Wednesday, June 27, 2012


They're in the Paddock.  Fifteen minutes 'till Post Time.  They've been preparing for this race. They walk their horse, Sorrowful, out onto the dirt Oval.
"I've got the bets down,"  says Calder, the Trainer.  "Morning Line has us at 45 to one.  I'm sure it'll end up a lot higher.  It worked last year.  Should work again."

 "We got this," says Hawthorne, the Jockey.  "Six races, I put him last twice, and 8th four times.  I had him first into the stretch five times, so I know he can do it.  Today's the day."

"Nobody knows but us.  The owners ain't got a clue. So I bet big."  says Calder.

"Good.  This time I won't hold back.  Hey, when you're pushing 50,  you need a big score, so you can retire with a few more bucks in the bank.  I can see what's happening.  Horse racing is slowly dying.  Scratch in The Triple Crown didn't help."

"Didn't used to be.  Used to be million dollar Stake Races every weekend.  Aqueduct, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs."

"It's  lack of TV," says Hawthorne. "They say we're losing fans at about 4% a year. Won't be long."

The Loudspeaker:  "Riders Up."

Calder takes Hawthorne's boot, and hoist him into the saddle.  He then mounts his own horse, and together they walk through the crowd, under the Grandstands, and out onto the Main Track.

"Nobody talks about Horse Racing, anymore," says Hawthorne.  "Baseball, Football, Basketball.  That's the problem.  They talk sports, but it's not Horse Racing."

Again the loudspeaker. "Ninth and final race of the afternoon.  Six and a half furlongs.  The track is firm.  Post time in ten minutes.  There are no scratches."

"You watch SportsCenter," says Hawthorne.  "There's hardly anything.  There's some talk about the Triple Crown,  and maybe the Breeder's Cup, but that's it.  Come on, Bowling gets more TV time than we do."

They gallop down the main stretch.  Sorrowful sees the crowd.  He hears the voices.  He senses it's his time.

"Owners should race their horses more often," says Calder. "Instead they save them for stud. Who can get interested in a horse when it only races 6 or 7 times and you never hear about him again?"

Hawthorne pats Sorrowful on the neck.  "Today's our day, Sorrowful. We  got them thinking you're a nag, my friend.  But we know better, don't we."  He pats the neck again. " Yup, today's our day."

"It's no secret." says Calder.  "We used to be the only legit way to gamble, except in Vegas.  Now, what do we got?  Lotto, Indian reservations, underground poker dens, computer betting.   The only thing holding us up is the online horse betting. TVG, ExpressBet, BetFair."

"And," says Hawthorne.  "Make the Racing  Form easy to read.  It's like printed in Chinese.  Who's going to learn all that?  Even I don't know all the symbols."

Calder looks over at him.

"Just kidding, but I'm just saying.  And the track's cut is so high.  Crazy.  Majority of bettors see that, they'll stop betting so much."

They get in line now for the walk to the starting gate.

"And when word gets out about Frog Juice...Dermorphine..."

"...Horse morphine......from the Monkey Tree Frog, South America..."

..Yeah, and now we got a doping scandal.  I'll Have Another's trainer has already been suspended for using it.  Not good."

"I never use those kinds of drugs," says Calder.  "Hurts the horse.  No, we're making money by the rules...sort of.  No telling how long it will take before we get another chance."

They get near the Starting Gate.  Calder peels off.  Hawthorne and Sorrowful go in.  The flag is up.  And, They're Off.

One minute, twelve and four fifths seconds later...

Again the loudspeaker.  "Ladies and Gentlemen.  I direct you attention to the Winner's Circle. Breaking his maiden, it's Sorrowful, a six year old bay gelding, the half brother of  'Feeble.'   99 to one long shot.  Who knew?  What a pedigree.  By 'Dreadful,' and 'Choke,' out of that multiple stakes winner, 'Disappointment.'   99 to one, who knew?"

Pictures snap.  Owners crowd around.  Hawaiian shirts, dark glasses, large flashy rings.  And a Jockey and a Trainer.
They look at each other, and laugh.   Hawthorne, pats Sorrowful's neck.  "We did it, Sorrowful."

"Yup," says Calder.  "We certainly did.  99 to one.  Who knew?"

