Looking back on it now, I’m surprised how often and in what ways Daddy included us kids in the mafia business of book-making. I’ve mentioned before his habit of posting us at upstairs windows on the weekends, so we could watch for approaching FBI agents in unmarked cars and provide advanced notice in the event of a raid. However, Daddy liked to include his kids in as many aspects of the “business” as possible.
My sister reminded me last week that we were often involved in Daddy’s dipping into the coffers of the state lottery. Pennsylvanians began gambling legally in a government-operated “Daily Number” as early as 1972—an above-board version of illegal rackets that dated back to 16th century Italy and were common in the US by the early 20th. After the “rackets” were legalized and run by the state in 1972, a governmental effort to cash in on what had been the “mafia’s cash register,” many gamblers preferred to continue betting with their local bookie, as the odds were better and they could gamble on credit.
I remember my dad daily, sitting at his desk or the dining room table—multiple radios and televisions all around. With a wooden ruler, black magic marker, and 8 ½ x 11 inch pieces of white rice paper, he created multiple columns, in which he recorded the bets he was taking over the phone. However, in addition to gambling on sporting events, many of his customers also played the state lottery with Daddy—calling each afternoon or early evening with their three-digit number.
Each evening, just before 7 and the beginning of “Bowling for Dollars,” series host Nick Perry oversaw the numbers drawn by a senior citizen on the set of his show. However, on April 24, 1980, Perry and a number of other conspirators managed to fix the lottery—weighing the ping-pong balls with black latex paint (all except the numbers four and six), so there were only eight possible winning numbers. (Weighing all but one number was considered too risky.)
They then played those numbers all over the state, both in the “legal” state lottery and illegally with bookies. They may have gotten away with the
“Triple Six Fix” had the winning number not have been the notorious 666. Daddy and other bookies were also suspicious because of the huge quantity of 3-digit combinations that included the numbers four and six bet that day. Daddy never paid on that winning number.
However, Lynn reminded me how often Daddy asked her to “help” him, when, after the daily drawing, he would hand her, freshly bathed and wearing a Holly Hobby nightgown, the rice paper sheets on which the names, numbers, and dollars-bet were recorded, requesting she search for the winning number among the many columns of numbers played. As she shared last week, Lynn, as a little girl, strawberry blonde curls dangling above the figures, prayed that number would not appear, as, if it did, “Daddy would be in a very bad mood.” How our dad ever considered this a legitimate bedtime activity for eight-year-olds, I’ll never know.
My favorite way to help Daddy, on the other hand, was going with him to “collect”—collect the money owed in losing bets. This sometimes involved a delightful day out of school—always guaranteed a lunch eaten out—my favorite, Italian food at the Embers, where spaghetti was the best. Daddy also ordered me a Shirley Temple to drink, while he had his cocktail, and dessert whenever I wanted—a hugely special treat away from my near-anorexic mother’s, cake-and-cookie-rationing eyes. It’s no wonder I grew up with such a sweet tooth—one that broadens my dessert-loving waist to this day, thirty or forty years later.
My knowing how and where to collect came in handy after Daddy died in 1981. Then, 19-years-old and newly home for the summer from college, I took my mother to collect. She drove. I rode shotgun in Calvin Klein jeans and Izod sweatshirt—going in and gathering massive amounts of cash at a number of bars and restaurants around the city. This, so we could carry upwards of $20,000* in dime-sized ($1000), rubber-banded bundles to Kentucky a month later, when my mother bought her home here—largely paid for with the proceeds from illegal gambling I helped her collect.
So much for my mother’s moral superiority**—her Christian conscience at work in the business of real estate investment—mafia-funded or otherwise.
Clearly, my mom, as well as my dad, believed kids make the best bookies.
* I’m not exactly sure how much cash we carried to Lexinton. I just know it seemed a massive amount.
** I fully believe my mother did the best she knew how at the time. Perhaps, this was the best option, the only option. Doing what we did seemed automatic the May that Daddy died. Please don’t blame my mom for this. I only mean to point out the irony of it all.