What's to bet, when there's no interest?


September 05, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Eddie from South Baltimore, the semi-well-known bookmaker, is having a marvelous day. Standing here at Hanover Street and Fort Avenue, with his friend Alphonse and the lady with the tattooed biceps, and shortly to be joined by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, he is delighted to discover that human interest in money is always in season.

"You got them pools, hon?" the lady with the tattoo on her arm says. The tattoo looks like Chiquita Banana on a bad day, owing to the size of the lady's biceps expanding Chiquita's mid-section.

"Pools?" says Eddie.

"The football pools," says the tattooed lady.

"These are study sheets," Eddie corrects her, invoking a mock formality. "They are purely for instructional purposes."

"Instruction," Alphonse agrees, leaning on a rowhouse wall and leafing through the morning's newspaper.

Instruction: Exactly so. On strips of white paper that declare, "Printed for informative purposes only. Not an inducement to wager," it is stated that Miami is a seven-point favorite to beat Indianapolis in their pro football opener this afternoon.

This is pleasing to those holding grudges, which is most of us, in that Indianapolis is a city and a football team that should suffer a thousand consecutive losses and endless emotional pain before winning a single football game.

"A crime," Eddie declares, meaning the theft of the Baltimore football team, now entering its 10th season of exile. He is something of an expert on criminal matters, having been labeled a breaker of laws since the age of 11, when he was first caught fTC taking bets on a cross-town bus.

Standing in the humidity on Hanover Street now, and fanning himself with a stack of "study sheets," Eddie hands one of them to the lady with the tattoo. Holding it close to her face to examine various point spreads, she causes Chiquita Banana on her arm to expand greatly in the waistline.

"Miami over the Colts," she says to herself, and then shrugs her shoulders. It's a shrug somewhere between confusion and disinterest. What's to bet, when there's no interest? Finally, she sees Phoenix is a seven-point underdog. She will bet against Phoenix, because the team's owner, Bill Bidwill, once considered moving his team here but decided against it. Thus, Phoenix can die.

These little passions are important to Eddie. Once, he had a business that thrived not only on sports bets but on three-digit numbers. The state of Maryland stole the bulk of his numbers business with its lottery game, and then Robert Irsay took not only the Colts, but the passion out of football watching.

Without emotion, where's the reason to watch pro football, which is faceless men in padded suits knocking each other over? Money, nothing else. And bitterness gives a certain adrenalin, a little impetus to place a bet. Thus, Eddie takes a dollar from the lady with the tattoo, who will now have a reason to turn on the television this afternoon because she hates Indianapolis and Phoenix.

All of this taking place Thursday morning, Eddie now takes a piece of Alphonse's morning newspaper and finds news of genuine criminal behavior.

"Reagan," Eddie sneers. "Nixon."

"I saw that," says Alphonse.

It's a story in Thursday's paper that reports that, for the third time in eight days, a bandit wearing a rubber mask of a former U.S. president has struck a restaurant in Anne Arundel County.

Twice, the story says, the holdup was committed by someone in a Richard Nixon mask and once by someone in a Ronald Reagan mask. This, Eddie declares, is incorrect reporting.

"This ain't a guy in a mask," he says. "This is Richard Nixon himself."

"In a mask?"

"No mask," says Eddie. "This is Richard Nixon, holding up a Ritchie Highway restaurant. He faked everybody out. We think it's some guy in a mask, but it's really Nixon in his own face."

In a world where Robert Irsay steals football teams, why should we doubt Nixon stealing from a restaurant? In a world where those such as Eddie are prosecuted as criminals for taking bets, while the state of Maryland builds an entire industry based on gambling, anything goes.

Even, against all odds, professional football betting. Go figure. People who long ago lost their Colts, and thus an entire way of life, still rouse themselves when football returns. It's not to follow the games, merely to follow their money. Which makes this a marvelous time of year for Eddie.

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