My Father was a Gambling Man

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

My father was the oldest of five children. They called him Izzy. His father, who liked the bottle a little too well, was not a good provider. Times were hard. Times were the Great Depression. There often wasn't enough to eat. Izzy would steal food from the pushcarts and bring it home to his mother. However, he had to fool not only the pushcart peddlers, but also his mother, because if she suspected it was stolen she wouldn't accept it.

His closest brother, my Uncle Gay, worked delivering telegraphs on his bicycle. (As an old man his knees were very painful, I suspect ruined from all that peddling.) Gay would hand over the money he earned to his brother Izzy, because Izzy knew what to do with the money, how to make it grow.

Izzy knew how to shoot craps. I'm not saying he could consistently beat the casinos, but he could consistently beat the other guys shooting dice on the streets. I myself never learned, but I think it's about probability: it's easier to shoot a 6 or 8 than it is to shoot a 5 or 9. Bet on the easier numbers.

Izzy made money in the army in World War Two, shooting craps and procuring items that were intended for officers farther down the supply line. His company was stationed on an island in the Pacific. They were on the beach. The airstrip was in the center of the island. Periodically they would go in a truck to pick up supplies from the airstrip warehouse: powdered potatoes, powdered milk, powdered eggs, dried meat... In the warehouse one day Izzy saw a box labeled "chicken". He hadn't seen chicken in a long time. So he put it on his shoulder and then onto the truck and then, just outside of camp, he put it off the truck. Retrieving it later and opening it up in their four-man tent, they discovered two-pound cans of boned chicken.

After a short interval the lieutenant noticed that Fialkoff's tent was not coming to mess, and if it was Fialkoff's tent, he knew who he had to speak to. Izzy denied everything. Then the lieutenant uttered a phrase which became a creed for Izzy and a motto around our house, "Izzy, if you've got something, you've got to share it." He was put in charge of getting supplies. Soon the company was dining on olives and cherries and all sorts of delicacies.

Some time later the order to move out came. The lieutenant was worried because of all the stolen food, boxes and boxes of it, that filled the tents. Izzy had the solution. They left their tents standing and simply took the folded tents of the company that was replacing them. The new guys had no complaints.

My Uncle Joe, who was in the submarines, told me a story of visiting his brother Izzy on leave at the enormous base at Subic Bay. Joe asked a random serviceman if he knew Izzy Fialkoff. "Sure I know that crap-shooting son of a bitch. Let me give him a call." Izzy told Joe to stay put and showed up in the captain's jeep 20 minutes later.

There are other stories about refusing to get on the ship bound for Australia for rest and relaxation, and arriving much faster by hitching rides on planes instead, and another about frozen steaks, but you get the picture.

My mother told me about dinner theater with Alan King in Atlantic City. King told a joke which was in three parts, with three punchlines, each of them "No shit." Then, continuing with his act, going into the next bit a ways, when King paused pregnantly Izzy called out "No shit" and brought down the house.

I can't say he was a good father across the board. He was very good in many ways and not good in others. He was a street-wise, wise-cracking guy who never graduated high school, who had a lot of very close friends and, by his own estimation, no enemies.

One day I met a grey-haired, black preacher, who, on learning my name, asked me, "What relation are you to Izzy Fialkoff?" I told him and he replied, "Your father got me my first church," and went on, "I just wish I had spent more time with him so that I could have learned more of what he knew." I understood without being told that my father had a house for sale that the preacher wanted to convert into a church. I imagined him asking the preacher if he had an hour or two free and then taking him down to city hall to resolve the zoning issues. I remember going to city hall with my father, this time of year, Christmas time, and passing out bottles of Crown Royal and boxes of chocolate. I remember a sheriff telling me, "Your father was one of the few landlords who realized that it was cheaper to pay a tenant to leave than it was to have him evicted." I remember...

Among other things, I admired my father's ability to hustle. I thought, you could drop him anywhere and he would land on his feet. Most basically, he could find a crap game and make his way from there.

This morning I went to the aguas thermales at Escondido Place. What a difference a hot soak makes after such cold nights. This time I stopped into the front office and spoke with the director about bartering free entrances for advertising in my Lokkal / SM Events. It turns out that they are planning to launch new projects. She was thrilled with my proposal. I started proposing free entrances for me and my girlfriend, but more than once she encouraged me to come with "friends," plural, and to use the spa facilities, not just the baths.

A retired corporate lawyer, a valued confidant, told me some time ago regarding my Lokkal / SM Events, "I hope you don't mind my saying so, but you made a business out of dirt." I came to San Miguel, landed on my feet and have been making my way since; as Sherlock said, "I'm still getting by on my wits."

Another trip around the sun, it's time for New Year resolutions, again. I resolve to feel my accomplishments more, even as I try to extend those. Feeling poor is no way to get rich. Like the farmer said when asked directions, "You can't get there from here." He meant that the direct road was so bad that only a tractor could take that, the shortest way. But I mean as it says somewhere in the Psalms,"Go from strength to strength."

More light, more warmth, more appreciation of how fortunate we are to be here in San Miguel.

Felices Fiestas and a Happy New Year.

**************


photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr David started his long publishing career as the editor of his prep school newspaper, which he immediately changed into a monthly magazine with feature length articles. He published nearly a million copies of a health magazine, Living Well. He moved to SMA six years ago this November and started publishing San Miguel Events six months later. Please visit his new project, the "new" Lokkal: www.lokkal.com/sma/magazine/2017/september/welcome.php

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