The only time I ever left the track with more money than I had arrived with was right here in Northampton. From 1943 until 2005, the Three-County Fair, a summer's-end staple, featured horse racing and beer-drinkers to go with it. I used to love standing along the finish line and listen to the rail birds urging on their lagging favorites: "Christ! I beat my old lady harder than that last night!"
I had gone with a couple of friends to the fair and, because the excitement seemed to focus on the track, we all drifted over that way. Despite the smallness of the fair, I could see what seemed to be the universal hollow-eyed hopefuls lined up at the betting windows. They would fish $50 bills from out of their wrinkled pants pockets and place their bets with a maybe-this time certainty that marked come-from-behind bettors everywhere. Just think what they could do with their winnings!
After a couple of races, my friend Jim gave me a heads up: Don't bet on anything until he came back. Then he disappeared to go talk with a friend of his, a Holyoke firefighter.
When he returned, about two minutes before the race, Jim might say, "My friend seems to favor the number-five horse." He didn't say the horse was going to win. Anyway, I put a couple of bucks on number-five and later toted up my 5:1 winnings. This ritual was repeated four or five times during the afternoon. I never bet a lot: If the race was fixed in one way, I could imagine it might be fixed in another. But I left with more money than I had brought to the fair.
Jim explained the fix to me. Horses running at the fair were not the hotshots of horseracing. They might be good horses, but, well, they were horses that said more about horse-owners. People who love horses or travel in horse-y circles are a breed of their own. They are dedicated and they love their upper-crust bubble. The only problem was, the horses needed to be care for and could not be sustained on dreams. Most of the horses and their owners at the Three-County Fair were in the same fix: Hay was expensive and shelter was not free in the off season. So there was a gentleman's agreement and everyone got a piece of the winner's pie, something to ease the off-season needs. There was nothing unduly greedy about it: Horses that won seldom went off at astronomical odds. It was the 5:1 or 6:1 or 7:1 horses that were given the win -- horses that, without any fix, might conceivably win in a race that was not fixed.
Was any of this true? I had no way of knowing, but it sounded like a socially-acceptable lie of the kind that has currency in other realms -- the lies at which people wink and nod and don't complain about too much. No one gets egregiously hurt so ... well ... let the buyer beware.
"Life" insurance is really "death" insurance, right? But death is spooky and life can be a lot of fun.
What was once the "War Department" during World War II, slowly morphed into "the Department of Defense." Collateral damage (the killing of women and children) is not quite so bad when it's all in the name of defending what deserves protection.
A two-by-four no longer measures two inches by four inches but rather has bought into the lumber industry's assertion that a two-by-four refers to what a piece of lumber can do as distinct from its measurements. How much money can be made on this wink and nod is not entirely clear to me.
Politicians are given leave to speak of "hope" and "transparency" at a time after they are elected to office -- a time in the future. The fact that no one can predict the future gets a wink and a nod and the stump speeches proceed as if this world of cotton candy were as solid as concrete.
Even "lies" are not quite allowed to be lies. Instead, language allows for observations which aren't so pointed: "He misspoke himself."
... just some noodling I haven't got the energy to pursue.