They bump fists, grin big for the cameras, and wave to the crowd.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012


Again the banksters come knock knock knocking at my bank account door.  E-Mail, yadda, yadda, yadda, something about my checking account dipping below, yadda, yadda, yadda, I will be charged an extra, yadda, yadda, yadda.  All right, already, I'll make a deposit.   Don't they have bigger fish to fry?

I rub my forehead.  But, I have an idea.   I know what I want to do.  I thumb my iPhone.  It's ringing.  He answers.  "Yeah?"

"Key,  Key West.  Waz up.  How are things in Southern Florida?"

"Not bad.  Who's asking?"

"Come on, it's me, Brentwood.  Brentwood Belair.  I'm calling the special number you gave me."

Key West uses a system of cell phones for privacy. It gratifies his paranoia.  With a private phone number code.  He's real stingy who gets it.

"Woody?  Belair?  That you?"

"'Course, who'd you think?"

"You recording this?"

"Key, it's me.  Come on.  Called cause I need help.  I need your expert opinion."

"Belair needs my help?"  He quickly laughs.  "This should be good.  What's it going to cost me this time?"

"Key, you made out good on that, come on.  This is different.  I gotta come up with some quick cash, and who better to call..."

"You want me to book some bets?  I thought that's what you did. Take other people's wagers.  And live on the vig.  Times must be tough out there in LA?  All your fish swim off to Vegas?"
"Fish?  Loyal patrons, I'll have you know.  Look,"  I say.  "I need some quick cash, so I was just thinking.  It's baseball season right now.  What's your best odds percentage.  I promise not to use it against you?"

"Hey, Woody, come on.  You're my friend and all, but that's like insider information.  Didn't they throw Martha in jail for something like that?"

"Well, she served time actually for trying to cover it up, but that's a whole different...   Okay, here's what I got.  I'll give you a 89% winning factor, for your best.  How's that?"

"So...89%...okay," says Key.  "I got a way to bet baseball, but it's only 76%, over the last three years.  Major League Baseball, right?"

"Problem for me is this," I say.  "It doesn't come by every day, so I have to bet quite a bit to make it worthwhile when it does."

"Nothing weird, right?"

"I'll tell you, then you tell me.  Ready?"

"Okay, go."  says Key.

"A home team will win outright on the second game back home after a long road trip of six games or more."

"That's it?"

"Yeah, and that's over a ten year span.  I've won big on it.  But it only comes around maybe fifteen times or so during a season.  But still 89 %, can you believe?"

"You sure.  89%?"

"It's because they're in front of their home crowd again, players can relax.  Home cooking, no hotel beds, no close quarters.  No place like home.  First game back they're still adjusting.  It's best when there's a long distance involved.  Like the Yankees on a road trip to play the Angels, something like that."

"Make sense.  And it's that high a percentage?  Wow.  Okay Woody. I'll be seeing you."

"Hey, hold on.  Come on.  I need something.  I need cash flow here, Key.  Come on.  What've you got?"

"Cash Flow?  I know you got money stashed."

"That's for emergencies.  If I ever have to flee...for some reason...hey, how'd you know?"

"Okay, you want one of my Key Formulas?"

"I'm writing this down.  Go."



"WHIP.  You take the starting pitchers, and find their WHIP for the last 28 days. WHIP stand for, so you won't forget, the number of Walks, plus the number of Hits, divided by the number of Innings Pitched.  For real good pitchers it's less than one.  But for most it's somewhere between 1.3 and 1.7."


"Hello...With me so far?...Hello."

"Gotcha, Key.  WHIP.  Now what?"

"Okay, add them together.  If it's over 3.0 and the Over and Unders is 7.5 or less, you got 76% for Overs.  Simple as that."

"3.0...7.5...76%.  Okay, but...there's adding and dividing involved...?"

"It's my best.  And like yours...second game back idea...this doesn't come around every day.  So bet big.  You'll be way ahead of the game.  Just don't try to book those bets with me, please."

"Hey, thanks Key.  76%?  You sure?"

"Am I sure?  Good bye, Woody. 

"Wait." I say.

"You think you got troubles.  I got guys who won't pay up on the Pacquiao Bradley fight.  They say that Pacquiao won the thing, so they're not going to pay."

"Don't you charge a vig?  Get your money up front?"

