And with that, Bartirome would unzip the immobilized pigeon's trousers, and Pirates would spring forward to fill them with shaving cream and carbonated beverages. I put that trick into a couple of movie scripts that didn't get made.
I wasn't a betting man myself. It seemed unwise to bet on people because I liked them, and I didn't want to pull for people I didn't like just because I had money on them. At a racetrack, though, I would lose a few bucks. I figured I owed it to the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. Once when I was hanging with the Pirates' Dave Parker for SI, we went to a track in Florida, where we ran into Pete Rose and his then wife, Karolyn. By that time I had been around long enough to know people, including Rose. It wasn't an interview type of situation, we were all just sitting around chewing the fat. Karolyn was the one you'd want on your talk show. When she first caught Pete's eye, she said, she was leaning against the rail at that very track, with one leg up. "I had on a light-blue dress. They were wearing them long then. I was wearing them short."
"So, Karolyn, I understand you always 'win' at working a jigsaw puzzle."
"That's right, old Nightster. I lean over the table and slip one piece up under one of my bosoms, and when there's just the one space left, I lean back and it's mine!"
By 1975 I had long, bushy hair, no tie and no more marriage. It was a good time to be a cowboy in Gotham. If I had no place to sleep late at night, I could go to the Park Avenue penthouse of my colleague Dan Jenkins and his wife, June, whose door was never locked, and find a vacant bedroom. One night I autographed, in the authors' names, every book in their daughter Sally's room, with personal inscriptions. Actually I signed The Scarlet Letter "Harthorne Wingo," remember him?
When I would ooze on by the SI workplace, someone would always be playing golf in the hallways, smoking dope in the ventilator shaft or running around in a gorilla suit. One day I was introducing Suzy Adams, a new reporter, to some of her co-workers. Gil Rogin, the editor whose office bristled with quotations from Wittgenstein the size of fortune-cookie messages, which he had meticulously affixed to the walls with straight pins, was wearing a big cast on his foot. Suzy commiserated. "Fruitless to rail against it," said Rogin.
Bud Shrake, who golfed with Willie Nelson, greeted Suzy amiably: "I'm just running out for a bottle of mung oil. Can I get you some?"
I fit in. My own cubicle overflowed with mementos. Funny how mementos fade, but I know there was a "MOONSHINE KILLS" bumper sticker and a stuffed raven I had bought in Iceland during the chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. SI covered things like that back then. I could probably have done a story about raven stuffing in Iceland if I had come up with a colorful enough raven stuffer, which I probably could have done.
Just the other day I got a call from Clifford La Fontaine, a celebrated exhibit designer whom I knew because he was married to the now late SI writer and editor Barbara La Fontaine. He said, "We need a raven. We can't find a raven anywhere." I told him I had passed mine on to reporter Demmie Stathoplos when I left SI. He called Demmie, and I am proud to say that my raven is now the official raven of the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx, where the author of The Raven once lived. If I'd known then that my raven would go on to such literary heights, I might have been content to remain in what had in fact begun to seem like the greatest job in the world.
But, thanks to SI, I had tasted book writing. A book is something you can write the way you want to, if you can. Which is all I've ever asked for—that, and a decent amount of money. In 1973, managing editor Andre Laguerre, who had been an aide to Charles de Gaulle and a friend of Albert Camus, called me to his office after a typically bibulous lunch and suggested that I spend a season hanging out with a pro football team to write a book. Partly because of the Pirates, I picked the Steelers.