Wanna bet?

Getting a job in New York City in the mid Sixties presented a young man with a smorgasbord of delights and temptations.  We were aghast to learn that a bottle of beer was three times more expensive there than in Scranton Pa.  We encountered on enterprising fellow who had set up a gambling casino on top of a portable table.  He was soliciting bets that you couldn’t keep up with the movement of the cards he was moving about.  The Ace of Spades had a bent corner and it was child’s play to see where it had ended its wanderings.  He wanted folks to bet on their powers of observation and he singled me out of the crowd for a personal challenge.  Not wanting to take unfair advantage of the fellow, we offered to teach him a lesson for the symbolic wager of $1.  He belittled us mercilessly and said we lacked the chutzpah (whatever that was) to make a substantial bet.  Some other fellow in the crowd had the <I>cajones</I> to bet a double sawbuck.   The tip-off flaw somehow failed to provide the intrepid soul with a windfall profit and the operator of the table top gambling casino reaped the rewards of his labor via some slight-of-hand magic. 

When the fabled decade ended, we were living at Lake Tahoe and the greatest dog who ever lived (Baron Siegfried L. von Richthofen III [a sweetie when sober]) was a roommate.  There were ample opportunities to play games of chance that were more closely regulated than the rouge operations we had seen in New York City, but as the Sixties came to a close, our efforts to duplicate the cynical W. C. Fields philosophy of life had taken firm root and we limited our gambling experiments to an annual loss of $35 and considered that an entertainment expense.

One time we walked into the office of a Public Relations official for one of the local casinos carrying the props for a photo which would illustrate a story about a local charity event.  Since one of the props was a genuine shotgun, the PR official asked:  “How did you get past security?”  We told her “we just walked past.” 

The other human roommate and I hosted weekly poker games.  New decade; new vices?

There were some brief scurrilous rumors that Siegfried would eyeball the other fellows hands and then silently say what they were holding so that we could gain, via lip reading, an unfair advantage over our guests.  It was one of the wildest conspiracy theories we have ever heard.

We were unaware of the FM revolution occurring in radio and since South Lake Tahoe is surrounded by a ring of mountains, the reception of AM stations was extremely limited.  There were two stations in the basin and we could on good nights pick up clear signal KFI from Los Angeles and some station in Texas with a wild disk jockey with a distinctive voice who touted himself with the phrase “coast to coast, border to border, wall to wall and tree-top tall.”  “They say” you could hear him in 38 states.

Times have changed.  Things are different.  Back then folks protested the Vietnam War.  We understand that there will be a new protest for the latest war in Washington on March 19th this year.  Is there a new war to protest or is it a display of sentimental nostalgia for the “usual suspects”?  We presume that the artists will include Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, and . . . perhaps the Kinks? 

Some folks, who seem to be as naive and trusting as the aforementioned “rube” in “swinging” New York City was, think that only conspiracy theory nuts (Hi, mom!) distrust the results of the paperless electronic voting machines.

This columnist realizes that his efforts to emulate the jaded cynical paranoid attitude of the hero/victim in Hemingway’s “The Killers” is a tad maudlin, but the fact that the crimp in the corner of the card still bothers us. 

If hustlers believe that only big stakes make displaying their talents worth the effort, then couldn’t one political party play with reckless abandon if they were playing with a marked deck?  The marked decks in magician supply stores are sold for entertainment purposes only – but some Svengali types find it very entertaining to “separate the suckers from their money.”  Don’t look now, but aren’t the efforts of the capitalists very similar to the mad scramble images conjured up by the phrase “Great Oklahoma land rush”?

If (subjunctive mood) one Party wanted to cheat, wouldn’t they try to lure the suckers (“a measly dollar?”) into playing for major bucks?  Why go to all that effort just to win $10?  If the stacked/mark deck guarantees a sure win, why not put abortion, collective bargaining, and tax breaks on the line? 

We didn’t intend writing a new column today.  Rather than get up at 6 a.m. we slept in until 7.  We took some snapshots of the snow in the higher elevations of Berkeley CA.  We put some old music on the sound machine and . . . well, what else is there to do on a cold and wet morning in a city where the local University will soon start their baseball team’s last season.  Budget cuts make sports fans unhappy, but just think how happy the billionaires are this morning. 

“They say” things will get tougher before they get better.  To which optimists and preachers of self-reliance only say:  “You can bet on that!”

Nelson Algren is credited with being the original source for this bit of folk wisdom:  “Never play cards with any man named ‘Doc.’  Never eat at any place called ‘Mom’s.”  And never, never, no matter what else you do in your whole life, never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own.”

Now the disk jockey will play Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Thirty-nine and holding,” “I wish I was 18 again,” and “Who is going to play this old piano?”  We have to go see if we can score a pres pass to the Rolling Stones Concert (“what would you pay to hear a living legend sing?).  Have an “abracadabra!” type week.

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