Any calendar holiday is a good day at the track. I guess most get off early, or have that sweet three-day-weekend. But on Ash Wednesday, I was going to have a chat with a friend. I wasn’t looking for guidance or direction, but my visit was special. I was there to collect my $40 from the Syracuse game, and pick up my taxes.
Tom is good man. Large in stature, and big in heart. His laugh could be heard across a football field, and his pungent cigars could wake the dead. He is my bookie/taxman/spiritual counselor/and handicapping friend. – You could say he is a one-stop-shop for the everyday man on the go.
Becoming an ordained priest in the Catholic Church involves meeting a series of criteria. When a man experiences a call to become a priest, he takes the first steps on a lifelong spiritual journey. Tom had always been a devout believer, and wanted to follow his heart to a life in the church. Well, at least 5/7th’s of a Priest. When it came time for Tom to enter into seminary study, he called an at-the-line audible. He had changed his mind about his course in life, and needed a chat with the Bishop. This day was hanging over his head like a lead balloon, and he just wanted to put this in his rear view mirror.
Thursday evening came around, and he made his way into the Bishop’s office. He wasn’t going to allow Tom to leave without a full explanation, and had a long sermon planned about what he should be doing with his life. – Well, three hours had past, and the Bishop was just getting started. Tom kept looking at his watch and fidgeting in his seat. Sweat was beginning to roll down Tom’s face when the Bishop asked him if he had a somewhere to be, or had he changed his mind. “Bishop, would you mind if I leave now?” I asked. “Why my son? Are you not feeling well?” He replied. “I am fine, Bishop. But the first race starts in 30 minutes, and I have a friend who is going to pick me up.” – “Get out, get out of my office now!” He answered… I guess that was the end of the Priesthood, but the beginning of another chapter in his life.
He always loved gambling and the action was intoxicating. The ponies, cards, dice. You name it, and Tom would play it. In addition to his bookmaking, he did taxes from a small office that looked like a bomb went off inside. He was good with numbers. His bookmaking skills along with a photographic memory of the tax code kept gamblers from all walks coming to see him every year. Tom knew that gamblers wanted to beat the taxman, and he dug into the books each year to find every allowable cent that they could write off. This was his busy time, and that’s why I stopped by to visit.
Upon arrival, he had a stinky cigar in mouth, and a bevy of track programs across his table top. In a large yellow envelope was my taxes, and I sat down with my Priest as we had business to conduct. ” You son-of-a-gun, how did you bet against Syracuse? – I guess you loved the points…. What the hell, go ahead and take poor Tom’s money.” He handed me two twenty dollar bills and informed me that I owed him $100 for taxes. I reached into my pocket and pulled out $60 bucks and handed him back his two $20 dollar bills. “Nothing like getting paid with your own money, as he bellowed a deep belly laugh.” We had been doing this for about ten years. I had always won enough at the end of the football season to tell him to just keep the money, and you can do my taxes. But this year, it strayed in hoops season, and it was only $40.
I bought us a soft drink, and then he returned with two super dogs and a couple of jello shots from the bar. Just the kind of guy he is I suppose, and they broke his mold long ago. He was telling me he had to leave early because he was going to mass with his brother. I asked, “you still go to mass?” “Yep, everyday. I never miss, even when I’m sick you know where I’ll be.” He answered. Handicapping ensued, and a long Derby horse talk followed about who we like and why. I was ready to leave, and about this time one of us usually makes a crack or two about the other. Today it was my turn, and Tom was going to get floored by my off-the-cuff quip. “Father Tom, I have a question for you…” “Go ahead my son, you may ask anything of me.” ( This is our little banter from time-to-time) “Father, if you are such a devout man, why did you leave seminary?” “Well, my son. Have you ever seen a beautiful blonde on a hot day in a bathing suit?” “Yes, Father Tom, I have seen many…” “Well, I met one young lady who invited me to a bonfire party later that night. She was tall and leggy, and had the hair of a goddess. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Add that up with playing cards all night, the enjoyment of beer, and you have anything but a Priest. Nothing has changed my faith. I still enjoy church, and spending quality time with my family. I still enjoy cold beer, and looking for the next beautiful blonde. Now that doesn’t make me a bad guy, but it sure and hell won’t allow me to be a Priest.”
The race track doesn’t make you a heathen, and spiritual guidance comes in many forms. Today it came from my bookie who does my taxes, and is one of the best guys that ever walked into the track. As I walked away I could still smell his pungent cigar, and heard his loud booming voice for the #2 horse to hang on. After a long photo and a cheer from the race book, they hung his horse up as the winner.