Book Review – The Secret Apartment: Vet Stadium, a surreal memoir

Stories Any Sports Fan Wish They Could Tell

I’m going to let you in on a secret about “The Secret Apartment: Vet Stadium, a surreal memoir” by Tom Garvey. Most of the action happens outside the apartment.

Which makes perfect sense. Tom Garvey opens his book asking the question, “If you were single…no dependents…had an opportunity to live in a major sports stadium of a team you grew up loving,  what would you have done?”

It is a great hook for a story. Many would answer yes. Answering the question is one thing, pulling it off is another. And a secret arrangement like that will not stay that way if things get out of hand in the apartment.

This is fine for the reader. The same circumstances and personality traits that make a secret apartment possible also lead to fantastic stories.  He has family connections give him access to the stadium, and by extension, celebrity athletes and media personalities.  He has a position with just enough authority that he can make this happen, but not so much responsibility or equity that he would not risk it for some good times. He has nothing holding him down as a provider, and he associates with other free spirits.

Philadelphia sports feature prominently, but not exclusively, and the names are big enough for general North American sports fans to recognize. Veterans Stadium gets top billing, but the Rose Bowl, New Orleans, and points in play roles as well.

Tom pays homage to his family as much as his sporting heroes. And he makes explicit reference to “Cannery Row” while the reader may have already made the connection from Tom and his roster of friends.

This is a memoir of more than his time at the Vet. So the secret apartment is less central to Tom’s story, and more emblematic of how he has lived his life.

It’s worth a read.


Larry Flynt, Hustler

Anyone claiming the title of degenerate, even playfully, has to acknowledge a kinship with Larry Flynt. His association with skin mags, strip clubs, and a card barn in Los Angeles is unapologetically in your face.

The brand name for all of those ventures was “Hustler”. And that name, rather than degenerate, is more appropriate for the man, if not as obvious.

Larry Flynt grew up in A Kentucky county that was one of the poorest in the nation. He faked a birth certificate to join the US Army at 15, took a job with GM after an honorable discharge, and then signed up with the US Navy after a labor slowdown at his site.

He  bought his mother’s bar, “Keewee” in Dayon, Ohio,  for cash, popped amphetamines to work hours on end there, and managed to take ownership of two more bars. He ran a vending machine business (a money loser, he closed that up), and then hit his stride with the “Hustler Club” featuring nude dancers. He opened five more clubs in Ohio. Along the way he bought a newspaper “Bachelor’s Beat”, an initial entry into publishing.

Flynt had a flair for promotion and irreverent attitude to social norms. He started a newsletter to promote his clubs, and when the ’73 oil crisis nearly bankrupted his clubs, he put everything into expanding his newsletter as a nationwide skin magazine with the “Hustler” title.

It was nude pictures of Jackie Kennedy Onassis that brought that fledgling publication notoriety, attention, and most importantly, sales. That episode also included a bit of the hypocrisy Flynt resented over the course of his life. Publicly, Jackie O fumed and asked her husband to sue publishers of the photos. Privately, she signed a copy of one picture for Andy Warhol.

Flynt took pop-shots at comstockery figures such as Jerry Falwell, and battled in court to do so. A Supreme Court decision protecting parody features the magazine name.

His willingness to outrage led him to publish purposefully provocative images.  From the 1978 cover depicting a woman passed through a food mill (lampooning criticisms that his magazine treated women like meat) to as recent as a 2017 cover featuring a model wearing an American flag as a (rather poorly concealing) hijab, Flynt loved thumbing his nose at critics and hypocrites.

A racist, unhappy with Flynt’s publishing nude pictorials of interracial couples, shot him and cost Flynt mobility for the rest of his life.

But not his hustle. That never went away.

That shooting happened in 1978. Flynt did not open the Hustler Card Room in California until 2000. At the time of his death it was the most profitable part of his business portfolio.

Flynt was certainly a degenerate. He knew you were, too, most likely. He’d happily take your money if you admitted it,  laugh at you for suggesting you were above it, and fight you in court if you tried to stop him from doing either of those things. Hustler, indeed.

