First Published in Smoke Magazine, 1999
I was in Atlantic City at a casino, a place I haven’t pursued for a while. Recently I’ve kept with sharks, bookies, real under the table stuff. If it wasn’t for that strange cat with the unusually thick silver collar hanging around my yard I probably wouldn’t be here. My name’s Fred, Fred McDogul.
Something was missing, everything seemed so lucid that a gas attendant could tend full-service to my car and I’d consider it an omen. At that moment I realized that there was a yearning in me for something new; basketball, football – the same old bets, who cares anymore, what happened to making a bet when you have no idea what you’re betting on? Maybe my longing was pervading elsewhere than my thoughts because a man approached me. He had local sagacity written all over him, not to mention despondent sluggishness.
His head motioned hello and the fellow said, “How about cigar gambling?”
“Cigar gambling?” I replied.
“Yeah, you know, cigar’s, it’s a brown wrapped tobacco…”
“I know that much. What does it have to do with gambling?”
“It’s a sport like any other.”
“Cigar smoking, a sport?”
“Well of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“It just doesn’t seem like a sport.”
“It is, but I suppose it doesn’t have to be.”
“Okay then, tell me, in what instance would it not be a sport?”
“I suppose when you’re smoking recreationally.”
“Okay,” I began to think he was a shrewd hustler, then looked around, remembered what town I was in and thought, nah, it’s a respectable place, I’ll give em’ the benefit of the doubt. And after another look around it seemed as though everyone was either smoking or in a cloud of smoke. Could it be he’s just opening my eyes to new opportunities, maybe a worker for the new opportunity coalition?
If there was a new opportunity coalition, he’d definitely head it, not-profit of course, and the uniform, just what he has on, a cool breezy day yellow shirt with green pants to match.
“Listen, there’s an event coming up,” he said, “in about a half hour in fact. I got inside track on a real exhaust blower you know, whada-yah say?”
“An exhaust blower eh?”
“Yeah he’s a top smoker, they call em’ the New York horizon. Beat David Letterman ten years ago, and just got a new rubber lung.”
“A rubber lung? Wow, that must be a grand stride for polysynthetic advancement.
“...Yeah, and his is really clear you know.”
“Tell me, are you a smoker yourself?”
“Oh.” It was at this point I began feeling a bit more suspicious. Who would mistake rubber for plastic, and retire from an activity that one can’t retire from; you just quit, or are instructed to. I thought a few probing questions into his field might shed more light.
“Retired eh? Do you receive a pension?”
“Oh sure, every month I receive pension money, or, gum for the withdrawal.”
“Well I’m sure you can’t do with out that.”
“Listen, times running a little short now. What’s your bet gonna be? We got a fellow that’s quick with the draw, a Cuban that can go half a day, and there’s this one guy, he doesn’t even need a lighter – big point scorer there. I’ll tell you something else…”
During his persuasive descriptions I began to take a strong look at this fellow. How else would a cigar bookie look? Does it really matter if his appearance is uncannily similar to a cigar package from Elba? Then again, maybe this is in fact a growing betting pool, a rising sport with great opportunity for both the sportsman and gambler alike. There could be many cigar smokers training right now in high altitudes, or a locked room somewhere for the inevitable pressure of competition they’ll face. Come to think of it, you never know who the person you’re jogging next to is these days.
“…Filters the smoke through his teeth, which sends the smoke up high, that’s his strategy you see he,” the man continued. This fellows high all right, high on the prospects of swindling my money and heading for the skirts down on 3rd Street. Forget it, this guy’s nothing but Don King dressed for a picnic. He has got off on the wrong track all right, forget about taking me down cigar lane, I oughta, “Who was that last guy?”
“The Connecticut Bay?”
“No-no, the one before that,” I said.
“The Pittsburgh Kid?”
“That’s right,” I replied. The Pittsburgh Kid. There’s something about that town, I remembered last winter, passing through, I’d gotten some good work done on my car there. This guy couldn’t be that bad.
“I’ll put two hundred down on him.”
“Okay sir, but what about the others, there are still more you might wish to consider.”
“No, no that’s fine. My money’s on the Pittsburgh Kid. My grand parents wouldn’t want me associating with anybody named after a harbor, maybe arriving at one, but no sir, that’s the smoker I’m going with. The Pittsburgh Kid. Take it or leave it.”
“Very well then, give me the money and I’ll go place the bet.”
“All right…Hey, hold on a second there, Carl Lewis. What kind of sucker you takin’ me for anyway? Who’s to say you’re not gonna stash the cash and grab the first cab for the dog races?!”
“Nothing to worry, the bidding desk is right over there, see.” He pointed yonder to a desk some thirty paces away.
“All right then, I’ll be right over here, by the cigarette machine, the one with the cigarettes, the square thing that…”