1988: The Ponies

I brush my little pony’s rainbow colored mane as Dad drives. I trace the plush velvety maroon interior of our white Oldsmobile with my index finger.

I love this car but dad said, “That son of a bitch who sold us this goddamn car ripped me off. I oughtta go and give him a piece of my mind. Motherfucking diesel engine. Nobody makes a fool of Thomas.”

Suddenly, as I peer over the dash, we are headed toward South Street. There’s only two things on South Street. Dirty John’s Hot Dog Restaurant, and Off Track Betting.

“Dad! No! We’re going to OTB today?” I let this slip out almost forgetting the spanking he will give me.

“No, no. Don’t get all excited my child. Daddy’s just got to go see a man about a horse.”

I sigh, relieved, I keep brushing my pony’s pink mane.

When I look up, Dad backs into his usual spot at the OTB parking lot.

He shoots me a crooked grin. “See Daddy never lies. I told you, we’re going to see a man about a horse.”

I leave my toys in the car. I don’t want them smelling like cigarette smoke too.

Dad runs over to the Belmont track sheets. His favorite. He looks at the Daily Double. I hate the Double. It means we will be here for hours.

“Jenny I think Daddy’s gonna bet 4-2 for the late double. What do you think? You know my favorite numbers are Deborah Brown, 4 and 2.”

Utterly bored, I stare at the design in the plush rug. A series of overlapping octagons. Immediately I begin to count the patterned shapes. 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24…

When I turn around, I see Dad at the counter placing the bet. Finally!

“Yeah, Hi Joanne, I’d like to bet $20 on 4 and 2 for the late double at Belmont.”

$20?! Just bet the $5 ones.

 While we wait for the race, I sit on a tangerine orange wooden bench. I turn over a racing sheet and begin to draw what I see. A wall socket, and large screen TV. Boring. Wait maybe you can design you dream house? The one you are going to live in someday!

I grab a track sheet and flip it over. Which room first? The Bedroom. I draw a heart-shaped bed in the middle of the room. I admire my design. You know no one else will ever have a heart shaped bed. You’re special. It suits you.

I overhear Dad talking to old Joe. He asks my Father, “Hey, Tom, got any good bets in today?”

Dad replies reluctantly, “Just a late double.”

Joe nods his head, “Nice. You box ‘em?”

“Fuck no, Joe. I’m not like you idiots. I don’t spend $40 boxing every horse in the race with the favorite so I can win $5, or lose $35.”

Joe doesn’t ask any more questions after this. He just glances down at his heavily marked race sheets.

I don’t really understand the odds. I know that low numbers are bad because they don’t pay a lot.

As I glance to my right, Tony the Greek stands right beside me. He and my Father greet each other warmly. Tony is Dad’s favorite of all the OTB guys.

Tony pulls a dollar bill out of his wallet and hands it to me. I take it very shyly.

“Thank you.”

Dad boasts, “Tony, you’re a good man. A real Greek just like me. You always give my daughter a dollar every time you see her.”

“Well, yes Tom. No need to thank me. She’s a good girl, your Jenny. She’s a good Greek too. She’s fair but Greek through and through.”

What do they mean? How can they tell I’m Greek? How do you know what anybody is?

When the race starts the guys gather round the largest screen in the place. Their smoke clouds seem to linger in their former positions.

All the betters yell in unison “Come on Winning Colors, come on!!!” They chant this over and over again until I become dizzy with the deafening sound and the fumes fill my lungs.

Fuck these crazy bastards! I wish this whole damn place would blow up.

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1987: First Hair Cut

“Jenny, Daddy’s got to go get a hair cut. Look at me. I look like a friggen wild man. Ugh. Well it’s kind of difficult to get your hair cut when you work sixteen-hour days in the kitchen. And my hair grows too fast. Every two weeks I need a cut!”

Dad says this to me as he looks in the mirror and holds chunks of his hair straight up in the air.

“Well, Daddy’s exhausted. I’m going to take a quick half hour nap here on my break. You okay?”

I say yes by glancing up at him.

“Good. Just play with your toys while Daddy rests.”

While Dad snores, I comb my favorite My Little Pony’s mane. She’s pink with a rainbow painted on her rump.

After a few minutes, I begin to worry about Dad’s problem. Maybe he won’t yell so much if you can cut his hair for him…

Usually Dad’s favorite barber has “The Three Stooges” playing on small television in the waiting area. But sometimes, I watch barber Joe instead. You can do it. Just like barber Joe.

I sneak into the kitchen to look for scissors. I see a big pair with orange handles in the junk drawer.

I hesitate while I watch Dad’s head hangs over the corner of the bed. This won’t be hard. You just squeeze the hair between your fingers and cut it with the scissors.

 I work slowly not to wake him. I like cutting hair. Daddy is going to be so happy when he wakes up.

 After I’m finished, I admire my work. Then I put the scissors back in the drawer. “Jenny always put everything back in its proper place. Every time! Do you hear Daddy?”

 Dad starts to wake up, but he’s still groggy. I clench my rainbow pony and wait patiently for Daddy to notice my work.

He walks to the bathroom. “Holy shit. Mother Fucker. Jennnyyyyyy!!! What did you do to Poppa’s hair?!”

He doesn’t like it?!

 Confused, I say, “I cut it for you so you didn’t have to go to the barber.”

I cower waiting for him to spank me.

But instead he starts laughing, uproariously.

“Ahh shit, you’re a funny little girl, Jenny Leigh. Poppa didn’t know I was going to get a haircut that soon. And even though I have a few bald spots, I guess you did a pretty good job for a five year old kid.”

He tilts his head from side to side as he examines the bald patches, “Fuck it, it’s only hair. It’ll grow back.”

Pheww!

 “Oh and Jenny, since you did such a good job, why should Daddy waste $8 getting a haircut at the barber shop. You might as well do it from now on!”