"Sure...but since I give them credit...You know, over the phone..."

"Credit?" I laugh.  "What's the first rule of  bookie-ism.  Key, come on.  Repeat after me:  No Credit.  Never never, ever, ever give anybody..."

"I got it, Woody.  I got it."

"You need a Muscle Beach type to start visiting your..."

"I got it, Woody.  I got it.  I should be terrorizing these guy?  Man up.  Start breaking knee caps."

"I've found a number 12 ball peen hammer's my encouragement of choice..."  I laugh again.

"Good Bye, Woody," 

"Wait?  Key?  I'm Kidding."


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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


"Crazy.  Get out of the way.  What are you doing?"  The car jolts.  The tires screech.  I jump up in the back seat.

There's a man in the street right in front of us, waving for us to stop, and pointing in the air.   A large man in a white jacket,  gray silk shirt, gray slacks.   A man with a face tattoo.

It's Mike Tyson.
A simple cab ride from McCarran to Caesars Palace.   Las Vegas is exciting, all right, but this?  Even before we get to the strip?

We skid to a stop, he jumps in with me, rolls down the window, and sticks his head out.  "It's LaVerne," he says.  "She's flown away.  I almost had her but she got out.  I have to catch her."

He pulls out cash, peels off a $100 bill, and tosses it over the seat to the driver.  "Please, go north.  She's gone north."

The driver stares in his mirror.  I'm stunned.  It's Mike Tyson.

"Sorry guys," he says.  "I gotta get her real quick, I'm rehearsing, so I gotta get back."

"Rehearsing?" I say, wondering what would Iron Mike be rehearsing for?  "I'm Brentwood Belair, Sports Blogger from LA.  Lost a pigeon?"

"Not just any pigeon," he says, looking out the window, "LaVerne."  Up in the sky, he points, "There, I think?"

He looks over at me.  "Yeah.  Rehearsing my life, with my wife Kiki. Not much to remember, 'cause it all happened to me, but she got it together, all in order, so it makes sense." 

"Your life?" I say. 

"My next KO, it'll be on Broadway." he says, and giggles.  His voice is high.  "Me and Spike Lee.  Guess you didn't here.  It's my one man show."  He looks at me and smiles.  I look away from his missing teeth.  "Spike Lee, he's the guy.  I've already done the show at the MGM."  Again the smile.  "Same place I bit off part of Holyfield's ear."

"Oh, yeah," I say, not knowing exactly how to respond.  Is he still mad about the way the fight was ref'd?  He's sitting right next to me.  So I say, " I didn't know you were on stage, Mike.  You've already done your the MGM Grand?"

"Yeah, the papers reviewed me too.  They said I did okay, but too many bad words. Raw and filthy they said.   That's why I'm rehearsing it some more.  Spike is excited.  What am I gonna do?  I'm almost 46."

He jerks toward the window.  "There."  He points toward the top of a Eucalyptus tree next to the cab.  He jumps out, as the cab slows.  "LaVerne, it's me, Mike.  Come on, don't get lost.  Fly home. Please."

I slide out too.  "Mike," I say looking up into an empty tree.  "I never would have guessed.  Takes courage to go up on stage and talk."

"It's not hard.  I'm just talking about the stuff I've done in my life.  It's called. 'Undisputed Truth.'   Everybody knows what's happened to me.  The paper said my show was two hours of jab, jab, jab.  That's a good thing."

"Like to see your show.  Really sounds interesting."

"It's on DVD.  That's how Spike found out about me.  He saw it.  I talk about Robin, and the time she comes home with Brad Pitt."  His eyes turn to me.  "That's right, Brad Pitt."  He looks toward the open sky to the East.  "I talk about my trainer, GusD'Amato, and that time in the Clinic  for the cocaine.  Hate to say it, but I was in prison, everybody knows."  His eyes are in the trees again. "I was practicing, and then LaVerne takes off.  I had to stop and find her."

He shades his eyes, looking west, high toward the sun.  "Even how I felt in Japan when I fought Buster Douglas."

He points again.  " home."  He watches a plump bird darts through the air.  "It's the right direction, so...maybe she's on her way.  Don't get lost."

He brushes his hands together.  "Good.  I feel better."

