“Charlie” – The Misunderstood Curmudgeon

cur·mud·geon (\(ˌ)kər-ˈmə-jən\): noun

1.  a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.

2.  a difficult, cantankerous person.

SEE ALSO: “Charlie”

In my days of working behind the mutuals line at old Hialeah Park, there were always a handful of people that every clerk hated to deal with, but there was one in particular that everyone wanted to avoid at all costs – “Charlie”.

We all know the type – the painfully obnoxious curmudgeon that smites God and everything that gets in the way of his big winning ticket. Every track in the world has their own version of  “Charlie” …heck, every sports stadium, ballpark, and arena has at least one. My “Charlie” was a tough, 60 something year old guy from Brooklyn, New York, which was very evident by his thick accent and no-nonsense attitude.

Charlie was always one of the first to arrive each day, dressed in a muscle tee of some sort, cargo shorts that hit just above the knee, worn out tennis shoes with white tube socks, shoulder length gray scraggly hair, and thin wire framed glasses, with beady little eyes hiding behind them. Charlie was also one of the last to leave at the end of the day, as Hialeah Park was his only sanctuary… because he had been banned from every horse and dog track in the South Florida area from his crass, unfiltered behavior.

Charlie was fan of $1 super partials, playing that same wager at multiple tracks throughout the day, on nearly every race. Charlie could hardly keep up with his own wagers, and I think he got a kick out of calling them out fast, if only to give him a reason to smite you – and all of your ancestors. I mean this guy was NASTY with the venom he would spit with his words. This bothered most of us behind the line, and the other fans that had to listen to him. He would get the prices print out for every race and show anyone who would at least pretend to listen about how he “almost had it”.

Even when Charlie would having a winning ticket, he was still furious, and you didn’t dare congratulate him on his winning, as he’d fire back with something to the effect of “FOR WHAT?! I won $600, but have lost “millions” over the years!!” Our exasperated response being, “Alright pal, duly noted…”

After a while, Charlie didn’t bother me. Was he annoying? Absolutely, but over time I learned that he was also harmless and that Charlie and everything that he portrayed was all an act… a complete farce. What Charlie thrived on was the reaction of his audience. His whole point was to work you up and get under your skin, and for most people, that’s just what he did; but if you caught him ‘before the show started’ in the beginning of the day, he was actually a really nice guy with a very dry sense of humor.

I realized that Charlie was all bark and no bite.

From that point on, I not only began to tolerate Charlie, but he and I formed a “friendship” of sorts, although I don’t think he ever learned my name, always referring to me as “Little Girl” in a very Archie Bunker type of way.

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While Charlie was “hated” by nearly everyone at the track – hell, probably by everyone in South Florida – I found out that he was actually one of the most genuine (and entertaining) people that I had ever met. He would bring in pictures of himself from 40 years ago and would light up with the stories he would tell.  Oh, the stories… stories of his bookmaking past in New York…stories of how he had to flee from the FBI and leave his car underneath the Brooklyn bridge… stories of money buried in various spots throughout the burrows of New York…and my favorite…being late to his own wedding because he was too distracted with booking bets over the phone.  Honestly, it doesn’t get much more entertaining than that.

One thing you could always rely on was Charlie’s brutal honesty. I remember one day in particular, when I came to work wearing a striped polo shirt and tailored khaki slacks. Charlie took one look at me and said “You look like an under-qualified, wanna-be school teacher that failed the teaching exam. WHAT the hell are you wearing?!” I was hardly able to control my laughter, as the words spilled out of his mouth. It was that kind of brutal honesty and quick wit that made me appreciate Charlie.

Both fans and other tellers would give me a hard time for being “nice” to Charlie, but honestly I didn’t care. Charlie very evidently had nobody, except for his neighbors that he always talked so fondly of, and I was happy to entertain the old man’s act. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that my misunderstood curmudgeon friend is still ‘putting on his show’ at good ol’ Hialeah Park, as he will be until the end of time.

Article written by Liz Aiello

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