturday, and the six races were all stakes races. We missed the first leg, running second, but hung in there and hit the next 5 races. We were in line for a Consolation Pick-6. 

Our winning picks were all favorites, so there were going to be many people who hit any of the 5 in the Pick-6 sequence. We anxiously awaited the payout result—$11! Split four ways, we each got back $2.75. Bobby G, refused to take his share. Even with that, we were hardly rich.

So, what was the Pick-6 payout with two ALL bets in its sequence on Thursday? $90.75 for a $1 bet. Only one horse in that sequence paid more than $10 ($11.20), and of course there were two freebie bets in there. Lots of winners from a $197,316 pool. There were probably a few people who might have come out ahead, albeit with a diminished payout.

What was the Consolation Pick-6, 5 out of 6 with the two ALL bets in there? A rather emaciated $2.45 for a $1 bet! Surely there were plenty of people who may have hit this, but failed to gain back their initial outlay.

It is very hard to make money at the racetrack.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Always Wanted to Play a Good Game of Pool

I didn't expect to read it in Paul Sorvino's obituary, and of course it's not there, but Paulie, like George M. Cohan and others (myself included), always wanted to play a good game of pool. And how would I know such a thing?

When I went to put songs on my iPod years ago with music from the movie 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' there was an outtake of a speech George M. Cohan made at a Catholic actors' dinner. George recounts how he's improvised the speech, how he and his partner Sam Harris got started in show business, and how he always wanted to play a good game of pool. "Shoot a good stick" as the expression goes.

Today's NYT carries an appraisal to Paul's work as an actor. For me, 'Goodfellas' was his watershed role,. There are several memorable scenes in that movie, but Paulie Cicero's role of cooking an Italian meal, getting the sauce just right and cutting the garlic just so while in a Federal penitentiary is priceless.

And lest you think that scene is pure Hollywood, consider the accommodations given Joe Valachi, the first made member who broke the code of silence—the Omerta— and started talking. Reading Selwyn Raab's seminal doorstopper work, "Five Families; The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America's Most powerful Mafia Empires" there is part where it is described that singing Joe was housed in a "two-room air-cooled prison suite with couches and a kitchenette," that was built for him at the La Tuna Penitentiary near El Paso Texas. When Ray Liotta's Henry Hill brings the wine and scotch into Big Paulie's cell, the meal begins.

Thinking about that scene, I wonder if Chef Ramsey, Bobby Flay, or Emeril has considered making a show about meals created in prisons by inmates. Hmm. Probably not.

The passing of Paul Sorvino brought back the memory I wrote about in a blog posting when I mentioned how a friend of mine, Dennis, gave Paulie lessons in playing pool at Broadway Billiards, a long ago pool emporium underneath the penny arcade at 52nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan where Dennis, his brother Dave and I could be found most Friday and Saturday nights.

It was a clean, well-lit place that didn't have any "characters" hanging out. The owner, Mr. Monaco ,wouldn't have it. He even installed one or two billiard tables, and would stage professional matches there on occasion. There were lockers for players' cues, and Dennis, being the best player amongst us,—and in the place, really— had his own fairly expensive Balabushka cue stored there, for free. Dave and I always played with house cues, never allowed to use Dennis's.

Dennis's game was straight pool, and basically that's all we played. No 8-Ball or 9-Ball quick gambling games. Dennis didn't gamble, and didn't play in any tournaments, but did once enter a three-cushion  billiard tournament at McGirr's and was pitted against Bill Maloney, someone who became a world champion three-cushion player. Dennis had a three ball spot in a game of 15 points, but lost gracefully. It was only when Bill passed away did I read in his obit that he went to the same high school as Dennis and I, Stuyvesant.

At some point, Dennis was teaching Paul Sorvino how to play better pool. How the arrangement got started I don't know. Dennis's brother reminded me of it years ago. Dennis didn't advertise himself as an instructor, but the relationship took hold for a while. I have no idea if Paulie's game improved a lot or not. I don't think Dennis made any kind of real money giving lessons. He might have even done it for free.

As I wrote in that prior posting, I've taken to playing an occasional round of pool with my daughter Susan on mid-week afternoons for about 1½ hours at a nice pool hall, RAXX, in West Hempstead. The place reminds me of Broadway, spacious, clean, with tables individually lit and abacus beads overhead. They even have a kitchen for light meals. They have leagues and tournaments there.

To me it was quite a coincidence that yesterday, the day of Paul Sorvino's NYT obit, that Susan and I were headed to RAXX for what for us is a bit of ball banging playing 8-Ball.