Superbowl LV Prop Bets

You can find a PDF of the Westgate Superbook prop bets here:

Here are the props I like:

  • Will Harrison Butker (KC) miss at least one extra point? Yes +450 / No -600 – Butker was a perfect 5 for 5 in the AFC championship,. but 1/2 in the Divisional round, and in all of 2020 (including playoffs) 54/61. If you take that seasonal rate and project just two attempts for Butker, then the implied odds of missing one are 21%. The Yes is good value here.
  • Will Mecole Hardman (KC) have a rushing attempt? Yes +130 / No -150 – In the AFC Championship game, Hardman had a  thrilling 50 yard run that helped put away the game for KC. It came after he had muffed a punt that cost KC dearly. I think that rush was called as much for his confidence as anything. And he had a rush in the Divisional game, too. This is the kind of pattern that KC will likely want to avoid against TB, except maybe as a decoy. Mecole only had 6 rushes all year. I like the NO here.
  • Total QB sacks by KC Defense 1½ – Over -140 /  Under +120 – Including the playoffs, Tom Brady has been sacked 26 times this year in 19 games. And in the playoffs, 3 of the 5 sacks came at the hands of a very good Washington Football Team pass rush. This really is a small number, but as an underdog bet, I like the under.
  • Longest Reception by Rob Gronkowski (TB) 15½ yards – Over -110 / Under -110 – Rob Gronkowski has great name recognition among NFL fans, but the primary TE target for TB is Cameron Brate. Gronk had 0 receptions in the wild card game, 5 for 14 yards total in the divisional game, and one lone TE screen pass that broke for 29 yards late in the NFC Championship game. He simply is not a big part of the plan for TB and I like this under.
  • Total Number of Different Buccaneers to Have a Rush Attempt 3½  – Over -110 / Under -110 – In poker hands you count outs. How many cards help you make a hand. And sometimes you have to estimate what an unlikely scenario (such as going runner-runner for a flush) is worth in terms of outs and add that in. This bet is all about outs. For sure one expects Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette to have rushes. Brady is almost certainly good for a sneak at some point. So the question is, where are the outs for a 4th rusher? Vaughn had 4 attempts against Washington in the Wild Card round, and Antonio Brown got in the act, too. Against Green Bay, Chris Godwin found a rushing attempt. And LeSean McCoy might get himself a handoff (although winning a ring with the Chiefs last year lessens the chance they do this for a veteran to get his name in the books). That is enough outs for me, though. Taking the over.

Update – I certainly did not think Butker would have zero attempts to miss that extra point. And Gronk was a major part of the attack. But the other bets hit and I came out ahead on these props.

My Superbowl LI Prop Bets
Prop Amount Result
Will Harrison Butker (KC) miss at least one extra point? Yes +450 50 -50
Will Mecole Hardman (KC) have a rushing attempt? No -150 150 100
Total QB sacks by KC Defense 1½ – Under +120 100 120
Longest Reception by Rob Gronkowski (TB) 15½ yards -Under -110 110 -110
Total Number of Different Buccaneers to Have a Rush Attempt 3½  – Over -110 55 50
Total +110

Understanding Lottery Odds

The single biggest reason that lotteries work as well as they do is that people easily envision what they would do with a tremendous windfall of money. It is not just easy. It is enjoyable. You are doing it right now, and there is not even a prize number mentioned here.

In fact, exploring that daydream is really what you are paying for – the thought exercise, made a little more believable because you have tickets in your hand.

Because while people can readily grasp the scope of the cash prize, and the fantasies of partying, purchasing, or philanthropy that it would enable, almost no one can readily grasp the true odds of winning the thing.

This is not surprising. People are notoriously bad at using probability and estimating risks in their everyday lives, and those are usually around events with likelihoods of one part in hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands.

As gambling has spread, though, through casinos proliferating through the United States, the popularity of poker, and the coming explosion of legalized sports wagering in the US, people are becoming more accustomed to games of chance, and event frequency.

That should help to illustrate what lottery odds truly represent.

Let’s start by defining the odds we are trying to envision. As an example, the chances of winning a lottery that uses 49 balls and selects 6 balls is roughly one in 14 million.

What other events come close to those odds?

