|The Wrong Track (A Short Story)|
|September 22, 1997|
Hey faithful Whack readers! Here's a little change of pace. It's a short story I recently wrote. Formerly Feff World had a separate place for things like this, but since we no longer, then I guess it has to go in the Whack. I hope you enjoy it.
The Wrong Track
"We're pathetic." Dustin thought out loud. "What do you mean?" His friend Chris replied. "I mean this is the seventh time we're going to the track this summer." "So, we like the track. If we didn't like it, we wouldn't come back all the time." "Yeah, but we never win anything. All we do is lose lose lose." "Well that only means that we're due for a winning streak. Nobody wins before they endure some losing first." "Yeah but then we'll only break even at best. I really think that we're getting addicted to this thing." "Addiction? No way. Just because you like doing something doesn't mean you're addicted. I like Mountain Dew, I drink it all the time, but that doesn't mean I'm addicted to it." "Well this is different from soda. We're talking about gambling." "Forget about it Dust, we're not addicted, the only reason we go is because it's fun, and there's nothing else to do on a Wednesday night." "Maybe so... maybe so." The two friends continued driving east towards their destination. In the driver seat was Chris Barchetto. Eighteen years old, tall, skinny, blue eyes, crew cut blonde hair, he was dressed like he was trying to impress somebody. In the passenger seat was Dustin Glenn. Nineteen, short, stocky, half green, half bloodshot eyes, short brown hair pointing out in every direction, he was dressed like he forgot to bring anything to change out of his work clothes. It was a Wednesday night in July. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun still had not set yet. "Hey, I think you're a little close to that car." Dustin accused Chris. "Don't worry about it, I got plenty of room." Chris defended himself. "Don't tell me not to worry about it, you're driving my car." "Oh please, like it would be a big lost if your Plymouth bomb got into an accident." "It's not a bomb. This car runs fine. All it needs is a little transmission work." "No way. This boat is on it's way out. Why don't you just get a new car?" "I don't need a new car. This car only has a hundred thousand miles on it, that's pretty good for a ten year old car. It should last me at least three more years until I'm out of college. And even if I wanted a new car, I wouldn't be able to afford it." "Sure you would. You make more than I do at ShopRite. And what about all the money you put in the bank?" "I put it in there for a reason. I still want it there when I graduate so I can be able to afford an apartment and what not. I don't want to be stuck living at home any longer than I have to." "I don't blame you, with your mom. I'm thinking about buying a new car though." "How the hell can you afford one?" "I figure with a loan, and insurance, it shouldn't be much more than four hundred a month, and I make over twice that at ShopRite." "Yeah but then you're going to become a slave to that job. No matter how much you hate it, you will be forced to stay there because of your new car. And are you still going to work when you go to college?" "Yeah I would have to." "That's just great. You think you're going to be able juggle work and college? It's not like high school you know. You can't just sleep your way through it, you actually have to work." "I know. And it's not like I'm going to a real college like you. It's only County." "So, County can be just as tough as any college. Just promise me that you'll put school first, above working to pay for some car." "I guess." "You better, because a college education will get you a whole lot further than any new car." With that a lull in the conversation ensued. To drown out the silence, Chris raised the volume on the radio. Chris continued driving, concentrating on nothing but the car directly in front of him. Dustin continued thinking, concentrating on nothing but the cars a mile ahead of them. "Lower that radio. I hate how you play the same crap all the time." Dustin commanded to his friend. "Hey, I like it." Chris explained. "Whatever... look, there it is." "There what is?" "New York City, the Manhattan skyline!" "So, we see it all the time when we go to the Meadowlands. You never said anything about it before." "I guess I just noticed it more because the sky is so clear. Don't you think it looks great?" "I guess." "I always thought it would be cool to work in the city and become famous and stuff." "Famous? You? Doing what?" "I don't know, I haven't figured that part out yet. But whatever I do, I'm going to do it all out. And people are going to know my name, and I won't be able to walk down Times Square without people rushing to get my autograph." "Ha!! You must be joking." "No way man, I'm serious, I want to take over that city." "Well maybe they have some spare tanks at Picattiny that you can use." "Not that way idiot. You know what I mean Chris." "Yeah I know what you mean. I think my father is right about you Dust, you're a dreamer." "There isn't anything wrong with that. Don't you have any dreams?" "What do you mean?" "You know man, dreams. What are your fantasies? What do you want out of life? Where do you want to be five... ten... twenty... FIFTY years from now?" "I don't know. I guess I never really think about stuff like that." "Well you don't want to end up working at ShopRite your whole life, do you?" "My father and Moochie have been working there their whole lives and they seem to be happy. They make pretty good money, it can't be all that bad." "Sure it can be done, but is that what you want to do with your life, stock produce until you die? And I work with your father back in the deli, and yeah he's happy and makes some good money, but I guarantee there's not a day that goes by when he doesn't regret leaving school to go work there full time. He realizes that he's nearly fifty years old, and all he can