It takes us 1½ hours to play three games of 8-Ball. So far, neither of us has run more than three balls. Yesterday I took her 2 games out of 3. All being close games. Interesting, that Sue and I are also avid backgammon players. Bill Maloney, like a lot of hustlers, also played backgammon for money. Sue and I don't.

When I play pool, it is impossible not to think of Dennis and Broadway Billiards and his brother Dave. Dave passed away in February 2021 and I had the police inform Dennis after I went to the police because I hasn't heard from Dave. Dave was found in his apartment in Bellmore.

Dennis lives in Dublin, Ohio and I haven't seen him for 35 years now. We were only in touch via emails when Dave passed away. Dennis didn't come to New York. He and his brother were often estranged for long periods when they didn't talk to each other. Their sibling rivalry was often fierce. Dave hadn't been married for some time, and had no kids. The Piermont family had no family plot, so Dennis arranged for Dave to be cremated.

Since Dave was a lifelong horseplayer and went to school in Kentucky, frequenting Ellis, Miles, Churchill and Keeneland tracks in college, Dennis and his Presbyterian pastor wife Julia took Dave's ashes and spread them on Kenneland's backstretch.  Dublin, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky are not far apart. Dennis used to come to the races with Dave and I, but drifted away from it early on. After scattering the ashes, he then spent the day at the races, catching up on how the past performances had changed.

It is impossible to play pool and not think of those guys. If our Levitt home had a cellar, there's be a pool table in it. I've always wanted to play a good game of  pool.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Pillow Talk

As usual, the WSJ has scored again with an off-beat, entertaining A-Hed piece, this one on the size of pillows in Germany, and basically, pillows in general.

The headline and sub-headline proclaim:

German Pillows Are Oddly Huge,
Many Say. Reasons Are Squishy.

Giant cushions that puzzle visitors trace
to Roman times, according to one theory

Apparently, German pillows are 80 centimeters square, translating to 31 x 31 inches. (That's very nearly a square yard. And it's beveled!). American pillows are 20" x 26." That's quite a difference. Do Germans sleep with helmets on? Not really.

I always knew we had a standard size pillow; one for queen, full size and twin beds, another larger one for king size beds. My wife, for some reasons will tell you she loves her pillow from Mike Lindell's company.

Since my wife has no trouble falling asleep, I don't understand why she thinks Mike's pillow is a so great. Whenever there's a reason for me to make the bed (she always remakes it) I plump up her pillow and put one of those bed spread pillows covers over it, as I do to my regular, quite enjoyable pillow.

Mike's pillow always feels like a pillow case stuffed with rags. How anyone can claim they get a good might's sleep on it is beyond me. Unless of course you're my wife who is asleep before she hits the pillow. So how would she know anyway?

The A-Hed piece tells us visitors to Germany are puzzled by their size. "Giant marshmallows" goes one opinion, claiming they offer little support for the head and neck, no matter how much they're fluffed.

It's a lively piece, tracing pillow origins and size to a 1792 guide to what to have in a proper dowry, to claiming that German tribes adopted the preference for the pillow size from the Romans throughout the age of the Holy Roman Empire, the Medieval Age and the Renaissance.  Who knew the pillow had such a history?

But it was the close to the story that grabbed my attention. Not all that long ago when I checked into my hotel room while attending a conference, I found myself amused that there were like eight pillows of different sizes on the bed.  Sue, it looked nice, but hardly practical. There was only one of me.

When I got to the cocktail hour I asked anyone who could hear me if anyone needed an extra pillow for their bed, since I had seven too many. I then commented that there are probably kids in South American sleeping on soccer balls since we've cornered the market on pillow excess.

One of our sofas at home is decorated with pillows of three sizes, and colors, arranged in a symmetrical pattern that always requires anyone who wants to sit down to have to stack the pillows elsewhere. 

When my wife is finished making our bed (she does do a superior job to my efforts, but so what?) there are several pillows stacked next to the duvet covered sleeping pillows, and an array of stuffed animals, and a doll. I will say, the bed does look good. I blame Martha Stewart and all those style mavens that show up on morning talk shows that appeal to women. 

As we might he shaking our heads at the size of German pillows, Germans are shaking their heads at how many we put on a bed. The A-Hed piece closes with:

"It's pillow preferences that baffle Germans." Torsten Lapp, a Berlin-based cameraman comments about the U.S., where he spends a lot of time, "They have something like 30 pillows on a bed. Why do they force you to remove 29 each night before you can go to sleep."

Torsten, I'm with you.