Thursday, November 15, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME: The Young Eyetalian Gambler

My Uncle Sam talked with an Italian accent. Like my father, he made small bets on the horses within his means. As a small child, I'd often hear him complain about a horse that "just missed," ending with the expletive "sonamabeech!" When my father asked me what beach I wanted to go to one Saturday, I quickly replied, "sonamabeach!" He bragged about that like I got the highest average in the class, and I didn't fully understand what I did that was so funny. For the next coupla' a years I blurted out things that popped into my head trying to evoke the same response...he looked at me like I had Tourette syndrome.

Both grandparents were immigrants from Italy. My grandfather on my father’s side, Batiste, was an organ grinder who lived in Long Island City. I loved to go with him when he stood on one of the corners in Queensboro Plaza playing old Italian classics by turning the handle of the ol’ worn out box, as his little monkey, Pepe, danced at the end of a long leash. One Saturday, as we were about to pass two patrons outside an Irish bar on the walk towards the Plaza, my grandfather said, “Rinaldo, statazeit! (be quiet), the Irishman Paddy Riley is a drunk and he don’ta lika us!” As we quietly passed the two, Paddy came over to Pepe, patted the little monkey on the head and gave him five dollars. His buddy said, “Paddy, what the fuck are ya’ doin, I thought you hated guineas?” Paddy replied, “I do, but they’re so cute when they’re young!”

Once I did quit school, I roamed the streets of New York City, getting "free love" from the flower children, getting high, burglarizing commercial businesses and gambling. One night I came home about 5 a.m. after winning almost a thousand bucks in a crap game at the neighborhood social club. Opening the door to my apartment I saw my father washing his face, getting ready to go to work. It was a cold January morning and feeling pretty good about myself, I said, "Da, don't go to work today; come with me; I'll take you to the racetrack," pulling out the wad of cash. He turned and looked at me with his nose running and said, "You go to the track, knock 'em dead. Me, I'm going to work!" At that moment I thought to myself, "This guy is nuts.”

When I did go to the track with my father, he’d drive me crazy. A lot of bettors have different quirks. After each race was over, my father would look at the racing program listing the horses that I held in my hand (he saw no reason to buy one when he could look at mine) and make some far-fetched distant connection to why he swears he was going to bet “en-tay” (pig Latin for ten) on the horse.

He usually bet no more than six bucks. For instance, when the first three horses past the finish line in the fifth race were the 3, 1 and 2, he said he “air-sways” to God that he was going to bet that triple because that was Aunt Mary’s old address. I asked, “What made you think of Aunt Mary?”

“I saw a picture of the Queen Mary in the News today”, he answered.

Then I asked, “Why her old address, why not her new address?”

His eyes rolled around like a slot machine and I thought I had him till he finally replied, “she’s old!”

As soon as the race was over, he’d look at the program in my hand and “air-sway” he was gonna’ bet that horse. Figuring I’d put an end to this shit, I put my thumb over race number seven and held the program. Sure ‘nuff, after he sees the two horse win the sixth race, he looks at the program believing he was looking at the sixth and started giving me the far-fetched reasoning why he was gonna’ go all in on that two. I said, “Is that right? Well, reach in your pocket right now and bet it all on the two because you’re looking at the seventh race and it didn’t go off yet!” He started stuttering like a motor scooter and ended the conversation like he usually did – good-naturedly laughed it off.


From DISORGANIZED CRIME, by Sonny Patini. Inquiries to

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