By Greg Clark, August 24, 1935
“If,” said Jimmie Frise, “we could only think of a racket.”
“Mmmm?” said I.
“The only people making money nowadays,” went on Jimmie, “are people with rackets. Plain ordinary business no longer pays. You have to have a racket.”
“Oh, I know lots of plain businesses that are doing all right,” I corrected. “Stores, restaurants, nice little factories.”
“No, you don’t,” stated Jimmie. “They look all right, maybe, but they are worried sick, they haven’t any money, they can’t collect their accounts. They’re worried sick.”
“Maybe so,” I said.
“But the boys with the rackets,” gloated Jim, “Ha, they’re doing all right. By rackets I don’t mean anything illegal. I mean legal rackets. Schemes by which you can shake down people in distress. The greater the distress, the easier the racket.”
“Such as?” I inquired.
“I don’t like to name any,” said Jim, guardedly, because he knows I sometimes quote him. “But when people need money badly, they can always be soaked. Or when people are afraid of failing or losing their business, they can always be taken for a ride. Strange as it may seem, when the world is poorest, the pickings are easiest.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” I protested. “Nobody has any money these days.”
“Don’t be silly,” scoffed Jim. “The banks are fuller of cash than they have ever been. A larger percentage of people may be out of work. But the great majority of the people, all those tens of thousands of people living in all those long, long streets of comfortable homes we pass every day, all those tens of thousands who still ride to work in crowded street cars and congest the main streets with motor traffic every morning – all those people have plenty.”
“Isn’t there a depression?” I wanted to know.
“They call it that,” said Jimmie. “But as a matter of fact, people are merely holding tighter to what they have. I know a man that makes stationery. He tells me there has been an enormous Increase in the consumption of those little black notebooks men carry in their pockets to itemize expenses in. Enormous increase. I know men that used to leave a dollar tip for the waiter when they took their family downtown to the hotel for Sunday dinner and even forgot to feel big by the time they walked out the door. Now they leave 15 cents and carefully itemize it in the little black book. To tip, 15 cents; like that.”
“How disgusting,” I agreed.
“In the good old days,” went on Jim, “people threw their money around because they knew there was lots more where that came from. But, all of a sudden, everybody got scared. You’ve seen chickens suddenly take fright, haven’t you, and seen them start running all ways for cover, when there was no apparent reason for It? Well, that’s what happened to us. We’re human, just like chickens. A few years ago we got one of our periodic frights over nothing. Everybody ran indoors, locked and barred the door, and now we are hanging on to our possessions grimly in the dread fear that somebody, maybe the man next door, is going to try and take it from us. Everybody has plenty. We are merely clutching it tighter than usual.”
To Loosen Things Up
“Then how do you racket it away from them?” I inquired.
“By scaring them further,” said Jim. “By showing them ways to make their money safer. And so doing, take it from them.”
“I can’t think of any racket along that line,” I confessed.
“Neither can I,” said Jimmie. “But I wish I could. I’m tired of working for my living. I’d like to be one of those fellows that just sits in a swell office and thinks.”
“All the stories I’ve read,” I submitted, “about racketeers shows that they started with a little racket and then worked up to the bigger rackets. For example, a big millionaire bootlegger started as a book salesman. Don’t you know any little rackets? Haven’t you heard of any ordinary little everyday rackets around the poolrooms or race tracks?”
“Ah, yes,” laughed Jimmie. “Of course. Touts, you mean.”
“What are touts?”
“Well, for instance,” explained Jim, “there are six horses in a race, see? The tout works fast. He selects six sappy-looking individuals and approaches each one. He asks each one for a match. Then he starts in and tells them he is the brother of the jockey riding one of the horses in the next race. He gives each sap a different horse. He tells them the horse can’t fail, because they are letting his brother win the race in order to get married.”
“Well?” I prodded.
“Naturally, one horse has got to win that race,” said Jim. “And when the race is over, the tout rushes to the man he gave the winning horse to, and generally, the sap is so delighted, he gives the tout a ten spot. Or maybe more. I knew a tout once that used this old gag and the man he tipped off bought him a $2 ticket on the horse in gratitude. The horse won and paid $150 for the $2 ticket. Nobody was more amazed than the tout.”
“Jim,” I said reflectively, “that sounds to me like a real racket. It is merely telling a story, that’s all. You tell a story to six men. I bet you and I could make a nice thing out of touting. At last you can start making something out of the race tracks, which have been costing you plenty for years.”
“Touts,” explained Jimmie, “are a rather low grade of bums.”
“All the better,” I cried, “If two respectable-looking fellows like us went in for it, it would raise the standard of touting and we’d make a lot more money. We would be brokers, not touts. Just like the brokers, we would recommend certain investments in horses, and as the brokers make money out of the buying and selling of stocks, we would make our money out of the gifts of grateful people to whom we gave the right tip.”
“But you’d be giving the wrong tip,” cried Jim, “to half a dozen others!”
“Once,” I continued, “we have mastered the technique of race track touting, we can go into it on a larger scale.”
“I think we ought to look into ways and means of making easy money. Not for the money’s sake, but to loosen things up. The more we shake people loose from their money, the sooner money will start to circulate and hard times end. Let us go into this thing on good moral grounds.”
“All racketeers do,” said Jim. “Meanwhile, let’s go out of town to the races. Nobody would know us.”
