HLS - The Letters Of Harvey L. Slatin

September 10, 1988

Hey, there, Udo!

The other day I was tossing boxes of still—unpacked belongings around my den——converted from half the garage——and these imperishable words came to mind:

“Wan’ to buy a knife, Señor?”

There it lay. I had uncovered the world-famous knife and hand—tooled sheath that made me the envy of all in The Forbidden City. Created from the blade of a mechanical hacksaw, and ground to razor sharpness, it is still untarnished, and the sheath as flexible as the day the cow turned her back on it.

I gripped it tightly and flung open the garage door and shouted, “I don’ got to choe you no steenkeen’ badge!” My neighbor across the court ran to the telephone, but I refused to answer the door when the deputies came. Lucky for them, is all I have to say.

Those were the days, eh? Stalking the streets of Juarez, eyes glinting dangerously. Who could tell into which shop the gringos would lurch next, to finger the beltbuokles while the proprietor chuckled, “Americano 1000,” which as you know means “a local American.” They preferred to deal with us locals because the other kind——extranjeros——would sometimes try to bargain the prices down, which everyone knew was only tried by tenderhoofs. A savvy customer is the best customer the proprietors would say, when they could catch their breath from laughing (at our fluent bilingual jokes, of course).

Those were indeed the days.

THE SPORT OF KINGS Since you claim to have worn a path to every two~dollar window between Rookingham and Gulfstream Park, I feel I can speak freely as one turfman to another. In my last letter I put you wise to Raspy Kelly’s “bad cold” system. But it poses one problem: you may not find your bank open at the time you want to draw out all your savings to bet with. I realize that Anne keeps two or three thousand dollars in that inconspicuous ceramic jar with the yellow butterflies on the top shelf behind the box of cornstarch, but she may be saving that for some late shopping at the 7—11 Market so you can have Malt—O—Meal for bekkies tomorrow.

Raspy Kelly’s real system takes more time, but you work the odds to your advantage. Let me explain.

I was standing in the shade of the Clubhouse overhang at Hollywood Park one Saturday before first post, watching the geese on the fake lake in the middle of the track, when I heard a familiar croak, “All Or Nuttin’ in th’ fift’, Capper. How ’bout puttin’ down a fin for 01’ Raspy?”

I put down a C~note for myself and a fin for 01’ Raspy, and have never regretted it from that day to this.

When I found him at that small bar near the repeater tote by the elevator to the Turf Club (you know the one), he said, “Di’n I tell ya, Capper? Stick wit’ ol’ Raspy.”

I drew him aside and lowered my voice. “Somebody tipping you?” He let me buy him a double. “Listen, Capper,” he croaked, “Talk t’ ten hot—walkers, you got ten tips … all diff’rent. What I got’s a real system. Ya seen it work.”

He let me buy him another double. “We can’t talk here, Capper. Meet ya downstairs, jest inside’a th’ turnstiles.”

I ambled down, looking over my shoulder unobtrusively in case some sohnook had heard us and was trailing me. All I saw were the usual pickpookets, drunks, drug sniffers, and two teenagers beating up an old lady. An average day at the track. Nobody was by the turnstiles except the employees who stamp the back of your hand, trying hard to keep each other awake.

Ol’ Raspy showed up with an edgy expression. “Anybody follerin’ me, Capper?”

I couldn’t see anybody.

“Over here,‘ “Ya ready?” he croaked. We drew away from the turnstiles.

I nodded.

“What ya do, ya handicap th’ losers.”

I waited.

“Don’t bother wit’ the winners. A waste’a time. ’Cap th’ losers. Lemme explain.”

Buy a form and go into the Grandstand, not the Clubhouse where the dudes go. And don’t go off in some corner where nobody can look over your shoulder. You want them to look. Take any race. Size up the entries and start backwards with the worst. Keep muttering “How about that!” to yourself. From time to time somebody will peek at what you’re doing. Don’t object. You want this to happen.

Pretty soon the word gets around: “Some nutcase over there’s handicapppin’ the platers. Ya think he knows somethin’?”

The word spreads like wildfire. The tote odds change. You keep muttering “How about that!” and handicapping the plowhorses while the track sports sneak looks over your shoulder. Suddenly you fold up the form and run to the nearest window, just before post time. You bet the one that’s left after the losers have been figured.

The odds have improved because all the sports have bet the also—rams. You take home a bundle.

Works every time.

“Don’ f’get t’ put down a fin f’ 01’ Raspy, Capper.”

“What do you do with your winnings?”

“They go out faster’n they come in. I got responsibilities.”

I slipped him a fin for the bar.

I winked. He winked. The pickpockets and drunks and druggies and teenies and the old lady winked.

The employee by the turnstile was asleep. No wink.

That’s the top of the news from Turfland.

Udo, you can’t lose with this system. When Anne isn’t looking, reach into that inconspicuous ceramic jar with the yellow butterflies on the top shelf behind the box of cornstarch and grubstake yourself. She’ll love you for it. Think of all the colonial spinning wheels and butter churns she can buy.

Don’t forget, Udo: you got responsibilities, too.

I see where Steinbrenner is negotiating to buy the Roosevelt Raceway. Even money he puts Billy Martin in charge. Billy will behave colorfully by kicking the trotters and punching out the stewards. Attendance will soar. Ol’ Raspy tells me that George S knows exactly what he’s doing, every move. If you go to Roosevelt, put down a fin for him, and be sure to handicap the losers.

Regards to Anne and Thomas. (Will he go to school in a little red schoolhouse, like Tom Sawyer?)

Fred C. (“Photo Finish”) Dobbs

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