I Still Feel Like Myself: I was my own bookie

I Still Feel Like Myself: I was my own bookie

All through high school and for several years thereafter I carried one of a series of small notebook in the breast pocket of my shirt (I was not a t-shirt guy) – all identical Woolworths brand, 3×5 spiral bound, with brown covers. I always had one, and sometimes two, with me.

In one I’d write down ideas, observations, quotations and bits of overheard conversations, the latter being the origins of what became a lifelong interest. I’d have a second book with me for specific purposes, such as “The Little Book of Smokes,” or dedicated to one idea with one person. One book chronicled a game of “One Million Rummy” with Kevin Lamb. We never came close to completing the game. As a result I started another game with Giles Ponticello called “Infinite Rummy.”

Another book was titled “Bets.” It covered October 1971 to May 1973. All of these bets had the same stakes: “Loser buys the winner a lunch at Grants Liberty Plaza.” Liberty Plaza was a shopping center in Erie, Pennsylvania that was within our general roaming area. (The plaza had both Grants and Woolworths, the source of my pocket notebooks.) The bets are all numbered (from 1 through 85), dated, described in some detail, and then signed by each of us. Bets that were concluded have a checkmark beside the winner’s signature, and if the lunch was then fulfilled, what was eaten and what it cost is also noted.

All these bets were made with Drew Decrease. The first documented wager involved observing Drew’s brother. Bet #1: “Dean will drive the new [family] car more than twice within sixty days after purchasing thereof [sic].” I won. On November 2, 1971 Drew paid up with $1.01 for my root beer, hotdog, and sweetroll, and his coffee and sweetroll.

Bet #2: “Dave Greenberger will receive mail today (Nov 2, 1971).” I won on a “no” that earned me beef goulash and a root beer, while Drew just had coffee and paid the 91 cent check, on November 13.

Drew landed his first win on February 26, 1972. Bet #5: “I, Drew Decrease, can pick up Dave Greenberger, Rick Baldwin, Kevin Lamb, and Richard Brown and arrive at the residence of Kay Silvaggi in time to see ‘All in the Family.’” On March 3rd I picked up the 96 cent check for his coffee and hotdog, and my root beer and peanut bar.

Ultimately we were making more bets than we bothered to collect on. Bet #30: “Dave Greenberger will eat a yogurt thing (standard size), in 13 seconds w/spoon.” This could easily have been settled, but there’s no record of a finding.

Some we had no way of answering. Bet #44: “If George Carlin were watching “The Midnight Special on 2-2-73 he would have turned it off.” (George became a friend of mine in the ’80s and I could have asked him, but I’d forgotten all about the bet.)

Bet #45: “A person’s arm spread is as great in length as that person’s height.” I lost but I learned something.

By now the tone of the game was changing; perhaps we sensed the folly of the whole enterprise or maybe because the female classmate who held some allure and had been working at the Grants lunch counter had moved on. Bets #46 through #60 were all done in one sitting, with a deck of cards, guessing what would be drawn next. That was my most sustained round of gambling, ever. Each hand was notated and signed by both of us, but we never collected on any of them.

Bet #84: “At least one of The Beatles is 35 [on 4-2-73].” I won with my “no, they’re all younger than 35.” This was the last bet with a noted result.

The last page of the book records the final bet. Bet #85: “Drew Decrease will grow a beard starting 5-19-73, not to be removed before 5-20-74. It may however be shaped or trimmed, but on 5-19-74 it must be the length of an American half dollar, from the chin down.” This bet has no result listed.

“Bets” is one of ninety Woolworths pocket notebooks I have carefully stored and moved with me over the decades. The first time Barbara visited me she saw the entire collection stacked on a counter in the kitchen. She asked why they were there and I told her there’d been a leak in the ceiling over one of the cabinets where I had been keeping them and I didn’t want them to get wet. That still didn’t get to the core of her question, and perhaps added to it, she wondered why they were in a kitchen cabinet in the first place. Redirecting her line of questioning, she asked if I needed access to them regularly. “No, never,” I replied. A year later we got married.

The leak in the kitchen ceiling was fixed and I put the notebooks in a small box that’s on a shelf in my office. It doesn’t take up much room – they’re pocket notebooks.

Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg

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