- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Greek gets out of the car, glancing back at them helplessly with a Rodney Dangerfield aspect. He smiles. Whatever happens, they have everything.
They do. But Jamie, the oldest boy, 23, has cystic fibrosis; Florence,, the oldest girl, is dead of it; and so is Tina, the baby. How many men bury their mother as a child, and their babies as a father? What are the odds on that?
"After Tina, I was mad at God for three years," Jimmy says. Death has played with him; twice he canceled out on planes at the last minute, and then they crashed, all aboard killed. What are the odds on that?
The irony is that cystic fibrosis is a disease of simple, unyielding genetic numbers: one out of every 20 Caucasians carries the genes; when two carriers marry, there is then a 25% chance that a child of theirs will be born with the disease. Thus, one of every 1,600 white children born has cystic fibrosis. But the odds-maker didn't want to accept this. Frustrated, desolate at the deaths of two daughters, at the disease of his namesake, and all the attendant misery, The Greek would thrash about in despair, get mad at Joan and cry out about her "sick genes." It was a horror, the family man searching for a family.
Few diseases are more disruptive than cystic fibrosis. The patient requires constant attention, an hour or more a day of strenuous physical therapy. The children do not live; they are kept alive. The disease primarily attacks the respiratory system; also the digestive and, in males, the reproductive organs, all of life itself. Treatment can be incredibly expensive. Jamie's expenses for a year of treatment were $35,000, and his Catch-22 reward for making 23, covering the spread, was that he became uninsurable. So voracious and exhausting is the disease that it often destroys the families of patients. The incidences of divorce, desertion, wife-beating and alcoholism are all higher among cystic fibrosis families. The healthy children are torn with guilt that they escaped the curse, and parents—like The Greek—become distraught that they "gave" the disease to their own children.
The '60s was when it all unraveled for the Snyder family. Florence was already dead, and Jamie had been diagnosed. Tina wasn't born yet. It was at this time that Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General, went after the syndicate, after Vegas. The Greek was a name, a symbol. The Greek was vulnerable, too. Pegging him was like catching a restaurant on one of 250 possible fire-department violations. They indicted The Greek for passing casual betting information over the phone, interstate—essentially the same kind of information he dispenses every Sunday on TV. The affair destroyed him. He finally pleaded nolo contendere, taking probation and a fine. But he was broke, in debt, out of money, a felon, and any chance he had for a pardon required that he quit gambling.
Almost every nickel of what he could hustle went to pay for Jamie's medication. The Greek had to borrow money so that his family could eat. It was two years or more before anybody got new clothes. Stephanie remembers one time, an all-day outing, when she returned in the evening in the same dress. Another girl said. "Hey, you got the same dress on." She didn't tell her friend that it was the only dress she owned. This is why The Greek buys her a mink coat now. even if she doesn't want it.
But the Snyders survived. "I'd never been poor," Joan says, "but I was never really worried because I knew Jim could put his mind to it and find ways to make money. I knew, with Jim. I'd have money again. He's a fighter."
"I hustled, I played a little cards, I figured out the newspaper column," The Greek says. And that, as it turned out, was the key. He had never written before in his life, but he started turning out a column for the Las Vegas Sun. It paid next to nothing, but it began to establish him as a figure, the Mister Odds he has become. No longer was he a gambler; now he was a service.
But then, just as he began to crawl out of debt and from out of the glare of being a felon, little Tina was born. It was the day after Christmas 1965, and her tiny body was so savaged by the disease that she had to spend seven hours of her first day of life being operated on. But she survived and came home to spend two and a half years in the shadow of death. Worse, in a way, she grew just well enough for them all to know how it might have been. Laughing, struggling. Tina would follow her older brother around—"Antsy," she called Anthony—dragging her doll after him. Stephanie still keeps that in her room.