Somebody came over and said he had a little something for me.
These days, given the media's place in society, a citizen having something for a writer, you don't know if you should prepare to defend yourself or say okay, thanks. A media position used to come complete with perks. My father was the sports editor of the Oklahoma City newspaper for many years. I got into all the games free. We got lots of hams at Christmas. I played baseball, earning all-conference at second base at the University of Oklahoma. My most memorable asset was refusing to accept a base on balls. I seldom walked. Some thought being the son of a sports editor resulted in gratuitous publicity. After a pitcher put one between my shoulder blades, the umpire said, "Tell your father to put that in the newspaper." Anymore, media people are often lumped together, the writers who read and the electronic people who strain.
The one who had something for me appeared rounder than fit, happier than angry.
So I smiled and nodded.
He said that one of my picks had made him some money at the Breeder's Cup. It was the one that rallied from just off the lead and won to pay $20 and change. Did I remember it? The clipping on the wall of the work room was helping me keep it remembered. The man standing there said he wished that I had tied more firsts and seconds together with my Cup picks. Firsts and thirds and firsts and fourths had made picking challenging. But once he had started boxing everything I mentioned, he began collecting on a regular basis.
"You need to do better picking seconds," he said.
What he had for me was in a small envelope.
He put it on the table.
"It's a Christmas present," he said.
I thanked him and picked up the envelope.
"You going to open it now?" he asked.
He said that it was a ticket, a ten-dollar exacta box on a race that was to go off in about twenty minutes.
I thanked him and said that I had a rule about taking gifts. What might come next, a bill from a reader after a bad pick?
He said it wasn't a gift. It was simply a small gesture of thanks. Had it been as certain as a gift, he would have bought a fifty-dollar box for himself. It was like buying somebody a scratch-off lottery card as a token of appreciation. He said he had his own ticket using the same horses and same amount wagered. He showed it to me.
"Enjoy," he said. "Or you can always cash it in." He turned around and left.
I got the past performances and looked up my Christmas present.
One horse on the $10 exacta box was the favorite at 2-1 on the morning line. The other was 5-1 and showed a history of breaking slowly and often experiencing trouble just outside the gate. There figured to be some contested speed in the race. So maybe breaking reluctantly would look good under the tree after all. It wasn't an embarrassing ticket at all.
Cashing in a gift ticket brings bad karma to your table. So I kept the gift as delivered and cheered the horses on.
The favorite fell to 6-5 and was speedy. The other one broke without incident and rallied from way back to win the race and pay right at $16. The previously speedy one got stuck in the quicksand by the rail and lost a photo for second.
My Christmas exacta ran 1-3, the way it would have happened on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
It had been a lot of fun for a minute, or ten.
I found my new friend sitting at the bar, having a glass of beer and thanked him for the gift of excitement.