In early 1982, I was six years old and I knew how important money was. A new set of baseball cards had come out. There were toys to buy. Chocolate milk was ten cents more a carton than regular milk and mom only gave me money for regular milk. Jamie and I always wanted chocolate milk. We needed jobs.
We asked mom. “If you guys set and clear the table every night, and take out the trash, I’ll give you two dollars a week.” We thought we were rich. Two dollars bought four packs of cards and chocolate milk every day of the week.
“Ok, we’ll do it!” I said and held out my hand for the money.
“Oh no,” said mom, “you have to do the work first and then you get the money.”
The next morning I woke up early and went to get Jamie. He was out of bed when I went to his room. I saw the trash was full in the kitchen. I grabbed it and took it outside.
I walked around the outside of the garage and heard a whacking sound. I turned the corner and saw Jamie. He was hitting the side of the garage with a hammer.
“Look,” he said, “we can put holes in the garage wall if we swing it hard enough!”
I dropped the garbage. “Let me try!” I held out my hand for the hammer.
He pulled it back. “It’s my turn still. I just started.”
I watched him hit the wall two or three times and then saw Micki’s light turn on in the room. “Jamie, your mom’s awake.” He dropped the hammer and we ran inside.
“We were taking out the trash,” Jamie said. “Because that’s our chores, for two dollars a week.”
“Good,” said Micki, “let’s get ready to go, John Henry’s running today.” Micki loved John Henry. Every time he was running at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, we would go watch him. Santa Anita was our favorite. It had slides and bridges and ladders for kids to play on and a huge infield lawn where we could watch the horses and picnic.
Micki made the sandwiches and Jamie and I put the Capri-suns in the ice cooler. Baseball season was starting again. I was a Royal. Jean brought out the baseball gloves with a couple of trucks out. Micki got the ice out and put it in the cooler. She added some Pepsis for her and dad and put the bologna and salami sandwiches on top of the drinks. Dad came out with Jake and a bottle of sunblock. He set Jake down and grabbed the ice chest. “Everyone in the van,” he said and ran toward the front door. Dad was first to the van. We raced to be first. Jake lost the race, but we let him come anyway.
Santa Anita was a beautiful place. We would park in a giant lot and hold hands while we walked through a tunnel that smelled like cigarettes and old men and excitement. The tunnel opened onto the greenest, brightest lawn. We got there early and laid out our red plaid blanket and drank a Capri-sun.
Jamie and I ran to the slides before all the other kids got there and Micki called after us, “Wait for Jeannene.” I waved my hand to show that I heard her, but didn’t slow down. We climbed and slid and hid. As more and more kids arrived, we played huge hide and seek games. The only rule was that you had to be at least six-years-old to play.
After an hour or so, we heard the track announcer say, “The horses have now reached the starting gate.” We quit our game and Jamie and I climbed to he top of the highest slide just in time for the bell to ring.
“I pick number 3,” I said.
“I pick number 6,” Jamie said.
We always picked the same numbers. From up high, we could see the horses from far off. They ran hard. The jockeys were mean and hit the horses with sticks as they whirred by, beautiful and shiny. We couldn’t see the finish line from where we were so we slid down and ran back to our picnic spot.
“Who won,” we asked Micki. “The 6 horse,” she said.
Jamie jumped up and said, “Yes!”
Micki smiled. “I had that one too, I just won $14.”
I questioned her. “$14? Jamie picked the same horse and didn’t get any money. How do you win money for picking horses?”
She smiled. “I bet on it. Before the race starts, I go tell the number of the horse I want at that window,” she pointed to a bank of windows with bars on them and men behind the bars.
“You get to tell them which horse you think will win, and if it wins, they give you money?” I asked.
“Yes, sometimes it’s only two dollars you win, but sometimes it’s more than a hundred.”
“A hundred dollars!” My eyes lit up. I took Jamie aside. “Jamie, we should bet on the horses, too! Which one do you want to bet in the next race?”
“I want the 6 horse!”
“Good, I want the 3 horse. But maybe we should bet the rest of them to make sure we win.”
“Good idea. Let’s tell mom,” he said. We walked back over to Micki. “We’re going to bet every horse in the next race, so we can win money, too.”
She laughed at us. “Each horse you want to bet is $2. There are eleven horses in the next race. That’s $22 to bet them all.”
I pulled Jamie aside again. “Maybe we should each bet one horse this race.”
Jamie said, “But we don’t even have two dollars.”
I went back to Micki. “Micki, Jamie and I have jobs now and we get two dollars a week. Can we each borrow two dollars so we can bet a horse this next race?”
She smiled at us again. “Sure, which horse do you want?”
I picked the 3 horse and Jamie picked the 6 horse. She went to bet them for us and Jamie and I ran to the rail to see the horses walk by before the race. The 3 was dark and muscular with shiny eyes. The jockey had a light blue and white top on.
“Jamie, there’s my horse. What are you going to do with your hundred dollars?”
“Oh, I’ll probably go get a new baseball glove. And a new lunch box. And a new bike. What about you?”
“I’ll spend it all on baseball cards! The new, 1982 ones. And a hammer, so we don’t have to share.”
It took forever for the horses to get to the starting gate. My heart started beating fast. Instead of going up the ladder to see them far away, Jamie and I stood at the rail.
The bell rang and the track announcer began to call the horses’ names. We didn’t know the names of our horses so we waited for them to go by. We saw them coming towards us, kicking up dirt. I looked for the 3 as they flew by.
“Where’s the 3?” I asked Jamie.
“Where’s the 6?” Jamie asked me.
We ran back to Micki and dad. Micki had binoculars and was following the horses as they neared the finish line. “Come on! Come on!” she yelled. She pulled the binoculars down.
“Who won? Who won?” we asked her.
“I couldn’t tell,” she said. “Both the 3 and the 6 were up there. We’ll have to wait until they post the results. Look over at that board. It will show who won and how much it paid to win.”
Jamie and I stared at the board for two agonizing minutes. The numbers flashed up. 6 and then 3. We jumped up and down. “Yay! We both won!” We gave each other high fives. Next to the 6 horse was the price $36. There was no price next to the 3 horse.
“Dad, why is there a price next to Jamie’s horse, but not next to mine? Are there not enough spaces to show it when it’s over $100?”
“Jim,” dad said, “your horse came in second, you bet it to win. You don’t get any money when the horse comes in second.”
I looked at Jamie. “Good thing we’re sharing the winnings! Cause I’m good at math, I’ll divide. $18 for each of us!”
“What do you mean, we’re sharing?” Jamie laughed. “We never said we were sharing.”
I started to cry, thinking of all the work I was going to have to do for that $2 that I would never see.
Jamie asked, “Do you want to go play on the slides?”
“I think I want to play with Jean for a little while.” Jean’s eyes lit up and she grabbed the baseball gloves. Jamie got his, too, but neither of us would throw to him.
The day dragged on. We ate sandwiches and John Henry won. I had to watch as Micki handed Jamie his $36. We piled back in the van and drove home.
Mom was home by the time we got home. “Jimmy,” she asked, “are you hitting holes in the wall of the garage?”
I smiled. “Nope, that was Jamie!”
We all went out and looked at the wall. Micki made Jamie give dad the money he won to pay for the wall.
Mom saw the bag of trash sitting next to the trash can. “Jim, you have to put the trash in the trash can and it’s time to set the table.”
I thought about being two dollars in the hole and about the sunny day. Jamie was running to get his bike to ride.
I ran after him. “Ma, I quit,” I said over my shoulder and Jamie and I raced bikes all evening.