CJ lives in
Yonkers now. The sign on the train station reads Mount Vernon but I know this
is Yonkers, a place strong and settled in its facelessness. There is a second
level of weather here, subterranean and dangerously mild. I think of Los
Angeles, Brasilia and the moon, places known not for their landscapes as much
as for their fundamental beings, what they seem to represent.
apartment building where CJ lives is only five minutes from the train station
(13 minutes from Yonkers Raceway), and after I ring the outer bell, get buzzed
into the lobby, take the elevator to four and walk through the long dim hall,
he opens the door and leads me into the living room. I notice the TV sets, two
of them, both turned on. CJ himself, T-shirted and unshaven, nearing 40, seems
the least animate thing in the room right now, not yet having reached his
Saturday afternoon glow point. He appears eager enough for the siege of events
but, as always in times like this (the beginning of ordeals), his very flesh
reflects a pale stain of trepidation and doubt.
CJ is a gambler.
He likes to bet on sporting events, almost any kind, and the dark crawling
horror of Total Loss Weekend is never very distant. Misgivings and dread.
Panic, remorse and deep trauma. A fumbled punt in Knoxville, a missed sign in
Oakland, foul trouble in Baltimore, a slow track at Monticello. That is Total
Loss Weekend, when it all comes apart at once, and the fragments of many such
weekends are standard parts of CJ's life.
The living room
is long and narrow. At the far end are the televisions. The larger one is a
color set assembled by CJ himself over a period of some five weeks, with parts
and materials ordered from a manufacturer in the Midwest. The smaller one is a
black-and-white portable that sits on the floor. CJ and I are cousins and as we
take our respective places in front of the TV sets we exchange views on
disease, poverty and madness in our family. We stick to recent developments and
keep it brief. CJ sits in a swivel chair that has been covered in plastic ever
since he purchased it. I sit a few feet away on a sofa also equipped with a
plastic slipcover and for this reason suggestive of a giant slug deep in
slumber. This is appropriate because the humans in the room are also about to
enter a kind of sleep. The color set is tuned to the Pirates-Reds in game one
of the playoff series, and the smaller model to pregame films of Notre Dame and
Michigan State in action against other teams.
The blinds are
down. CJ puts on a pair of dark glasses. Then he reaches behind the swivel
chair for a portable radio, which he places on his lap. He tunes to
Columbia-Princeton and the weekend begins.
GAME TIME 1
fans, it's Saturday, Oct. 7th and this is Chuck White with Bud Brown alongside
me bringing you a daylong sports cavalcade of misery, paranoia, bitterness and
Sound from these
three sources, I learn, deepens the feeling of submersion. TV, radio, TV. It is
as though we are listening to tapes of the electrical discharges of some rare
species of fish. But CJ needs plenty of action today. He spent the previous
evening at Yonkers Raceway and was shut out, dropping nearly $200. One way or
another, today's action will obliterate all those miscarried Exactas.
pauses under a fly ball as a voice says: "Here are the Spartans of Michigan
State." And it's true, they're coming out of the runway, the Spartans of
Michigan State, black and white for the moment, none of them aware that the
game they are about to play is only part of the true contest, the interior
contest, the struggle that takes place within and beyond the limits of the
CJ is getting 15�
points with Michigan State and he has them 20 times. He also has the Reds 20
times. (One "time" equals $5.) As we discuss his other bets for the
day, he suddenly switches stations (radio) from Columbia-Princeton (he has
Columbia, minus eight points, 20 times) to a simulated broadcast (delayed) of
the first race at Belmont (he has $20 on numbers 8-3 in the double), and we
listen to the announcer calling the race as if it were taking place now instead
of half an hour ago, a practice not meant to fool anyone but designed merely to
give bettors a measure of action, and I see the idea justify itself when CJ
bounces slightly in the chair as his selection, Izadore, the 8-horse (OTB
letter H), finishes first. He will remain in his chair for most of the weekend.
But he is engaged in action. He has action. The action is his.