My March post welcomed visitors to the site (www.baltimoretales.com) and offered the first installment of my short story, Igor’s Hump. Here is the second bite of my parable about playing the ponies with our right brain.
Igor’s Hump – Part 2
Sloppy or not, humans, like horses, can run in the heavy going. All they need is a good break and a little breeding. His mood lifted. One more time, he recited the handicappers’ pre-game psych: “One never knows. You may be walking around lucky and not even know it.”
This prayer was handed down as a gift to horseplayers all over the world in the holiest of movies, Let It Ride. As the down-on-his-luck plunger, Trotter, experiences the handicapping day of his life, he utters the benediction that captures us and lifts us over lost tickets, bad beats, losing streaks, divorces and other misfortunes. That’s simply because prayers do get answered, sometimes.
Jack yanked open the portal to fame and fortune, strode through it and reached for the ancient wallet in his back pocket. A horse-faced, dyspeptic woman sat in a booth, guarding the entry and controlling the crotch-level roll bar of its turnstile. A plastic “Hi. I’m Doris!” nametag dangled from a menacing left breast. Jack knew that Doris hated him and didn’t want to take his three-buck admission. If it were up to her, she would simply refuse to let him through, checking him with a snort and nickering: “We got enough cheap claimers like you in here already.”
Avoiding her glare, he stared at her left warhead and said: “Doris, huh? What do you call the other one?” This got him a look reminiscent of a large-mouth bass mounted on the wall of a club basement.
Quickly, he was through the barrier and focused on the scene ahead of him. Jack started to relax as he nodded to the retired cop in the orthopedic shoes. He ignored the lying sellers of the Stable Boy and Jack’s Card tout sheets, of course, and waded in among Baltimore’s true racing fans.
The first floor of Pimlico’s grandstand had a decent crowd today, rain or no rain. It was a Thursday crowd, not the “Go Baby, Go” racing crowd of NTRA promotions, but the regulars. These were the guys who drove huge, late-model American cars. Their engines burned oil and sported a bit of rust, but they still served to tell the world of that one big score.
Jack walked deeper into the building and into an area of individual seats and desks that could have come out of some high school language lab. They stood in rows like pews before a wall of TVs that allowed supplicants to worship at the altar of Aqueduct, Tampa Bay or Churchill Downs. Betting terminals, voucher machines and an ATM lined the wall on the left, steps away. Here, men rarely looked straight ahead. They either looked down at a racing program or up to the TV that held their hopes.
There were no “swells” here. Owners in suits, women in broad hats, twenty-something rookies trying to impress their dates and the Lunch-At-Pimlico crowd never stopped in this section. This was the part of the building most people believed needed to be torn down and rebuilt or at least painted. This was the Pimlico that slots could really help, or so they said. Who comes to the races and never watches a live race anyway?
He didn’t feel that way. He liked it as it was. He liked it seedy and ill lit. It reminded him of the last days of Memorial Stadium when he and Annie would sit in Section E6, just far enough away from Wild Bill Hagy and his contortionist’s spelling of O-R-I-O-L-E-S . They would lounge in the empty bleachers, sharing fresh ham sandwiches that she had picked up from the Lexington Market on her way out of Downtown. They would drink a smuggled-in National Boh or two and watch the Birds win or lose a summer night game. It didn’t matter which. The old place had just the right number of people and plenty of room to stretch out. Then, they built Camden Yards and the fun went out of it. It was like trading Geena Davis for Brittany Spears, familiar and comfortable for flash and hype. He and the other regulars knew the same fate would befall Pimlico one day. But, not today. Today, she was Geena Davis. Today, he was walking around lucky.