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Easy Money

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When she walked into the mezzanine, her words echoed. "All right, Bob, I'm here. Give it up, give it up!"

The assortment of men in the OTB at State and Lake laughed; several greeted her.

The lady approached a table where a man, his face in a terrible scowl, sat and looked defeated, and the races hadn't even started yet. The lady hovered over him, her white pleated skirt flaring buoyantly like an opened umbrella. "OK, Bob, give it up, give it up!"

Her words forced him to smile apologetically. Then the lady sat down and together they began looking at the program of horses.

Later I stood behind her in the line when she bet the first race. She told the mutuels clerk, "Five dollars to win on number nine, darlin'."

On a whim, I bet two dollars to place on the nine horse, and sat down to watch the race on TV. The nine horse was a 13-to-1 shot, but he won breezing.

When the number nine flashed on the infield tote board, the lady's words resounded throughout the mezzanine: "Give it up, honey, give it up!"

When she went to collect her $62, I got in line behind her and collected $11.40. I also listened as she bet the second race. Her wager was a two-dollar trifecta on the numbers 6-2-9. No, I told myself, two of those horses are long shots: no chance. So I bet a six-dollar box on the favorites 1-2-4. Then I sat down and watched the race develop. My misery was intense when the horses finished 6-2-9 and paid over $500.

Now the lady really took the spotlight. Even the hard-core gamblers were watching her. After she collected her winnings, she made a tour of various tables, sharing the easy money with several men who looked down-and-out. Arriving back at her table, she slid a few dollars toward Bob. Then they leaned over the program again.

The mezzanine was getting full and her demand to "give it up" became just a part of the drone. I ignored her and, lamenting my losses, stared out the window at the Chicago Theatre marquee.

I vaguely remember seeing her approach the mutuels clerk several times during the next three or four races. She also made several trips to the bar, and her table was covered with glasses and other rewards. A basket of chicken nuggets sat in front of her, as brown as a horse's coat. Occasionally, I would glance at her. She was eating, drinking, and arguing playfully.

About an hour later, however, her mood turned volatile. Her eyes were red, and a look of anguish contorted her face. Her words pierced the drone. "Damn, I mean I've really given it up, honey! Lost almost everything!" She followed that protest with a tirade of profanity that caused the ageless, crusty regulars to raise their eyebrows.

Almost as if on cue, the weather turned hellish, spewing an ugly storm over the racetrack. All of us stared at the TV monitors as a shroud of rain spread over Sportsman's Park. As the lightning and thunder crackled and boomed, a pall settled over the crowd.

After ten minutes or so of bombardment, the track announcer's voice brought gloom to the OTB: "Because of the severe weather, the remaining races on tonight's card are canceled. Immediate refunds on all prewagers..."

When I canceled my tickets and headed for the escalator, I heard the lady's caustic words. "Damn, I gave it all up! Lost everything. Now I've gotta take the subway home!"

As I rode the escalator down to the first floor, I could empathize with her. All of us had had to give it up--at least for this night.

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