Greenberg – my bookie – was missing.
After I gave him the best 22 years of my life, he disappeared and left me.
I had been abandoned.
For 22 years, during the football season I would speak to Greenberg every Sunday and Monday.
The conversation would go something like this:
"Greenberg," I would say, "This is Jerry D" (my ridiculously obvious code name). What do you have on the Dallas game?"
"The boys [Cowboys] are three [point] dogs [underdogs]," he would say. In the background I would hear his phones incessantly ringing with other hopefuls rushing to make the 1 PM game time deadline.
"I'll take them for a dollar [$100]," I would reply.
"Okay, Jerry, you have the boys plus three for a dollar," he would confirm.
On holidays he might have a few more words for me. "The best to you and your family," he would say.
"And to yours," I would reply.
Here's the catch. I didn't know if he had a family. I didn't know a single personal thing about him. In 22 years I never laid eyes on him even once.
I only knew a voice on the telephone. Yet I trusted him as much as I ever trusted anyone in the world of business.
Like just about everyone else in business, I have, on rare occasion, been fooled by experts. We all run into a few upstanding people who are pillars of society who will shake your hand, look you straight in the eye, and screw you.
But not Greenberg. Not the disembodied voice on the phone. If I won, an envelope of cash would arrive. If I lost, a messenger would pick up an envelope of cash from me. On those few occasions when I miscalculated and sent him too much money, he would return it immediately.
We were so evenly matched; whole years went by without a penny changing hands.
One Sunday morning, as I did for 22 years, I woke up and went right to the sports pages of the New York Post to check out the betting line for the day's games.
Then I put on my tennis gear and jumped into my car and headed for the beloved East Hampton Indoor Tennis Club.
As I played I kept one eye on the ball and the other on my watch. Between games I would make my call to Greenberg. The Sunday call to Greenberg was a must for me – I never missed one. I called him from weddings and funerals. I called him from hospitals. I called him from street corners. I called him from boats and planes and I called him from England, France, Italy and Japan. Let me tell you, this wasn't your run-of-the-mill relationship. This was deep and meaningful.
But on that Sunday when I called Greenberg, an awful AT&T recorded voice message came on and informed me that the number had been disconnected and no further information was available. Naturally, I doubted my speed dial. I called again and again ... same answer. I started to panic. Greenberg had vanished from my life without so much as a goodbye.
I owed him $165, but I didn't feel like a winner. I came back to the tennis game and told my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, what had happened. "I can't get Greenberg. Something is wrong, he's gone."
I continued to play but my mind wasn't on tennis. In my heart I knew that Greenberg was gone and Sundays would never be the same. At one point Judy called out to me, "I've never seen you so depressed. Was there something going on between you two?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I answered, not at all amused. "I've never even seen Greenberg, he was just a voice on the phone."
"Sounds like a long-term phone-sex relationship to me," she muttered with a silly smile on her face.
I found out from a source the next day that Greenberg suddenly was forced to quit the business.
I didn't ask for any explanation. I come from a part of Brooklyn where bookies rode in the front seat of their Cadillacs one day and were found in the trunk of their Cadillacs the next.
I'm sure Greenberg had a good reason for taking early retirement.
These days I do all my football betting on the Internet. It's cold and impersonal.
At least football season will be starting soon. It's the only thing that makes autumn palatable.
You can keep your changing leaves, Halloween, and frost on those goddamn pumpkins. Give me the New York Giants, a cold martini, and my beloved little dog Shlomo sitting on my lap for good luck.
It's great, but it's not the same. I still miss Greenberg.
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