Do you believe in miracles?
I have this sneaking suspicion that all gamblers deep, deep down believe in miracles. I know I do. I have seen them happen on more than one occasion and when a miracle comes along, you know that for some reason you have been among the Chosen and you should definitely be counting your blessings.
This is the kind of story that Pink, Jade and some of my other regular readers who have rewarded this column with letters in the past will appreciate, and so I gladly share it with you.
I don't know where Meir Bram is these days. Meir owned a publishing company in Las Vegas that published adult magazines. You know, the kind that some retailers might hide behind the counter so no kids could get their hands or sight on one.
Meir was also a gambler. Not a penny ante one either. He had the money to be a high-roller and most of the casino management in Las Vegas knew him very well because of his action. He shot dice, played keno, bet on the horses and competed in some big cash poker games at casinos like the Bellago, Binion's Horseshoe, the old Gold Coast and The Orleans.
We met by chance in Miami. I had been working as a writer for a group of Miami Beach hotel owners who were trying to persuade Florida voters to pass an initiative that would permit casino gambling in Miami Beach. One of the backers of the initiative was Steven Muss who owned the famous Fontainebleau Hotel.
Muss and his fellow hotel owners poured millions into the campaign. We almost won the vote, but Florida's Bible Belt, with the financial help of the owners of DisneyWorld, nipped us at the wire. Muss, a billionaire from Brooklyn, wasn't bitter about the loss. A lot of people including myself lost good-paying jobs when the votes were tallied. We were given our severance pay and Muss threw a grand going away party for the staff, thanking all of us for our efforts.
The party was held at the Diplomat Hotel in Miami where our offices were located. That was where I met Meir Bram, a smallish man who had the face of Charles Bronson, the actor, and guts of steel. He was vacationing in Miami and wanted to meet Muss to express his condolences for the failed effort.
Over a glass of expensive champagne -- Muss never spared the cash when he wanted to impress somebody -- Bram said, 'Casino gambling in Miami Beach would have been a good thing. It will come some day, but the voters aren't ready for it yet. Steve tells me you are a good writer. How would you like a good job in Las Vegas?'
Since I had no other plans, I listened to his spiel. He said he was planning to start up a new magazine, an adult publication for blue-collar workers, and he needed an editor. We agreed on a salary, shook hands, and set up a meeting in Las Vegas.
I showed up for the meeting on time as schedued. Meir didn't.
His attractive secretary at the publishing house on Industrial Boulevard was sympathetic to me and quite apologetic. Meir, it seemed, had gotten caught up in another business deal and his trip back to Las Vegas had been delayed.
'I don't know when he will get back,' she confessed. 'All I can do is deliver your message to him when he calls. I'm sure it will be soon.'
To make a long story short, the new magazine did not develop. Some financial backers who had shown an interest in funding the publication had changed their minds and Bram simply could not afford to start up the new enterprise.
So there I was in a motel room in downtown Las Vegas, short of cash, and wondering about my future.
Las Vegas can be a very lonely town for a guy short on money. I began walking around the city to save bus fare -- yes, dear readers, I was that broke -- looking for a job at one of the many gambling and entertainment publications that flourish in Las Vegas.
As I walked along the Strip -- and it was hot -- I saw an old man stretched out on the grass next to a concrete abutment. He had a beard, was glassy-eyed and was surrounded by empty wine and beer bottles.
A derelect, I thought. Poor guy. He's homeless. I tried to walk past him, but a voice in my head told me to go back. Almost against my will, I did and dropped a couple of dollars in his hand.
Lamely, I said, 'I came back.'
His trembling hand took the money. Eyes closed, he nodded his thanks and whispered, 'Bless you.'
I walked down to Binion's Horseshoe which was about a mile away. I was really terribly short of cash. My rent was due that day and I didn't have enough money to pay it. So I did what all gamblers do when they are in a crunch. I went for broke.
Grabbing a Daily Racing Form, I did the quickest job of handicapping horses that I had ever attempted. The first race at Santa Anita Park was less than 30 minutes away. I handicapped eight races for the track's Place Pick All bet, a wager where you have to select horses in every race to finish first or second. It's a long shot at best -- tougher to hit than the Pick Six -- but I managed to get my bet in one minute short of post time.
And hit it.
My horses came in miraculously race after race. In one race, my two selections finished first and second, giving me two tickets in the pool. When the last race was finished, I had two tickets worth $6,200 each for a total of $12,400.
As I collected the money, I thought about the old man on the Strip, the homeless destitute guy. A strange feeling that I still cannot explain swept over me. I hurried to the street, my pockets bulging with cash, and hailed a taxicab.
'Take me down the Strip,' I ordered the driver. 'Fast.'
He drove me to the area near between Stupak's World and the Riviera where I had seen the man lying on the grass. I could not find him. Not only was he not there, the grass had been cleaned of all the empty wine and beer bottles. It was like the man had never existed.
And then I remembered what he looked like. What had drawn me to him in the first place. The beard, the mouth, the face completed the portrait of the Man of Peace.
'I don't know where you are, Lord,' I prayed as we drove back to the Horseshoe. 'But thanks for the blessing.'