"Well," I say. The man seems calm, but that face tattoo?  "Glad we could get LaVerne home safe and sound."

I get back into the cab.  "I was just on my way to Caesars Palace, paid so much, we'll take you home."  The Cabbie nods.

Mike stands there for a second.  "Hey, thanks.  It's not far." 

We move out.  The Cabbie seems too know where he lives.
Sweat forms on his forehead.  His hands shake.  "I saw on Twitter what people think of me.  An ex felon who bites peoples ears off, beats up and rapes women.  Toothless, brainless waste of human flesh."  He takes a breath.  "It's pretty bad.  But I'm a different man now.  That's what I want them to understand."  He shakes his head. "People don't like what I said about Treyvon Martin.  But, it's how I feel about it."

A new Mike Tyson?  Or the same street kid with that lights out uppercut we watched on pay-per-view?   "You've done a lot Mike, you'll have to admit.  Evander Holyfield's ear?"

"Yeah, that.  And remember I said I'd eat Lennox Lewis' children?  All part of my show.   I don't hold back no punches either,  about my daughter's accident."  He stops.  "I could cry."  He stops again, and blinks.  "I got remarried.  I'm doing good now."

He has his arm out the window, and is scanning the sky.

"One other thing," he says.  "It's part of who I am.  I'm  a vegan.  I'm sick of venereal diseases and being a prostitute hunter. You know, because carnivores are all syphilis-infested hookers."

Say what?  Now my hands shake.  My voice, it isn't there.  Has he changed?

He points again.  "Stop.  It's LaVerne."   We skid.  He jumps out.  "I'm going after LaVerne.  You guys go.  I'll be okay."

He waves, then runs off into a neighborhood of two story houses, and is gone.
Iron Mike.  There right next to me.  Overpowering.  I didn't know quite how to act.  A man whose right cross was deadly.  Right there next to me.  Now playing out his life on stage?  Talking about himself?  Will it be a Tony performance?  You'll just have to get tickets and see. July 31 to Aug. 5, at the Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street, NYC.  With tickets priced anywhere between $74.50 - $198.50, depending, of course, on close you really want to get.
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Saturday, June 16, 2012


They sit at the far end of the bar.  The dark end.  It's the Western Sycamore, the  neighborhood After-Work Relaxaria.  Food too

"Another," says Gallagher.  "What's this, my fourth?"  He wiggles his fingers toward the lady. "And one for  my friend."

She smiles, and waves.  "Two more?"

He elbows Shean.  "You need another, right?"  Without waiting,  he re-wiggles, okay.

"And I had to hear it on SportsCenter, can you believe." says Gallagher.  "Me, his agent."  His face is pinkish.

"I thought all that was over with, all that with doping.  He passed, right?" says Shean. 

"With flying colors.  All 500 of them."  He puts his forehead on his fist.

"So why are they still hassling him about it?  And why now?"

Two Mojitos arrive, along with a wink.  Gallagher blinks, and smiles back.

"So I gave them the same speech.  Denied everything.  This time it's the  U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.   They want to strip him of all seven of his Tour de France titles.  It's the same thing, testosterone and blood-doping back in 1998.  US Attorney dropped the charges.  Now it's this USADA.   Lance wants to be a triathlete, now.  It's a witch hunt."

"Sounded like it's all just accusations," says Shean.  "They were talking about it on TV, nothing formal.  Yet.  Right?"

Gallagher raises his hands in the air.  "It's all crap.  Guys lose a race,  then it's the winner must have been juiced.  Same as before."  He gulps his Mojito.  "He never got caught.  He was always getting tested.  An endurance athlete for 25 years.  No spikes in performance.  Passed more than 500 drug tests.  Never failed.  Never. "

He downs the Mojito, and rattles the ice in the air.  Another wink.  "He's doing triathlons now.  But until this is settled, the World Triathlon Corporation won't let him compete."

"But, you know Lance much better than I do," says Shean. "Seven Tour de Frances, and none of the guys were doping?  How did he do so well against all those other guys, seven times.  That's where is hard to figure."

"Now they got some other bikers who will testify, who'll say he was using blood transfusions, and testosterone."

"Barry Bonds and Marion Jones," says Shean.  "Both past their tests.  They used something called maskers."

