Page 2 columnist
I was just sitting down by the fire with a rare little hardcover book about "The Generals of Ghengis Khan" on Monday night, when I remembered that the final game of the NFL's regular season was about to start on TV, and I was not watching."Holy moley!" I shouted to Anita. "What the hell is wrong with us? Are we sick?" I quickly abandoned the book and rushed into my lounge, where a handful of people were drinking gin and brewing up some Jimson weed tea as they shuffled piles of money and barked numbers at each other like traders on the floor of some horrible money pit. It was a day like any other gameday in the lounge, except that this was a night game and the high-riding 49ers were two-point underdogs against the pitiful, once-proud Rams in St. Louis. Hell, it was impossible to resist, despite the known fact that San Francisco had clinched its division long ago and was likely to rest its stars and starters for this one, because the Niners had nothing to win or lose. The game was utterly without meaning for either team -- with the obvious exemption of disastrous injuries -- and the 49ers were said to be using it "as a tune-up" for their looming playoff showdown with the Giants on Sunday. But I took the points anyway, for old times' sake, and sat back with my people and prepared to deal with the game more as a gambling spectacle than a serious sporting contest. ... So what? I reasoned. Wild side-bets are what matters in this room, anyway. That is where the money is. We will bet on every play, if necessary. Anything is possible. The room has been slower this year than it was in 2001 -- which was noticeably slower and cheaper than 2000 -- but a welcome swarm of high rollers came in with the X-mas season, and by Monday night the action had picked up considerably. We had the usual profoundly mixed crowd of neighbors, lawyers, fugitives, scientists, thieves, fixers, artists, dancers, farmers, cops, priests, pimps ...
Whoops, sorry, I lost control of myself for a moment. What happened? Who knows? Yes. We were talking about Wagering. Yes. Gambling on football, professional football, and I had a list, a list of people, many people, and I was using ...Never mind. They are good people and we like them -- hell, I probably even love a few, from time to time -- and they said they wanted to gamble. They were righteous, and we trusted each other. So we did it ... and that is why we fleeced them, that is why it happened. We gambled feverishly, relentlessly, for three straight days and nights, maybe four without any breaks except now and then for sleeping, or shooting or running amok -- anything that would keep us alert and keen and sharp until the next game started and green money began moving around the room again and people screamed at each other. Yes sir, that was when the rhythm of the room got fast and mean and merciless -- but never cruel, never crooked or queer or violent in the crippling, physical sense&. Which is not to say that a lot of people didn't get hurt last week in that frenzy, or that it was nothing but good clean fun. No. Some of it was genuinely brutal -- for some people, extremely brutal -- and there was pain, there was agony, there was ridicule, and suffering, and loss of self-esteem, all of which comes with the territory when you find yourself drifting into the Fear business, for good or ill, which is what all of us seem to be doing these days, whether we like it or not. Whoops. Strike that. I swore to Anita that I wouldn't get morbid until after New Year's Eve. So never mind my National Security rant that I was planning to include in my message this week. It would not be appropriate for the new year -- not after what happened Monday night near the end of the Rams-49ers game. Things went sideways, to put it mildly. The mood of the room turned suddenly ugly, even hateful.
The trouble started somewhere around the middle of the third quarter when the score was still 20-3 for S.F., and I was deeply engrossed in trying to cover my over-under bets, which were looking weaker by the minute. The number was 35, so I needed 12 quick points, from somebody, to avoid a serious gambling disaster. ...Indeed, the worm was turning dangerously, perhaps fatally, for the 49ers. ... But so what? I thought. Their trouble is nothing, compared to mine, which had deteriorated horribly, so quickly and so terminally for me -- because of my multiple double and triple bets for and against both teams, at different spreads and different prices, for increasingly desperate reasons. I felt almost crazy with fear when the game blew up like a bomb in the fourth quarter, and it began to look like I was going to lose all my bets, on both teams, so massively that I would have to close down totally for at least the end of the season and go into personal seclusion for a while, like any other loser, unless a miracle happened. Ho ho. Who could have known, at the time, that the miserable Rams (7-9) would come awake like wild beasts on speed and score 28 points in the fourth quarter? It was impossible, out of the question. These bums couldn't even make the playoffs this year. They had been dead in the water since the second game of the season. They were weak and dumb and lazy and unreliable to a fault. But they did win the game, and they did save my huge over-under bets (the final number was 51), and they did bring joy to my life, for a moment -- so I salute them, and I piss down the spines of the craven 49ers. They will go nowhere in the playoffs. They are a puff-ball team with no soul, and the Giants will beat them like sick rats.
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