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The Tickets


Mark Patterson


Thu, Apr 21, 2016

The Phantom horse-players, still enslaved by post-time

    Strut forth sharp at midnight, forming shadow-less lines

    Free-moving bettors, independent, entranced

    Separate, different yet wed, as if by a dance

    Soon ghost fields set forth at impossible speed

    As jocks long deceased screech and slash at each steed

    And the pace indeed quickens around the far bend

    Toward a wire that's not there, in a race without end



For decades they had rested in limbo between floors. Precious things rendered worthless in less than two-minutes and then discarded to be tiled, paneled and casino-carpeted over until no speck of paddock dust could disturb their remarkably pristine state. Mint baseball cards from the same period might fetch a small fortune, but these artifacts spoke to my soul. These were not the wispy, stark-white grocery slips now used to record bets , the kind that indeed make the act of wagering feel more mundane than a milk and bread run. They were sturdier and less-evolved. Thick, stubby and festooned with bold print, these colored dinosaurs had not slipped quietly into this world, but instead leaped forth from ancient steel-machines with a loud, rhythmic clamor.

These were made not to be pocketed or played close to the vest, but brandished and waved as proud flags of opinion. And if, Calumet Farms forbid, somebody else’s primitive system out-predicted yours, or “the fix” was in (number one then on any horse-players hit parade of excuses), there was always the ritual shredding which put fallen paper soldiers to proper rest.

Wholly intact, these drifted down from the paddock ceiling several weeks ago on a glum early -fall afternoon devoid of horses or the prospect of evening action. Right in stride, I caught them cleanly-two $2 votes of confidence on the 10 in race three. Like Gollum first fingering the ring, I was, TRANSPORTED ..backward at a million times race-speed going wire-to-gate through countless, highly- personal furlongs.

A serious bettor’s history is stored in symmetrical corridors, each containing the lifespan of a wager. Like the faces of long-absent friends or relatives, the contents can become fuzzy and overlap. But talisman-like, the tickets brought some of my pastthe part tracing to this very spot-into sharp focus.

A boy appeared. In adult cardigan and (regrettably) husky “slacks,” he stared at the Morning Telegraph. Beside him, a tall, pompadoured man smiled approvingly around a bogarted lucky. Soon the boy would set books and class-periods aside, section his life into 25-minute chunks and seek answers from only 4-inch rectangles such as filled the page before him. I wanted to say many things: that a hard adolescence spent ostracized by peers would pass; that the heartbreak and failing grades would prove fair price for a path well-chosen; that lessons learned track-side by the truant would mean everything . But most of all, that I still loved the man.

They were, of course, unreachable, transfixed by and eternally trapped in the next race, a race in my world long-molded in yellow charts, but in theirs fresh and compelling. I wondered then, how many imprints from how many races were present here? The psychic storyboards, so to speak, of wagers decided decades ago.

Someday, I might exist only here, within silent echos of my most passionate acts. And that was alright. It seemed just that the place which obsessed you form the boundaries of your soul. But not THIS day, I thought, and walked briskly outside. The October air had a cheap-speed warmth sure to fold which the sky gave away with the detached slate-grey glare of an early winter. Something about that stirred a vague anxiousness to end this interlude and move forward. I discarded the tickets-the ones dated 1969. I wish a wind had swept them away. Instead, they dropped face-up and disconcertingly close. While I stood there reconsidering, I could swear a faint bugle drifted out from the paddock……and a whiff of pungent lucky strike smoke.


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