"It's all a conspiracy."  Gallagher smiles as another Mojito slides toward him.  He sips.   "It's like a vendetta.  Whose skin did he get under?"   He leans back, catches himself, and grabs the bar. "Whoa," he says.  And sips more.  "Performance Enhancers.  Could be anything.  He had doctors...two doctors...and a team manager watching him all the time.  I wasn't there.  They were.  They'd know if he was doing anything wrong."

"Wasn't there something about all this on 60 minutes?" says Shean.  "His team mates said he was using drugs. PED's.  Are you absolutely sure...Lance was clean?"

"It'll just ruin his reputation," says Gallagher.  "He does so much for a Cancer cure."  He rubs his head.  "I can't watch him every minute."  He drinks more.  "I'm his agent, out getting him the big bucks.  Now this...again."

The lady moves near, and winks.  Gallagher takes a deep breath.  "Yes yes, my dear," he says.   And pushes her the empty.  "My limit's eight."

She looks at both Gallagher and Shean.  "Going to set a new record?"

"The news I got, I might need a couple of dozen."
She raises her eyebrows.  "Good news?"

"The best, " he says.   Then bangs his head against the bar, bang, bang, bang.

"Sorry," she says, and backs away.  "How about a couple of orders of pancakes.  They always cheer me up.  Only take a minute?"

Gallagher sits up straight, takes a deep breath, and looks at Shean.  "Hey, why not?"  Then drops his head on his arm.  "Oh, why don't they leave him alone.  The whole bunch of them were juiced.  I'm not stupid.  It's my job to make it all go away.  Make him clean."

"Want to know what I think?" says Shean.  "The entire sports world is on dope.  The money's too big."  He takes out a 5 Hour Energy.  "How many of these are banned."  He reads.  "Citicoline, Phenylalanine, Glucuronolactone, and what is Tyrosine, something for the new kid...tyro something?  I drink this, and..."

"You're screwed.  Just like Lance.  They all want to bring him down.  They're jealous.  Maybe he was doping.  He passed all the tests.  Maybe he masked it someway, but he was better than they were.  They were all on something."   He looks over at the lady.  "Pancakes will cheer us up, promise?"

She smiles and salutes back, and mouths the word, Pancakes.

"Damn it." says Gallagher, and slaps the table.  "I don't care.  They were all juiced, come on, and he still came out on top.  Lance is still the best guy on a bike there ever was."

Shean looks at the lady. "Can you put a rush on those pancakes."
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Monday, June 11, 2012


Rocky and LouAnn walk into the gym on S. Broadway near 108th.

"LouAnn,  I'll only be a minute.  You can wait in the car if you want.  I bet on these guys so I need to talk to the trainers, and watch them workout."

"'S'okay.  I don't mind.  Like to kinda see."  She waves her hands in the air to dry her nails, bright red, red like her lips.

"Hey, Rocky," says a voice by the ring.

"Benny."  Rocky waves.  "LouAnn, have a seat.  I'll be right back."

Rocky moves down the aisle to the ring.  "Jab, Johnny jab.  Your left, come on, left, left, jab, jab, jab."

LouAnn sits back and blows on her nails.  Every guy in the place looks at her, her halter top and high heels. She looks around, blinks, and smiles.

And they all felt it, that jolt of LouAnn-ity.   Pancho in the corner skipping rope, suddenly does doubles and cross overs.  The two on the treadmill shift into double time,  there are one handed pushups, and the kid at the speed bag starts using his elbow, all motion, loud groans, look at me, LouAnn, look at me.

Even Johnny shows his stiff left jab.

Rocky shakes Benny's hand.  "I brought LouAnn.   She'll make these guys work twice as hard."

"Benny smiles.  "Please, bring her by more often.  Look at 'em.  They never do that for me.  Talk about a work out."  Then his smile fades.  "But guess you don't have to be that good anymore."

"Yeah," says Rocky.  "I saw it too.  Pacquiao won, no question....Jab Johnny, jab.  Good, good."

"Bradley knew he'd lost," said Benny.  "You could tell the way he acted.  Said he had to go back and watch the tape, see if he'd won.  What's that all about?"

"Think it was fixed to build the gate for a re-match?  Big mistake.  Nobody cares about Bradley.  He'll just get beat up in the next fight, even worse."

