NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’ve discovered Palito’s Pizza. I’m also late to the party. They’ve been open in downtown Wausau for two months now. They serve authentic Italian, New York style pizza, and they sell it by the slice. It reminds me of my childhood in New York, and my first exposure to horse racing. Pizza and thoroughbreds have been enjoyable habits ever since.
In New York City, very few pizza parlors sell just pizza. The rents are too high. Most have some other illegal business taking place in the back room. Some deal drugs. Some run numbers. Some have card or crap games. Others are into gambling.
My Uncle Kenny from Queens was a part-time horse player and part-time pizza maker. The owner of the pizza shop he worked for was also a bookmaker, and took bets on sporting events and the horse races.
One day during summer vacation when I was 6-years-old, I was going to spend a day with Uncle Kenny learning how to make pizza. He was showing me how to toss the dough and how to spread the cheese, when the phone rang. A customer of the “other” business was placing a large bet. $1,000 on that day’s 8th race at Belmont Park.
The owner/bookmaker was angry. Some large bets are immediately considered suspicious. Four figures on a horse race is automatically in that category. A customer who wins too many of those bets will get kicked out by his bookie. Or will have the bookie’s mob ties deliver a warning about betting with inside information.
Reluctantly, the bet was accepted. The bookie spent next hour or so trying to spread the risk among other bookmakers. No takers, as this is another sign of a suspicious bet. As a last resort, the bookie decided to lay-off some of the money. He’d go to Belmont Park and bet most of the money on the same horse. If the horse won, his racetrack winnings would cover most of paying off his customer. If the horse lost, the bookie would lose his profits.
It was Uncle Kenny’s job to drive to Belmont and make the bet. “What about the kid?” he asked. “Take him with you,” the owner said. So off I went, with Uncle Kenny and a big wad of cash, to the horse races for the first time in my life.
I fell in love with the horses, the sights, the smells of the place, and later in life the thrills of picking winners and cashing tickets. A sunny afternoon at the racetrack is a joy of mine to this day.
I was very late getting home that afternoon, and my father was very upset when he heard where I’d been. I still couldn’t understand why Uncle Kenny was so happy that the horse he’d bet on lost.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
Two footnotes to the story:
Many years later, Uncle Kenny suffered a heart attack at the racetrack while waiting for the results of a photo finish to be posted. He won his bet, but the ambulance ride took most of his winnings.
Out of curiosity, I tried looking into the back room at Palito’s. The only thing coming out of there is very good pizza.