Some of the games I was already familiar with. Other games I came to learn about through observation. Take dice for example. For the longest time, I thought my father and his friends were throwing rocks against a wall. I guess I was too busy to notice that these rocks had spots on them. Not mention, when I slowed down long enough to look, a lot money was also changing hands – and it wasn’t pennies!
This game was called “craps“. And it was taken very seriously. The players were came from all over, from other neighborhoods. It was very popular. Later I learned that some of those players were bookies, loan sharks, cards sharks and professional gamblers of every stripe. The men took care to keep the kids out of the way and occupied while they played. They arranged for diversions.
As for those diversions…The street took on the atmosphere of a carnival. Neighbors would sit outside on the benches in front of their home and play music. There were guitars, mandolins and accordians. The music was beautiful and the songs nostalgic. My favorite song was Chitarra Romana.
Red wine, fresh lemonade and espresso flowed in abundance. Old men played the game morra, the Italian version of rock/paper/scissors. On very hot nights, my uncle Zi’ Michel would open up a fire hydrant and we’d ran through the gushing stream of water until it got dark or we were exhausted.
Exhausted we’d crawl into the nearest bed, and sometimes it wasn’t necessarily our own. We stayed over night at friends’ houses and woke up in the morning to the exact same breakfast no matter where were. I remember one time, while eating my breakfast at my cousin Norma’s house seeing a strange newspaper on the table.
I asked her father, my uncle Angelo, what kind of newspaper he was reading. It turns out it was the racing form. When I asked him why he needed a racing form he told me it came in handy for learning math, in it you learned about odds, ratios and fractions. And if you understood the math, you could pick a winner at race track.
My two brothers, who are older than me, “studied” the racing form regularly. And as part of my education, thought it was high time that I went to the race track with them to see how it was done. Carmen, who was always the more frugal with his money, had $10.00 but was only going to bet $2.00. Tony on the other hand, was going to put everything he had on “the nose of a fillie.” He had a hot tip. So he convinced Carmen to give him all of his money. They bet the lot on a horse that finised so far back, it ended up in the next race.
The only lesson I learned that day was not to let Tony talk me into anything.