Jerry’s Ink: The Sure Thing

When I was 19 years old, and broke as broke can be, I was a shipping clerk/messenger by day and went to Brooklyn College at night.
I also worked part time at Hy and Ann’s candy store on Avenue U, which was in Gravesend, an Italian neighborhood that was proud to be called by Senator Estes Kefauver “The Breeding Place for Crime in the United States.”
The boys of Avenue U were made up of two groups. Simply put, there were the good kids and the bad kids.
My group was the good kids. We never got into any trouble and all of us went on to work hard all our lives and to raise fine families. The bad kids never worked and just about every one of them wound up in jail, and those who weren’t found dead in the trunks of their flashy Cadillacs are now in the Witness Protection Program and, I suspect, are living in fear in some hot, dusty town in Arizona.
Both groups played the horses. Everybody on Avenue U played the horses. In my group some of us would pool our money, pack into a car and drive out to Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. We went late because we couldn’t afford to pay the price of admission and still bet, so we had to wait until the last race of the night. That’s when Roosevelt Raceway would throw open the doors to the track and anyone could walk in for free to bet the last race.
There was one night that I can still remember. There was a “tip” in the neighborhood that there was a “boat” race at Roosevelt. That meant a race that was “fixed.”
There was a horse called Rusty Don and he couldn’t lose. How do you lose a fixed race? The good news was Rusty Don was running in the last race. Six of us pooled every penny we had in our pockets and we had $37. We jumped into my car (a broken-down 1948 Chevy convertible that cost me $70), put a dollar’s worth of gas (three gallons) in the tank and raced out to Roosevelt Raceway.
Rusty Don was a beautiful horse. He just looked so much more handsome, stronger and faster than any of the seven other trotters in the race. Plus, the race was fixed so, as I said, how could we lose? I had put up $6. It was every penny I had, but the odds on Rusty Don were 4-to-1, so when Rusty Don won, I would make $24, which was more money than I made for a full week’s worth of work.
The excitement we all felt was incredible. The race went off and Rusty Don took a big lead. When he came to the head of the stretch Rusty Don was ahead by nine lengths.
But then Rusty Don’s lead went from 9 to 7 lengths … then 6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … It almost looked as though Rusty Don was trotting in slow motion. When the horses went past where my friends and I were standing, seven of them passed Rusty Don.
The horse who couldn’t lose had finished last. The winning horse paid $42. The fix might have been in, but we had bet on the wrong horse. We didn’t have a penny left among us.
We rode back to Avenue U in complete silence. Not a word. I looked at my friends’ faces and they had a look I will always remember as “The Rusty Don night at Roosevelt Raceway” look. It was an expression of profound sadness and disappointment and embarrassment that you can see when you look into the eyes of a loser. I didn’t think of that look for many many years.
I went to a cocktail party in New York City a month ago and it was filled with some very nice people. They are bankers, hedge fund guys, investors, heads of corporations. They are New York’s leading Democrats. They backed Barack Obama with tens of thousands of dollars in 2008 when he was all about Hope and Change. They drank the Kool-Aid. They believed in him then. They don’t now.
Now when they mention Obama in 2012 they have this sad look on their faces and they keep shaking their heads. They mumble, “But Romney?” As though this will explain their vote—if not to me, at least to themselves.
I remember talking to one brilliant man who has been a life-long Democrat and thinking to myself, “That’s the Roosevelt Raceway look my friends and I had when we realized that we had bet on the wrong horse.”
The only difference is I never went back to the track and bet on Rusty Don again. Sadly, in November my Democrat friends are going into a poll booth to bet once again on the wrong horse. Or are they?
As I said, they’re smart people. Maybe in the privacy of a darkened poll booth they’ll see the light.

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