say about his life is that he is an over glorified bologna cutter. Trust me, he doesn't want you to fall into the same trap." "Whatever." "Don't whatever me man. You got to have dreams. Life's too short to waste it at ShopRite." "Well right now I only have two dreams, and that's for you to shut up, and for me to win some money tonight." The conversation and the drive were quickly put to an end as they pulled into the parking lot of their destination: The Big M - Meadowlands Racetrack. Live harness racing in the shadows of the Manhattan skyline; who could imagine a better way for two teenagers to spend a Wednesday night? "Do you still have the free passes that we got from Dave the Thuman's guy?" Chris asked. "Of course, he gave us each about ten of them. What do you think I used them all up without you?" Dustin retorted. "No, I was just making sure. You don't have to jump all over me." "Well sorry." "That's ok, just remember that we have to go through the gate all the way at the left. The one that is just for people with passes." "I know, I know. I feel so cool using a free pass, like I'm some big shot who comes here all the time." "Well we come here all the time, but I wouldn't exactly call us big shots." "True, but at least we have something to strive for." "Yeah... Oh by the way, can you cover me for a program Dust? I don't have any singles and I don't want to break a twenty until I start betting." "Man you are so one-way, always got the palm out for a handout. Do you want a pencil too?" "No way! I brought my own pen, I'm not going to waste a quarter on a lousy pencil." "Oh twenty five cents! God forbid! You're such a Jew. Chris Barchetto-stein." "Shut up." The habit was always the same for them. Walk in, buy a two-dollar program, and walk upstairs and sit on the floor facing the electronic odds board. They were now ready to each begin their own unique form of handicapping. "How many minutes to post?" Chris asked. "Well it's not until 7:30, so we still got like twenty minutes. We got here so early since you drive like such a mad man." Dustin answered. "It's better than you putting along like a grandma." "Hey, it's safer that way." "Whatever. So who do you like this race? Anybody stick out?" "I don't know, I haven't looked yet." "Well Lachance is riding the number eight, Bye Bye Schatzi." "What are the odds?" "Right now it's 20-1." "Well it's still early, let's give it some more time." The two waited anxiously, dividing their attention between the flashing odds board, constantly changing with updates, and the program. Back and forth. Odds board, program, odds board, program. Eventually it ticked down to only five minutes left to post. "I can't believe number eight is down to 3-1!" Chris exclaimed. "Yeah, something's fishy." Dustin commented. "It can't just be because Lachance is on it. Sure he's the best jockey, but he's not God. There must be something going down that we don't know about it." "I don't know, I'm always hesitant betting on any horse coming out of the eighth post. It's so hard to overcome that." "Why, who do you like?" "I think I'm leaning towards the number three, Mystical Mover." "O'Donnell is on that one, right?" "Yeah, he's not the greatest, but the horse is taking a drop in class and I think he should be able to flourish with this bunch." "What are the odds?" "2-1. It won't pay much, but I just have a good feeling about it." "Yeah I think I'm beginning to like the three too. I may just put together an exacta box with the three, the eight, and I'll throw in number five since Campbell is on it." "Sounds good, I'll probably just go across the board on the three." "Whatever, but we better bet soon before the lines get too long, or we may miss the post." The two friends got on line with their programs open, and their cash ready. Both of them were convinced that they had a sure bet, and were eager to draw some blood early on in the evening. "I hate going to a woman teller." Dustin commented as he grasped his betting slip tightly in his right hand. "Why's that?" Chris inquired. "It's just the way they look at you, all disapproving like they're your mom or grandmother. I help pay their salary, they should be kissing my ass." "I think it's just your guilty conscience." "No way man, I don't feel guilty for what I do. I'm over eighteen, it's all legal." "Whatever, let's just get outside before the race starts." "Yeah, we got to get our lucky spot." Down the stairs the two quickly hurried. Then they both went outside into the grandstand area, and stood by their usual spot at the fence near the finishing line. "How come there are never any babes here?" Chris pondered. "Because this is the track, the only women here all smoke cigars." Dustin replied. "Man I wouldn't want that kissing me." "That's true. But why'd you bring it up? You planning on picking someone up at the track? I was wondering who you were trying to impress with your nice Polo shirt, gold chain, and shiny silver watch." "Yeah right, a boy can't dress nice without his friend thinking he's out to get chicks." "You know I'm right. And isn't that the watch that Sarah got for you?" "Yeah, so?" "So your girlfriend gets you a watch, you break up with her, and now you're using the watch to pick up other girls." "What's wrong with that, she gave the watch to me, it's now my watch, I can do whatever I want to do with it." "Yeah, but it's just so tacky." "Your just jealous because you won't be picking up anybody with your messed up hair, dirty dockers, and smelly-ass shirt reeking like some sort of cheese." "Well I didn't come here to pick up anybody. I'm here strictly for business. And my business is about to begin because here comes the horses." The moment of truth finally arrived as the horses trotted past the starting line, pulling the harness and jockey close behind. "Dammit, look it the number eight jumping right out in front! He's never going to be able to keep that up." Chris exclaimed. "Lachance must have overcompensated for having the outside post." Dustin