“I could wear my yellow vest,” I pointed out. “It gives me a very horsey look.”
One Sportsman to Another
“By Jove,” cried Jim. “I’ve got it! You be the owner of a horse. I’ll speak to the saps and tell them that the gentleman with me, in the yellow vest, owns the horse. I’ll tell each one you own a different horse, see? You can be standing off a little to one side, keeping your mouth shut, with your mouth kind of clamped tight, and a beady look in your eyes, like horse owners have. And you can stand sort of gazing across the race track, as if you hadn’t a friend in the world, and didn’t want one. That’s the way horse owners look. And I’ll step aside in each case, borrow a match, and then tip him off that my friend, there, you, in the yellow vest, are about to clean up. It’s in the bag. It’s all arranged with the stewards and the jockeys and everybody. It’s your turn to win, see?”
“Jim, how perfect,” I said. “And people wouldn’t have the nerve to give you, the friend of the owner, a mere five spot.”
“I’ll laughingly tell them,” said Jim, “to buy me a ticket for the tip. One sportsman to another, you know. In that way, my dear boy, we will have a winner in every race.”
Thus we went out of town to the races.
My yellow vest, which I bought for beagling by mistake, certainly gave me a beautiful horsey look. I bought three cigars and hung my field glasses over my neck and threw a raincoat over my arm.
“You look like the Agha Khan himself,” cried Jim triumphantly, as he received me into his car for the drive.
The first race, we did no work, because Jim said it would be better if we just paraded up and down in the crowd, letting everybody have a good look at me, while he kept his eye peeled for saps. He could pick the saps out by the way they looked at me. If they gaped sort of respectfully at me, Jim knew they would be easy suckers.
“Boy,” he murmured to me, after we had made a couple of grand tours of the big lawn, crowded with race goers, “the place is full of saps. You ought to see the way they are gaping at you.”
“I notice it myself,” I said, removing the cigar and waving it about.
When the first race was over, and everybody dispersed after feeling their various disappointments, Jim started to work. He led me to the upper end of the lawn.
“Up here,” he said, “I saw a well-dressed guy that looked as if he had never been at a race in his life before. But his eyes were popping with excitement. And when he saw you, his mouth fell open.”
“Did he look as if he had money?” I inquired.
“No, he was one of those obscure, half shabby sort of men, who are the kind that carry $200 in their pocket all the time.”
“Find him,” I directed.
And it was no trouble finding him.
Moodily standing with one elbow on the picket fence, a gentleman of middle age was carefully studying his program. He was biting the end of a pencil and frowning.
As we drew near, I could see he was aware of us, and was watching us out of the corner of his eyes.
I stepped along the fence a little way, and Jim sauntered over to him to borrow the match. The gentleman gave Jimmie the match and then they started to converse. I could feel them both looking at me, and when I turned, waving my cigar, to stare boldly up at the grandstand, as if wondering how many fools were betting my horse to-day, I caught a quick glimpse of the man, who was listening wide-eyed to Jimmie. And he was staring straight at me with his mouth slightly open.
Acting Like an Owner
In a few minutes, Jim left him and came back to me. We started to walk along in search of more suckers.
“How did he take it?” I asked, out of the side of my mouth.
“Like a lamb,” said Jim. “He wanted to meet you, but I said you didn’t care to meet people. I explained you were the typical horse owner. But he’s going to bet and bet big. I laughingly told him he ought to buy me a two-dollar ticket for the tip.”
Time went fast. By the time the bugle went, to call the horses out for the next race, we had only got two more prospects, one of them a fellow who wanted to split a $2 bet with Jim, and another who just looked at Jimmie all the time Jim talked and never said a word one way or the other.
“Once we get on to this thing,” said Jim, “we can work faster. Anyway, there are only five horses in this race and we’ve got three of them planted.”
“It’s no good unless we have them all covered,” I pointed out.
“I know, I know,” said Jim.
We got a place back a bit where we could watch our contacts, especially the moody gentleman in the corner, the one who wanted to meet me.
The horses lined up. They were soon off. A race with one bet on it is exciting enough. But touts must get a great kick out of having six or seven bets in one race.
Jim cautioned me to show no excitement. Horse owners never get excited. They just stand stolidly, chewing their cigars and occasionally taking a brief glance through their field glasses. I did that.
“Paraboy, Paraboy wins,” shouted Jim.
That was the horse we gave to the gentleman down in the corner.
“Let’s go right down,” I said.
“No, no, I’ll take him oft to one side,” said Jim. “Because if you are the owner of Paraboy, you should be in the steward’s paddock in a minute, leading out your horse.
“Oh, oh,” said I, backing away.
Jim pushed through the crowd.
I saw him work his way to the corner.
I could not see the moody gentleman. He had suddenly vanished.
I saw Jim pushing rapidly back towards me through the slow moving and woe-begone throng.
“Did he skip?” I asked scornfully.
“Skip?” said Jim. “Look where I’m pointing.”
I looked. Jim was pointing into the winner’s paddock where they were unsaddling Paraboy.
“Why,” I said, “he’s in there.”
“Sure he’s in there,” said Jim. “He’s the owner of Paraboy!”
“Jimmie,” I said, “this yellow vest awfully hot. I think I’ll go around behind and take it off.”
“Better than that,” said Jim, “let’s get to heck out of here altogether.”
So we drove home along the lake, admiring the big homes and yachts of the gentry.
This story was reprinted in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).