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LOOKING TO CATCH A ZEPHYR
Visited Frankie the Doorman tonight. He works the lobster shift alone, accompanied by a portable radio that sits on an antique table in a glumly lit lobby.
"I love action," he said. "I crave it. My job is boring. Betting is exciting." To support his habit he works as a doorman in a Manhattan apartment building, is superintendent of the small apartment building where he lives in Queens and plays the saxophone in a band on Saturday night for $50. He bets $20 or $30 a weekend, usually on television games.
Frankie is probably younger than he looks, which is about 50. He has, as far as I can see in the light, no teeth. But he smiles continually, a bushy mustache lending a bittersweet jauntiness to his litany of woe. I imagine he is one of those backbench musicians to whom spectators are attracted because he is having such a good time.
"I used to bet big money," Frankie said, smiling. "I was a big-deal boccie player, believe it or not. Sundays big crowds would come to see me play. They'd bet hundreds on me.
"But it got into my blood, you know. And it's like a disease. The bad thing about gambling is that it turns you into a cheat and a con man. Borrowing money, writing bad checks, lying to your friends. I'm not like that. Now I bet a few bucks, go to the track on my day off. Look at this place. I'd go nuts if I didn't have some action."
Frankie's doorman's suit fits him like a quilt. I see him bucking the headwinds of life with a street-wise grit, every once in a while catching the zephyr of a winner and soaring and dancing like a kite.
LOOKING TO CATCH A FEW MIDDLES
Ernie the Postal Clerk, the great grid accountant, spends all his spare time during the football season, at home and on the job, poring over parlay cards. He collects 25 or 30 each of half a dozen different cards, picking them up in bars in New Jersey. He plays 100 or more of them a week, four teams on each card, for a total of $400 to $500. He isn't crazy, either. He says it's hard to find reliable bookies where he lives and "this gives me something to do in the football season."
Parlay cards offer terrible odds for picking four out of four correctly, but they're great because they provide the small bettor with as much action as he wants at negligible risk. The risk is negligible because the odds are so transparently terrible that nobody in his right mind risks much on them. If you pick four winners you get 9-to-1 odds on a 15-to-1 shot (calculated by doubling up the original bet four times).