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Total Loss Weekend
Don DeLillo
November 27, 1972
Action is his passion. It is Saturday noon and his bets are down on contests coast to coast. With the blinds drawn, two televisions tuned and a radio fitfully broadcasting game scores, the tense vigil begins
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November 27, 1972

Total Loss Weekend

Action is his passion. It is Saturday noon and his bets are down on contests coast to coast. With the blinds drawn, two televisions tuned and a radio fitfully broadcasting game scores, the tense vigil begins

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The brothers begin to ridicule each other's bets. CJ keeps dialing between baseball and football on the color set. Speaking of the weekend to come, or perhaps the one after that, he says something about law of averages, change of luck, help of God.

Kool tells me about the time he and CJ took the Redskins minus 14 against New Orleans. "We had them big," he says. "We were so sure they would romp we called in a second bet just before kickoff. Everything goes pretty much like we figured up to the last few minutes. Then the Saints begin to move. They can't win the game. They're out of the game. But if they get a touchdown, we lose. And now they're moving down the field. We can't look. We're afraid to watch. First we turn off the sound. Then we go into the kitchen and take turns peeking out at the game. The Saints are definitely moving. They're running, they're throwing, they're full of life. The Redskins don't care. They got the game won. CJ and me, we start arguing about who picked the Redskins. Then we start laughing. We're afraid to look and we start laughing and coughing. The Saints call time out to conserve the clock. I can't stop coughing. I take a peek and the Saints are still moving, and I'm laughing and coughing and my eyes are full of tears."

Grown men, they began tickling one another, then throwing punches to the arm and chest. Neither would volunteer to go out, look at the game and report back. The tickling intensified and they tried to push each other out of the kitchen. Forced into the living room, unable to stop coughing and laughing, Kool finally looked at the set long enough to see one of the Saints standing in the end zone with the football. The next day he woke up to find that his face had slid down on one side and gone completely numb. The right corner of his mouth hung open. His right eye was at a slant. His voice took on a faintly metallic tone and every time he spoke his mustache dipped far to the right but nothing else moved, making it seem as though some kind of mechanism had rusted in his head. The doctor said it was nothing more than a nervous condition brought on by anxiety, and in 10 days Kool was back to normal.

Everything is normal in Yonkers as well, fatigue and defeat in the air, and all that remains is to ask CJ how he feels at the end of a weekend like this.

"Tomorrow's Columbus Day," he says. "I'm going with the Reds 20 times and the Raiders 20 times."

The general feeling about gamblers is that they are characters—colorful, funny, gregarious. The ones I've known have been solitary men who had little to say about their gambling. Here is CJ sitting in a dark room wearing sunglasses, watching two TV sets and monitoring the progress of an obscure event by radio, an earplug strung into his head. At a certain point he becomes material originating in the most pessimistic minds of modern literature. But a hero of this mode. He transcends Yonkers. He is independent of the power of money. He is not afraid to venture in the spaces between the lines that set the logical boundaries of his life.

On the train that takes me back, I think of him five years ago when he was putting together his color-TV set, night after night for well over a month, working his way through a 187-page assembly manual, struggling with oscillator coils and dual selenium diodes.

"Insert the free end of the yoke through the large chassis cutout and insert the octal plug in the socket marked YOKE."

It was a monumental achievement, and all through these past two days, as I watched little figures of men running and leaping. I found it easy to imagine that they too were constructed by CJ with his own hands and in his own time.

On Monday evening he walks to Yonkers, where he stays long enough to lose the daily double and two Exactas. This done, he jogs home in time to catch all but the first six minutes of the Oilers-Raiders on TV.

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