The two look toward the fighter in the ring.

"The fight game ain't no game," says Rocky.  "It's a business.  Like everything else, money runs the show.  Like that's some kind of a surprise."

"Got no one to complain to either.  Boxing's like that.  Guess Don King's in charge.  What are you going to do?"

Lou Ann sits and looks at her nails.  She blows on her fingers, drying the polish.  Johnny looks over at her, exposes his jaw, gets tagged by a right cross.  He stumbles.

"Johnny, focus man, focus.  Jab,'re right about the fight.  Bradley was okay, he did his best, you could see, but Pacquiao is the real Champion.  Bradley hasn't lost a fight, but no question, he got beat.  And beat bad.  Leaned in the entire fight, clinching, holding the back of Pacquiao's head."

"Fifty bucks gone," says Benny.  "I should've known."

"Heard on the radio coming over here, best thing for Bradley's career, is to man up, and give the belt back.  He's got good guy image.  He knows it's the right thing to do.  It's the smart thing to do.  Boxing fans won't forget him.  He'll get all kinds of endorsements."

"Rocky, come on,"  says LouAnn. "I gotta get back.  You said lunch.  I only got so much time."

"We just got here.  What do you got to get back to, LouAnn?"

"Stuff, Rocky.  I'm...doing stuff this afternoon. Okay?"  She blew again on her fingers, holding them at arms length.

"I'm sorry.  Your right.  I promised lunch.  Gimme a minute."

Rocky watched Johnny.  "Keep that left up, Johnny.  Your left.  It sets up everything.  Good, good, jab, jab, jab."

"Now show him your right, Johnny." says Benny.

He connects with the right, pow, then a wild left uppercut.  It misses, and he stumbles again.  "Left jab, Johnny.  Jab, jab, jab," says Rocky and Benny.
"Johnny'll do well," says Rocky, "If he jabs that left."  He slaps the canvas. 

 "Okay, I'll be back.  I want to talk to some of these guys.  Let them know how I feel about the fight. They all saw it.  Some might just say screw it, why work out, the best isn't good enough anymore, because fights are fixed, the judges are in the bag."

"Did you see they let Bradley hook his arm around Pacquiao and punching him in the ribs?  Ref didn't do nothin'?   It's corruption plain and simple, Rocky.  I was really shocked.  Pacquiao was way faster."

"Boxing needs new faces, what with Mayweather in prison," says Rocky.   "But not like this.  Bradley was confused a the end.  Thought he'd lost?"

"Guess you need a KO to win," says Benny.  "Can't just out class a guy anymore."

"Benny, I gotta go.  But when I get back I'm just going to tell your guys to watch the fight, and forget the decision.  Let them watch Pacquiao.  That's how you want to fight."

"Rock-eeeeee," says Lou Ann.  She opens her compact, and touches her lip with her little finger. "We gotta go."  She looks around again and smiles.  They watch, breathe deeply, grimace and sweat just a little more.

Rocky waves.  "Coming, Sweety."

Then to Benny.  "Here's what I think happened.  If it was fixed for Bradley, he didn't seem to know about it.  He fought so poorly.  Nobody will get excited now about a re-match.  Strange.  They didn't even try to disguise it.  What I think is that two of the three judges, they're really old guys, met in a back room at the Flamingo, somewhere, and worked out how they would score it.  No body else knew.  They took a chance that Pacquiao would KO Bradley, but they bet big on Bradley, and won big.  Only...the only way... I can think of."

Rocky shakes Benny's hand, looks up at Johnny, and motions with his left.  He smiles, takes LouAnn's hand, and they go up the aisle.  LouAnn hugs his arm.

"Let's drive out to Beverly Hills.  I'm thinking Lobster."

"Sure, why not."  He takes a deep breath. "Anything you want, Sweety."

LouAnn looks back over her shoulder and waves.  Everybody in the gym waves back.
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Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I sit in my usual booth in the back, by the kitchen, at the Montana Galley.  It's that lull between breakfast and lunch, about 10:45 am.  I nurse a tall buttermilk.  Helena, the blond, and the owner, scootches in.
"Gorgeous," I say.

She smiles up at me, and touches her hair,  then stares at me. " What?"   And smiles again.

