If I ended up in the black, I could keep the profits. This was not a decision based solely on corporate benevolence. It was explained that nobody in the history of any company had ever turned back more expense money than he had withdrawn, so if I did it would establish a nasty precedent. Anyway, with interest-free use of $2,000, I was one up on O.J. Simpson and Fran Tarkenton.
The broker and I were to compete head to head, two grand to two grand, over a five-week period, commencing on July 12. For me, this meant betting first on the races at Aqueduct, then Saratoga, since OTB takes action only on the New York tracks. (It handles the local harness raceways, but since I don't know anyone at the trotters who could inform me in advance about the jug-heads scheduled to win each night, I dismissed that alternative.) The stockbroker, whom I chose to know only as The Mysterious Mr. Margin, could play any exchange, and at a time that is usually marked by "the annual summer rally." In his behalf, I must acknowledge that "the annual summer rally" was otherwise this particular annual summer.
Still, at that time I felt convinced that he was holding all the cards, that no mere horseplayer could defeat Wall Street. I did gain a certain measure of mystical confidence after my code name was accepted and registered by OTB. Gazing at the plastic ID card issued to Odd Lot, with his code number and the unlisted phone number he must call to place his bets, I began to believe that a shrewd, well-heeled stranger would be making the wagers, not me. This was comforting because, overall, in a racetrack dalliance dating back 20 years to a time when I would pick up discarded newspapers and enter a track in the guise of a newsboy, I have been, frankly, a loser. Just a borderline loser, mind you; but a loser.
By the same token, I have always profited handsomely in the stock market, an enterprise I did not stumble on until somewhat later in life. I came into the market in the '60s. You remember the '60s. That was when stocks always went up no matter what they were. Oh, once in a blue moon the market would take a dip down, but it was always carefully explained to me by my .broker that it was not a genuine decline. It was only a technical adjustment. Those were great times to be in the stock market, the '60s.
My house is a creation of the stock market. We don't have an address out front like other people; we have a posting of the Dow Jones averages the day we got out. Inside, there is a living room, a gift from ITE Circuit Breaker; the dining room, thanks to National Student Marketing (I got out at 42?. When did you?); the kitchen is the Dynalectron room; the bedroom is, appropriately, compliments of Holiday Inn, and the den is provided by Silicon Transistor.
Silicon Transistor was the one that made me think I better give the market up. I was away on a trip, and when I returned there was a bevy of messages from my broker—each more desperate than the previous—saying we had to unload Silicon Transistor. The only thing was that while he was trying to reach me to have me sell, Silicon went up 7? points. After that, it didn't seem to me that anybody really knew much about the stock market. Still, I must confess that there is not so much as a closet in the house named after a horse.
Yet my heart remains with the horses. They are character building. Scratch a kid who can read a form, and a future leader of America will bleed. It is a last frontier to sit at a track, mark up a Morning Telegraph, dope out a whole race, put real money down, see your money run, and go to a good old-fashioned window and have a man dish out cash to you. If I were a little younger, I would say that it is a relevant experience.
The stock market, by contrast, is displaced and impersonal. Somebody else does everything. The only stock I ever got any real visceral satisfaction out of was Holiday Inn, because I handicapped that myself. Everywhere I went, across America, Holiday Inns were in the best locations and packed to the gills. I told my broker this, and he said, "Never buy hotels." I had to bludgeon him to take my money. The first time Holiday Inn split and screeched up a few more points, I felt better than I had in years, in fact, since I was 15 and my cousin Will and I hit a 37-to-1 shot at Timonium Fair and employed some of our profits to watch the half man/half woman disrobe in a tent on the midway.
There is a constancy to racing. It never really changes. Stockbrokers are forever informing you that hotels are out of fashion, or aerospace, or computers, or whatever. The '60s were not made up of 10 calendar years, but of alternating periods when you were supposed to buy and sell airplane stocks: Buy Airplanes I, Sell Airplanes I, Buy Airplanes II, and so on. Nobody at the track ever says, "Speed horses won't be in till the spring" or "Get out of sprints and go heavy on routes." There are none of those technical adjustments to explain away losses during a day at a racetrack. If you lose, it is simply because you are a bad horseplayer. Either that or you got robbed. The latter usually is what happens to me.
I had everything stacked against me in my battle with The Mysterious Mr. Margin. Not only did he have that annual summer rally due him, but also I had to play Aqueduct and Saratoga. They are too rich for my blood. I was nurtured on the half-mile tracks of Maryland, where the cheapest nags run. Them I can figure, but class horses at the top tracks confuse me. There are too many good ones in every race. Accordingly, I took on an associate, a young lady we shall call The Filly, a student of bloodlines, a confidante of trainers with bloodlines, and so avant-garde about horses that she can even give you a line on jumping races. Most bettors won't touch the steeplechasers, or, as they are called, the lepers. The Filly was to be my expert analyst, a boon companion and company in misery.