Rascals and Rogues: Max the Bookie

Vincent-Street between East-6th and 9th-  aka Short-VincentCourtesy of Wetzler's StudiosVincent-Street between East-6th and 9th- aka Short-Vincent

During my travels, adventures and travails in 1950s and 1960s Cleveland, I got to know a quite few people who fit into the categories of “Rascal” and “Rogue” very well. Let me tell you about some of the most interesting ones who could be found mostly on Short Vincent in those days.

Max the Bookie
Funny, I don’t think I ever knew Max’s last name. He was regular customer of Roy Jones, a shoe shine beloved by his customers, and was in the French Shriner Shoes store on Euclid Avenue at least a couple of times every week. I got to know him pretty well, and he liked me in kind of a fatherly way. 

Max told me that he would never take a bet from me. He said, “Betting is for suckers.”  I don’t think he minded taking bets from all the other “suckers” who were his clientele because they made him pretty comfortable, financially. 

I never did any betting anyway because it didn’t seem to be very good investment. A lot people that I knew did bet and they didn’t seem to get a payoff very often. 

I did get involved in one thing that I don’t think was a crime but did involve a blessing from lady luck. 

During baseball season a thing called a “thirteen run pool” was very popular. It was very simple. Here is how it worked: Before the season started pieces of paper with the name of each team in the American and National Leagues were placed in a box and every participant of the pool would draw piece of the paper and the name on the paper would indicate his team for the entire season. 

Each participant would then put in a dollar a week. The payoff was simple; if your team would score exactly 13 runs in one game you won the contents of the pool.

It was simple for the winner but not as simple for the person who ran the pool. That person had to collect the dollars from the participants, keep track of who paid and who didn’t pay, and take care of the pool money. 

My cousin started the pool but got tired of all that went with it and asked me to take it over. I did, and I didn’t mind doing it, but something strange happened. 

I won the pool an embarrassing number of times. 

It didn’t seem kosher for the person who ran the pool to win so many times. Sometimes the pot got up to over $200. Once when I won, I just gave the winnings to Roy, my shoeshine guy.

Max was a visitor to my store very often but never conducted his business there.  Like I said, he did most of his business over the cigarette machine at the Tasty Burger on Short Vincent. 

Some of Roy’s more prestigious customers liked to place wagers but couldn’t be seen approaching Max at his cigarette machine office in the Tasty Burger. So, they would give their wagers and the accompanying cash to Roy, and he would get it to Max. 

I don’t know how they were paid off because that never happened in my store. There must have been some other discreet way this was handled. Roy wasn’t the only person I knew that assisted Max in this way. A salesman named Phil at the Nunn Bush shoe store down the street also did this for Max. 

One day, Phil was giving me ride home at end of the day and suddenly said. “Oh shit, I forgot to take a bet to Max. If it comes in, I will have to pay the guy who bet and it was a daily double bet.” 

He started to frantically dial stations on the car radio looking for sports news and race results. He found one and a voice said, “Here are the results from today’s races at Thistledown Race Track: The daily double was numbers one and f15, a long shot, and it paid $1,500.”

The car almost swerved off of the road and Phil loudly moaned, “Aaargh! That is what the guy bet and I’m screwed! I don’t have that kind of money!” 

The announcer then said, “I believe I said one and 15. I beg your pardon; I meant 15 and one.” Phil was still stunned by his disaster and did not respond immediately. He finally said, “Oh my God, phew!” 

I did a favor for Max once in a while. My uncle owned racehorses at Thistledown and would call me when a fix was on.  He told me that this happened, but it was not a regular occasion. He said that near the end of the season they would occasionally let a horse who never won a race that season win. When I heard this, I would let Max know. Maybe it was unethical but hey, Max was a good guy. 

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.