explained. "Lachance blows! He's so overrated. Why do I always bet on him?" "Because he always wins when you don't bet on him." "True, but at least I still got the number three and five, they seem to be hanging somewhere in the middle." "Yeah, I've been keeping an eye on the three, it's kind of near the back of the pack. I guess O'Donnell is just waiting patiently to make his move." "Here comes the five, Campbell is pulling away with it." "Yeah eight is still hanging strong in second though, maybe Lachance can keep it there for you. I just want to know what O'Donnell is waiting for." "There they go around the third turn. Five and eight are still first and second, and the number two is in third." "Whoa, the two just broke stride. Who's riding him Chris?" "Ouellette. I considered betting him, good thing I stayed away." "Well here they come around the final turn." "Five and Eight are still looking strong, they just have to stay strong down the stretch." "Damn! It looks like the three is boxed out by the six and one." "Come on five!! Bring him home Campbell!" "Get out of there O'Donnell! Find room to make your move!" "Let's go five-eight! Let's do it five-eight!" "There's no room! He's stuck there." "Come on five-eight! Oh shit, where the hell did the four horse come from?" "Look at that four smoke up down the outside!" "Come on!! Five-eight! Five-eight! Five-eight! SHIT!!!!" "I don't know, I saw four-five-eight, or five-four-eight, either way we both lost." "Yeah the four nipped him Dust. I just want to know where the hell he came from." "Who was riding him?" "Manzi. I hate the damn Cat Man." "And that horse was fifteen to one. I would have loved to have a piece of that." "It's fixed. I'm telling you it's fixed. You saw it Dust. Cat Man was whipping the hell out of his horse, and Campbell was pulling back on the reigns. Don't give me that leverage bull shit, how do you expect to win a race if you're pulling back on a horse?" "Yeah, what can we do?" "There's only one thing to do, start concentrating on the second race." "Who do you like early on?" "I don't know, let's go back upstairs and watch the odds board." Dustin and Chris went back upstairs where they continued their cycle. After the second race, they did it again, and then again, and then again, until all ten races went buy. When the dust settled over the racetrack, Dustin exited minus ninety less dollars, and Chris a hundred and twenty. To your average big time bettor that was peanuts, but to Chris and Dustin, it was a major blow. Defeated, they both walked out to the parking lot with their heads down. "Do you know how many hours I have to work to earn back that ninety dollars?" Dustin asked. "Not nearly as many as I do to earn back a hundred twenty." Chris answered. "So, you're used to losing that much money, you do it all the time." "What, you never lost before?" "Yeah, but they were always small loses, no more than forty bucks." "Well who told you to bet so much tonight?" "I don't know, I guess I just kept thinking that this was going to be the race that I win my money back. So I would just wager a little more each race trying to win a little more back, and before I knew it, I was all out of races, all out of chances, and all out of money." "You're addicted Dust." "I'M NOT ADDICTED!!!" "Bull shit man. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. You're addicted man." "You're worst then I am though." "No, because I realize the risk involved. I realize that the deck is stacked against me. I realize that I will never be able to regain all that I have lost. Not you though. You somehow think that you can beat the system. You somehow think you can finish on top. But you can't. The game is specifically set up to prevent that from happening." "Why do we play then?" "Because we have to." "What do you mean?" "I mean this is what it's all about Dust. You go, you bet on a few horses, you take a few chances, but just as long as you have fun and remember that it is nothing more than a game." "But it's no fun losing ninety dollars." "That's because you expect to win ninety dollars. You go in there with such unrealistic and high expectations, that you are only setting yourself up for a big failure. It's kind of like you and the skyline." "What about the skyline?" "When you see the skyline you dream of one day being this famous guy that everybody knows." "Yeah, so" "So you're setting yourself up for a disappointment. What if only half the city ends knowing who the hell you are? Then in your eyes you're a failure. If half the city knew who I was, I would consider myself a huge success." "Are you saying that we shouldn't have dreams?" "No, you can have dreams, but just as long as they don't deter from your happiness. You got to realize that the odds are against you. It's a big gamble, and very few win in the end. But if you understand that, you'll still be able to survive even if you do lose. I have dreams, but I know that if I do get stuck working at ShopRite my whole life, I'd still be able to be happy with my life. You wouldn't though." "You're damn right I wouldn't! I refuse to have such low expectations for my life. I'm going to always aim high, and I'm going to do it man. I rather have a miserable life trying to fulfill all my dreams, than a happy one without meaning, without future, and without hope." "You're a dreamer Dust, and your dreams are taking you down the wrong track." "Well it's my track, the track I choose." The ride home was a silent one. They didn't even turn on the radio. They just sat there silently, thinking. Nothing more could be said, it already was out in the open. They would see each other in work the next day, and probably play it off like nothing happened. And they also probably would be back at the track before long. It's just something that they did. But for now they were just silent. Chris was staring at nothing but the car in front of him, and Dustin was staring at the side view mirror, watching the Manhattan skyline slowly disappear out of sight.