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Green Sheet Benny was an ecologist long before the word came into style. He lived within a controlled environment, doing all of the controlling himself and making a nice dollar out of it. Green Sheet Benny was a tout. Back in the early 1950s three pals and I (16-year-olds all) did some field work on Benny's system. Ecology was the last thing on our minds at the time—but a high-toned word like that makes the memory easier to bear.
We had heard about Benny around the local dog track. Wherever greyhounds were racing was where Benny wanted to be; he moved his whole world with him from track to track, an ecosystem that, with a certain grisly fitness, was contained inside an old Cadillac hearse. It had been refitted into a combination home and office. Along one side of the back end was a mattress. The desk formed the other side of the back end. It consisted of a long sheet of plywood on which were arranged a typewriter and several boxes of 3-by-5 cards. This was his filing system: it was supposed to list every greyhound racing in the U.S. A hand-cranked mimeograph stood in a corner.
Benny drove his hearse back and forth between Florida and Arizona for the first few years after World War II, timing his arrivals with the opening of race meetings at both ends. When Colorado legalized pari-mutuel betting he added a third leg to his journey, and that is when we first came upon him.
Being 16 in that part of the country at that time was something less than Nirvana. The local minor league baseball team was slipping below our level of sophistication, television had barely poked its way through from Chicago and the extratheatrical possibilities of drive-in movies had not yet been thoroughly explored. But dog racing? Well, that just might be something.
It was inevitable then that we would meet Benny, for he stood just inside the main entrance shrilling his spiel: "Winners! Getcha winners here! Benny's got the winners! Buy the Green Sheet!" He wore a carpenter's apron over a drab suit, and tucked into the apron pockets were the green mimeographed tout sheets that went for 50� each and listed Benny's picks for all 11 races.
During the entire race meeting he kept the hearse in the parking lot at the track, not moving it between opening day and the closing of the season. On his arrival each year he would walk into the track manager's office and offer to clean the entire grandstand after each night of racing for a pittance. The manager always agreed, and Benny would go to work the morning after opening day, following an unvarying schedule:
5 a.m. to 8 a.m.—Benny sweeps out the grandstand, finishing well before anyone else shows up.
8 a.m. to noon—Benny draws the curtains on his hearse and apparently catches 40 winks.
Noon to 2 p.m.—Benny talks to owners and trainers, especially those with dogs racing that night.
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.—Benny pores over the 3-by-5 cards, pecks out his selections on a mimeo stencil and cranks out the Green Sheet.