BOOK EXCERPT - "One Tough Tailor"
The racing business isn’t what it seems to be on television. Every year millions of people watch the Kentucky Derby, and get the impression racing is all about Arab sheiks, sports magnates, and fools playing dress-up with dumb hats and silly drinks. But in point-of-fact, racing is gambling, and gambling is a dirty business populated by desperate degenerates, violent mobsters, and corrupt officials.
Horse racing isn’t for wimps. If you aren’t a tough son-of-a-bitch they’ll eat you alive. People think football players are tough, and sure one three-hundred-and-eighty-pound gorilla hitting another three-hundred-pound ape isn’t fun. But how about a dozen, hundred-and-eighteen pound lightweights riding half-ton animals at forty miles an hour all while bumping and jostling; all the while getting hit in the face by track debris, an experience akin to being stoned by a mob of anger zealots.
Horse racing like most things in life is about survival… survival of the fittest. Now you may be thinking, how the hell can a five-foot-nothing, lightweight with size four boots be considered the fittest, and that’s what people don’t understand. Jockeys are tough little men, but just because you’re tough doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt and even killed. You got to be tough, but you also have to be smart.
The thing is everyone’s dirty but not everyone is dishonest. There is such a thing as an honest thief: if you do what you say you’ll do and keep your mouth shut about it then you’re honest, even if you’re a little bent. An FBI friend of Ronny’s once told him they’d never catch any bad guys if the criminals could only keep their mouths’ shut. Criminals just can’t do it, and eventually it catches up to them.
Ronny had integrity. He did what he had to do to survive and feed his family, but he had standards. If you were straight with him, he’d be straight with you. If you screwed him, watch the fuck out. And Ronny kept his mouth shut. When his racing days were over, he was offered a job as a track steward. He turned it down. He had no intention of screwing his friends and fellow riders even if it meant giving up a cushy job. That’s integrity.
Being a tough guy doesn’t come naturally; it’s something that grows out of necessity and experience. Ronny was the son of a concentration camp survivor. Not every survivor was willing to talk about his or her experiences but occasionally Ronny’s father would provide a glimpse into the bad old days. The memories were usually way too horrific to dredge up.
Although Ronny never got along with his father, he did occasionally get an insight into what his father went through. Most non-Jews don’t get it. The holocaust traumatized generations and instilled in every Jew a survival-at-all-costs attitude that still exists today.
One day Ronny’s dad asked him if he knew the story of their neighbor Yitzchak? Yitzchak like Ronny’s father was also a survivor. If you wanted to survive in the camps you had to have a skill the Commandant thought was worthy of keeping you out of the gas chambers.
Ronny’s father was a shoemaker and the SS officers liked their boots. Ronny’s neighbor, Yitzchak, was a tailor, and the Commandant, like a lot of Nazi officers, had a uniform fetish. Everything had to be perfect: every button sewn tight and every stitch sewn straight.
At some point, everybody reaches their limit. Yitzchak had all he could take. He didn’t care anymore. He was prepared to die. He stops working, sits back in his stool, and glares at the sewing machine like it was contagious or something. After a few minutes, he stands up and slowly walks outside. Everybody is too fucking scared to stop him. He marches right up to the SS guard standing in the doorway, plants himself in front of his face, looks at him, and spits right in his eye.
The guard starts yelling obscenities in German. He pulls out his handgun and shoves it into Yitzchak’s forehead. The louder the obscenities, the tighter he presses on the trigger, but Yitzchak doesn’t move. And then… the guard stops. Silence. Behind him is the camp Commandant, with his Luger jammed into the back of the guard’s head.
“You pull that trigger, and I’ll blow your fucking head off. This man is more valuable than some country-bumpkin guard. You have no idea how hard it is to find a decent tailor.”
Yitzchak doesn’t say a word, he just turns around and goes back to the shed and starts working. Everyday until the Americans show up Yitzchak would stop working, march himself up to this guard, spit in his face, turn around, and go back to work.
This was one tough tailor.
It’s a lesson Ronny learned well. You want to survive in this world you’ve got to be a tough son-of-a-bitch.