"The weather.  Outside.   It's gorgeous.  Too bad you have to work inside today.  Beautiful day."

"Oh, yeah, the weather," she says.  She kicks me under the table.

"Hey," I say.  "I can't control the weather."  I sip my buttermilk, and wink.

She holds a menu.  "Let me ask you a question.  Be serious.  I'm adding a Salmon Salad to my menu.  I'm going to call it The Danica Patrick.  What do you think, you're into sports."

"The what?  Danica Patrick?  You're kidding?"

 "What do you mean?  I read about her having this diet.  Diving 600 miles..."

"...Coke Cola 600..."

"...sure isn't easy.  You have to have a strict diet.  Not only so she'll fit into the car, but driving 600 miles, you have to stay alert.   She's does a 500 miler almost every week end."

"When she finishes," I say

She kicks me, again, harder, under the table.

"I read that article, about her diet.  Puff piece."

"What do mean puff piece?  It's Danica Patrick?  One of the biggest names in car racing.  She  comes out for healthy food, where I'm sure they sell tons of nachos, hot dogs,  Cokes,  Gummy Bears..."

"Puff," I say.

She takes a newspaper clipping  from the pocket of her pink apron.  She unfolds it.  "Listen to this...Puff, give me a break.  It says that Danica opened a stand at her last race.  Danica Fit.  You can get turkey and veggie burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, a salad of asparagus, chic peas, and broccoli, a fruit cup with watermelon, pineapple, and strawberries.  Or how about a vegetable cup, trail mix, baked potato chips or energy bars.

"It did 30 percent better than the regular hot dog places there."

"It's because her name's on it?"

"Maybe, but...I can see the handwriting on the wall."

I look around at the walls.

"Stop," she says.  "People want what she selling."

"Sex is what she's selling, my dear.  Come on.  You get your picture out in front of this place..."

"I'm no Danica Patrick." she says.

"I like you better," I say. I tap her hand.  "Just lack the big money promotion.  She's 5-foot-2, 100-pound.   She has to works out to keeps her body in shape.  That's what guys want to see, regardless of how many races she ever wins.  She was 31st in Sunday's 600, but nobody cares.  She draws attentions, and fans.  That's all sponsors are look for.  Really, she's a non-factor."

"Non-factor?  Ninth in points her first season, and she sucks?  Are you that blind.  Of course they write about her.  She's the first female in car racing to do anything big.  You're going to surprised someday.  You just wait."

She looks back at the piece of newspaper.  "Men," she says.

"But, sweetheart?"

Another kick.

 "Listen to this." She reads again.  "On race weekends she'll eat grilled salmon or grilled chicken with brown rice with peppers and onions.  She also likes egg whites, oatmeal, salads, quinoa, cottage cheese and yogurt."

"Quinoa?  Yogurt?"  I shake my head.  "That's a hard sell.  You're never going to get NASCAR fans to eat that.  Come on, they eat what's affordable, what's quick, and what tastes good.  Nutrition is way down the list.  Like most of us."

Still reading, "During the race, she sips her own carbo protein drink.  She has to keep hydrated.  600 miles."

"Maybe it wasn't all that much a puff piece.  It's personalities rather than real substance that is written about.   Dale Earnhardt Junior, and Tim Tebow also get a lot of press.  And Albert Puljols lately, but he's getting better."

"You're upset 'cause she's a female and that challenges your insecure masculinity?

I lean back.  "Helena, my insecure masculinity.  You really think I'm insecure?"

"Okay," she says, and she squeezes my arm.  "Other guys that are insecure."  She put her head on my shoulder.

"Well," she says. "Danica is the only woman to ever win an Indy race and the only woman to ever lead the Indy 500.  She won a race in Japan, didn't she?"

"Well yeah.  The 2008 Indy Japan 300.  First woman to win.  It was raining hard, and when Marco Andretti's crashed in front of her..."

"She won, right?  So, she's a winner."

"But, how tough can it be to be a race driver?  Same as driving, just a little faster.   If she is the only thing NASCAR has to write about then they're in serious trouble."

"Everybody loves Danica.  I'm going to do this."  She looks at the menu.  "I'm adding the Danica Patrick Salad... a salmon the menu.  And if you don't like it, I suggest you don't order it.  You know it's good for you."

