Memoir of the Bookie’s Son
by Sidney Offit, St. Martin’s Press, 165 pages .
Buck Offit was a conventional father in Oriole Park, Baltimore, except that he took phone bets at the kitchen table, carried fat rolls of bills, routinely flushed scraps of paper down the toilet, and “spoke from the corners of his mouth in the diction of the underworld.” So writes his loving son Sidney in this luminous memoir of Depression-era Baltimore. Sidney’s mother stored shoeboxes of cash in the wall the way other housewives mothballed the family’s sweaters. One spring afternoon in 1934 Buck was beaten in front of his son by three men trying to drag him into a car: “I am aware of my father kicking and swinging and finally coming up with the lid to the garbage can. There is the metallic sound of the aluminum can rolling on the pavement and my father’s voice, ‘You take me, you take me dead.’”
“Parlay the winner” is how Sidney and his brothers explained their father’s occupation to friends, without understanding the phrase themselves. “I’m doing what I wanna do, Sid,” his father explained. Offit was disappointed to learn that his father wasn’t Gatsby or Rothstein, but Buck turns out to have been more honorable than they. He entered the business at the time of the crash and lived into the time of Off-Track Betting and legal casinos on reservations. In one of their last conversations, Sidney Offit finally asked his father for a tip, on the 1992 Belmont Stakes. “The price is right,” the old man said, prescient as ever. “Bet ‘Strike the Gold.’”