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LUCK BE A LADY!/ Anthony Caputi HE COULD NEVER decide if he was a gambler pretending to be an accountant or an accountant pretending to be a gambler. To be a gambler you had to make your living by betting, and he didn't. To be an accountant you were supposed to be a model of pecuniary conservatism, and he wasn't. Most of his friends thought the scale tipped in favor of accountant. Unlike most gamblers he had never had great swings of fortune, from storybook winnings to losses taking you over your head into debt, and Uke an accountant he was careful, cautious even—too cautious, some might say, to be a gambler. But he didn't agree. In fact, he saw no great distance between the two, particularly if you excluded from gambling the games of pure chance. His favorite games, poker and horse racing, were affairs of the mind, after aU, exercises in calculation, Uke accountancy, games to be won by the judicious. Oh, he was familiar with those who thought differently, those bright-eyed occasional players who were aU zany superstition, who now and then had staggering successes, but who lost most of the time, griping all the way about bad luck, sometimes punching out door panels and abusing their girl friends. But the players he admired were smart, shrewd assessors of probability, instinctive card-counters, ingenious readers of the Racing Form, and canny judges of character and fitness. They were the players who usually won. What set him off from these good players was that they were often lucky—or so he thought. In the Tuesday and Friday poker games the golden cards fell to them with heart-tightening frequency, straights and three-of-a-kind, flushes and full boats, and even paltry pairs when such were sufficient to win. To them at the racetrack fell the majority of photo finishes and foul claims. When a horse went wide, it was usually to let theirs sneak through on the raU to a tight victory. When a jockey lost his whip, or a horse stumbled coming out of the gate, or a horse ran greenly and interfered with others, it was often to make the difference that enabled them to win. Over months and years he looked on in silence, bemused, sometimes spellbound, as if observing the conclusion of some magical romance. Of course even they called it luck as they rolled their eyes toward heaven and beamed a tight smile The Missouri Review · 249 of embarrassment, and then checked their tickets before going to the pay-off windows. But he knew better than that. To be lucky was not simply to have things go your way, but to feel that they would, to know in some mellow chamber deep in your breast that you would fill the straight or would win the photo finish. The event itself merely confirmed this welling euphoria. To be lucky was to know that you were one of the favored, like Jacob in the Old Testament, that the dialect of your mind was the dialect nature was speaking, that your instincts were reflexes in sync with the universe. Or so he imagined, because he knew all this only by negation, by his not having experienced it. What he really knew was what it meant not to feel lucky, to feel that you were not one of the favored, not Jacob but a younger brother to Job, less oppressed because programmed for nothing extraordinary. It was to know you would not fill the flush, to know even as you raised with a full house that your adversary had an impossible four of a kind. It was to feel that you knew the language but not the dialect, that your instincts would betray you, that the little voice saying "Bet it all" was lying, that somewhere someone was laughing. His life as the gambler-he-wasn't was a marathon wrestling match with this evil genius. He fought it with the patience and discipline of a monk as well as the shrewdness and caution of a banker. And he succeeded, or seemed to, if hovering near even could be called succeeding...


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