I take her hand.  "I'm giving you a hard time.  Danica is more than racing.  She's a celebrity.  And getting into health food is brilliant.  It's the wave of the future.  You know it.  It's what you do everyday.  Go with her.  Healthy food is the right thing to do."
"I know that's what I have to do more of."  She looks through the menu.  "Too much sugary, and fried foods...empty calories..."

"Still, you're the best thing about this place." I raise my buttermilk.  "By far."

She takes a deep breath.  Her eyes get big.  She folds her hands, and says, "Honey, I get off work at seven."

"I'm real sorry, lady.   I'm crazy busy tonight.  Guys are coming over.  We're going to try to break the Guinness Record on how many cans of Cheez Whiz we can down in an hour."

And as I sit back in the booth, I get another kick, hard, "Ouch," this one hurts, under the table.
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Celtics, Heat and the Refs

It's time to take a break, my eyes, my neck, peanut butter gone from the spoon.  Too much computer.  Splash water in my eyes.  I grab a shirt, thinking cup of coffee at the Montana Galley.  I'll say hi to Helena, the owner.  She's the blond.

The stairs to the sidewalk, and  two blocks up the boulevard.

I'm there.  A man is leaving, wearing a Celtics Jersey.  I hold the door.

"Well," I say.  "You're a little ways from home."

He blinks, and touches his chest.

"You're trading icy cold winters for earthquakes, I guess,"  I say.
"That's true," he says with a wave.  "I've been out here about six months, but I'm still a Celtic fan."

"Not a Lakers fan yet?"

He turns around.  "Not yet.  Still Celtics.  Can you believe the games against the Heat?"

"I write a Sports Blog, and all I'm hearing is about the refereeing."
He walks back.  "Disgraceful.  A blind man could see the Heat is getting all the calls.   They should give the game ball to the referees."  He looks at me.
"Yeah, I watched.  LeBron seemed to be at the free throw line a lot."

"A lot?"  His face a tint of pink.  "If LeBron misses a lay-up, he must have been fouled.  He's LeBron James."  The man looks out at the fast moving traffic.

"I've watched a ton of basketball," I say.  "And you're right, there is a difference between the way referees approach regular season games and playoff games.  They usually call less fouls.  They let them play it out."

"Rondo shoves a guy.  That's might be a legit T, but the rest?  Give me a break.  Their calls totally change  the momentum of the game."

"So, you think it's rigged?" I say.
"Of course it is."  His face is dark pink, eyes growing dark.  "You saw the games."

"But doesn't LeBron attacks the basket.  He'll always draw more fouls. The Celtics are more jump shooters.  So, they get less fouls.  I've written about the Celtics.  I'm on Twitter.  They say that the Celtics are past their prime.  They're not quick anymore.  So they have to fouls the quicker Heat."

"I've heard it before," he says.  "Quit whining about the refs. But come on.  I don't like the power Stern has over what goes on.  Third game, after all this will be okay, everybody will be watching the refs.  But LeBron will get his ring.  The refs'll make sure of that."

His eyes are steel ball bearings.  His breath is heavy.

"There is a lot left up to interpretation," I say.

He touches my arm.  "Hey, I'm sorry.  I'm getting a little worked up, but...they never call traveling anymore.   Stick a fork in you, the Celtics are done."

He rubs his forehead.

"Let me say this, I'm sorry to keep you...but... I think the NBA is fixed because it's in decline. It's not basketball anymore. Its marketing for team owners.

"They stopped Chris Paul going to the Lakers, but LeBron?  He can go where he wants."  He waves his hands in the air.  "I'll see you...I'm sorry...And what about the lottery."  He turns back.  "Why  don't they show the lottery balls anymore?  It's all done behind a curtain?"

"But," he says, looking down at his Celtic Jersey again.  "I guess I'm a die hard.  It just look like the refs are wearing Heat Jerseys, and there's nothing you can do about it but watch." 

He turns and walks up the boulevard.  I watch him as I enter.

A cry-baby Celtic Fan?  Phony outrage?  The coffee arrives.  I look at my reflection as I stir.  I watched the games.
You know, I think he's right.  Of all the major sports, Basketball leaves so much to the refs.  One T can change momentum.  As can a charge or a foul.  I'm not blind.  I watched the games.  

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