Still, I stay in touch. Four weeks after my oldest daughter was born, she spent a pleasant evening at Monticello Raceway, asleep in a Snugli strapped to my chest. Now 26, she seems none the worse for it. When there was still a grandstand at Yonkers, my two youngest daughters, now eight and nine, loved to walk up and down its all-but-abandoned aisles, noisily snapping closed hundreds of folding seats, one after another, as little charcoal-like stalagmites of pigeon droppings broke off and shattered on the cool concrete floor. The track was no stranger to them than most of the world's wonders and not nearly as weird as some of the other things Daddy liked to do, such as standing up to pee and drinking orange juice right out of the container.
I spend a lot of time on the phone with Dave Saks, my last friend from the old days, bemoaning the latest atrocity committed by Yonkers management: canceling Dave's favorite exotic bet; or failing to investigate, for the millionth time, some criminally minuscule exacta payoff; or announcing that yet another betting area or food stand or seating section was being shuttered "for the convenience of you, our valued patrons."
It is harder than ever to win. The tourists, the amateurs, the casual bettors have fled. Only the truly hard-core remain, picking over the bones of one another's diminishing bankrolls, the same 1,500 idiots savants of handicapping I see every time I go.
"So why go?" my wife asks, reasonably.
"It's hard to explain," I say.
When people call who don't know about this aspect of my life—friends, neighbors, my boss, our therapist—my wife says I am unavailable: "He's at the track, at the harness racing track." Being truthful is the best revenge.
Later, when I return home smelling of cigarettes and hot dogs, weary, frustrated, poorer and no less frazzled than when I left four hours earlier, she asks me sweetly if I had "a good time."
A good time, I think. What an interesting way to put it.