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My working vacation in the balmy wilds of uptown Honolulu came to a jarring end last week, when I got back home to the Rockies and plunged into gambling again.My home filled up with football junkies and whorish people from Texas who were eager to gamble feverishly on every game being played anywhere, including whatever came up on ESPN Classic. "I came here to get it on," said a cranked-up lawyer from Houston. "This party starts now!" It was 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, and these rubes were already acting like drunken sailors in Hong Kong. I was not prepared for this kind of situation, but I found it hard to resist. Impossible, in fact, so I quickly caved in and went back to the dressing room to put on my traditional gambling suit -- a blue silk blazer with Arabian pajama pants and a woolly pig-tail wig of unborn dog skin. By the time I returned to the kitchen, the San Francisco-Miami game was under way, and green money was already changing hands. It was like walking into a cockfight. People were screaming at each other and waving fistfuls of sweaty American dollars. A rich smell of whiskey hung in the air, and even Anita was smoking a cigar. Yes sir, I said to myself, this is my kind of room. I eased through the crowd and settled onto my catbird seat by the window, then I poured a strong drink and began jabbering in football language as I focused down tight on the game.
I was betting, as always, on the 49ers, giving three points to Miami, and it didn't take long to see that it was going to be a cruel afternoon for the Dolphins. They put up a brief struggle, but by halftime the 49ers' speed and relentless trap-blocking was clearly wearing Miami down. I tossed a flurry of rude insults around the room and waited for the suckers to get angry enough to start drinking absinthe and doubling down on their bets, which happened quickly. It is a fatal weakness among amateur gamblers, and skunks like me are quick to take advantage of it. Once you get sloppy and lose your temper in this business, it's all over. Even your friends will smell blood in the air and start whipping on you like a stray dog.Victory is a fleeting thing in the gambling business. Today's winners are tomorrow's blinking toads, dumb beasts with no hope. It is an old story, and we saw it again on Sunday night in Baltimore, where the visiting Steelers gave the defending champion Ravens a brutal beating that bordered on shame and degradation. It was a night without mercy for the homeboys, a farewell party in spades. The Holiday season is always a bad time of year for amateur gambling addicts. They are weak people, as a rule, and they are not built for grueling long-distance work. Whatever luck or even smartness that made them feel like winners in the first few weeks of the football season is long gone by the time of the first winter blizzard, and they are starting to get the Fear. Gambling losses that seemed harmless in October have swollen out of control when Christmas rolls around. The math is working against you, and words like Doom and Disaster take on a personal meaning. The last three weeks of the year are when Winners collect and Losers are forced to pay up or be punished savagely. The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of brutal things; of broken legs and shattered dreams, of bleeding eyes and whores. ... Divorce court also looms, along with bankruptcy proceedings and Hells Angels hammering on your front door at night and yelling things like, "dead meat" and "kick your ass until your nose bleeds!" I know these things from many years of close personal association, to put it gently, with the up-close and personal side of the Debt Collection business. It is the dark underbelly of professional sports in America, and where bad gambling debts are collected by any means necessary, including chopped-off fingers and violent extraction of vital organs, like kidneys and even eyeballs, that are known to have money-value on the medical black market.
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