The Horse Parlor From Honest Sid
by Ronald Probstein
On pages 64 to 67 of Honest Sid I wrote about one horse parlor in NYC that my father took me to when I was five years old. Such a betting parlor was “illegal” but there were dozens spotted throughout the City all with the sufferance of the police who were paid off to turn their heads the other way. Although their were differences in the locations and physical characteristics of the horse parlors all of them had features common to Charlie Goodheim’s parlor described in the book. On p. 65 I write about my experience:
“My father took my hand and together we walked through the back door [of the cigar shop] into Charlie Goodheim’s horse parlor. With its cement floor and bare stone walls, it looked like it had once been part of a garage. Men in suits with fedoras pushed back off their foreheads stood around alone or in groups, or sat on folding wooden chairs lined up in rows facing a long chalkboard running nearly the length of one wall. All eyes were on that chalkboard. A man in shirtsleeves, wearing earphones connected to a long wire stood on a platform in front of the board, erasing numbers and writing down new ones…. Along another wall two men wearing green eyeshades sat behind the silver bars of the cashier’s cages, counting out money with a snap and a flourish while a staccato voice coming, through a speaker box described a horse race in progress. A heavy pall of cigarette and cigar smoke hung over the room. The customers seemed subdued, speaking quietly if at all, but the atmosphere was electric.”
On p. 66 I describe one of the race descriptions that came through continuously: “In the sixth at Hialeah—the flag is up! They’re off and running… Into the final turn and Ladybug is ahead by a length… Blue Devil is coming up fast on the outside… They’re into the stretch! Neck and neck—and it’s Blue Devil by a nose at the wire.” “The announcer stopped talking for a few minutes after the race, and my father pointed to the chalkboard. The Board Marker was listing the payoffs… numbers next to the horses’ names changed as the Board Marker continually erased and entered new figures. My father said, “He’s changing them numbers to show how the odds shift before a race. It depends how much dough people bet on a horse. The more they bet that he’s gonna win, the more the odds go down.”
If you’re going to live outside the law, you’d better be honest. This seeming paradox was the operating principle of Sid Probstein’s life. Guileless and endlessly optimistic, he was known as Honest Sid around his stomping ground of New York’s Broadway. Sid wasn’t a tough guy, or even a bad guy. He just never had the patience for the “straight” life, grinding out a living at some monotonous desk job.
He was the quintessential American dreamer, always sure that the good life was just one big score away, a man who never stopped believing in his own good luck, even when the evidence said otherwise. He had all the tools, he was charming, good-looking, quick-witted and decent, but he had an obsession he couldn’t escape.
Honest Sid is the story of an American archetype as seen through the eyes of his son, Ronald, who loved him, and who almost lost him. It follows Sid’s adventures in the world of bookies and bettors, fighters and fixers, players and suckers set against the often-romanticized backdrop of Depression-era New York. It is also the passionate tale of the great and tempestuous love between Sid and his wife Sally, and of his son Ronald whom he idolized.
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Genre – Biographies & Memoirs
Rating – PG13
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