  • Being dealt pocket aces three times in a row in a game of Hold ‘Em. That is actually shy of the odds. A better estimate is expressed as being dealt either pocket kings or pocket aces for four hands in a row.
  • Craps “all or nothing at all bet” – 4 times in a row.
  • Craps – The “all or nothing at all” bet is a maybe a bit obscure. So let’s look at the simplest bet there is at the table. One in 14 million is around 27 winning pass line bets in a row. The longest known craps run happened at the Borgata in 2009.  That was 25 pass line winners in a row.
  • Pick 12 out of 12 NFL games correctly against the spread on a Sunday. Then do it again the next week.
  • Getting blackjack 5 hands in a row. And that is only about 4 million to 1 against. That is about 3 times more likely than winning the lottery.
  • The odds of hitting the lottery are equivalent to your chances of seeing an MLB pitcher throw a perfect game, and in that same game have one of his teammates hit for the cycle.

Oh and Mega Millions? The odds of hitting that jackpot are 1 in 300 million. So any of these events described above are about 20 times more likely to happen.

Unlike the lottery, many of these are not events you could directly bet on. But some of them are.

You certainly could put in a 12 team parlay on an NFL Sunday. The payout for that means a significant edge for the house, but a 3000-1 payout is not bad in absolute terms (and as discussed, is far more likely than hitting the lottery).

You could also just pool money and keep pressing an 1-to-1 payout bet like a hand of blackjack. Table limits are on purpose designed to reach a limit on this at some point, but generally limits allow for a 100-times spread in bets. Meaning you could start with a $50 bet and if you hit 7 times in a row you hit the table limit. Would you and a few friends not be happy walking away with a $6,350 in winnings? Would you not have a hell of a story to tell for your $50 gamble if it even made 4 or 5 wins a row?

No, that is not likely to happen. But it is thousands of times more likely than hitting the lottery.

So why not pool your money and try that instead of buying lottery tickets?

Holiday Gift Ideas for Gamblers

Preventative measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are limiting social contact and outings.

But that opens up some ideas for gift giving that meet the needs of the gambler stuck at home.

  • Content Subscriptions With the spread of legal sports gambling across the US (including a successful ballot measure in Maryland that should lead to options in the state in 2021) there is also a growing amount of quality content out there available for those that want to be better informed bettors or just see some more of the action.
    • VSiN, Action Network, and for football only, Football Outsiders all offer premium packages of statistics and betting analysis at prices between $100 and $250 per year. If you have a gambler in your life regularly putting that kind of bet in on games, then that kind of helpful information will be welcome. For the casual bettor, VSiN offers a subscription just to their streaming video content for $25/year. This is a bargain and a good gift of entertaining hosts delivering quality information.
    • If you have a boxing fan, DAZN (pronounced “da zone”) is available for $100/year and has fight cards available on the regular.
    • Poker coaching sites offer video series, self-contained packages, and even live coaching offerings. Run it Once offers a variety of packages in different price ranges.
  • Event Buy-Ins are a way to give a gift that gets them directly into the action. By arranging for the buy-in, or picking an event and giving the funds and making it clear wha they are for, you can let your gambler feel like they already won with a free-roll entry.
    • Daily Fantasy Sports – if you know they like to play Fantasy Sports, consider buying them into a one day event. Because these are regulated sites you may not be able to do this in every state. You should be able to find something that matches location, sport of interest, and price range. For instance FanDuel operates in Maryland and 42 other states, and has one-day single entry fantasy football tournaments at price points anywhere from $1 to hundreds of dollars for an entry fee.
    • Poker Tournament entry fee. Yes, there are online options but this is more restricted by state. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have regulated card rooms online. Maryland does not. But if your gambler plays with a group online, ask their friends what they do for contests. You might be able to find one and buy them in.
  • Retroactive Casino Souvenir – it has probably been a while since they were in a casino. And they might not be the kind to buy themselves a souvenir. So why not pick one up for them? A mug, glass, or cap from their last trip would be a nice way to invoke the good times and remind them that they’ll be able to make that trip again some time. You may have to call casinos as gift shops rarely have online store fronts, but the front desks will connect you and they will gladly sell and ship these days.
  • Home Office Setup – a common theme here has been the gambling experience online. So why not address that online presence by updating a display, or headphones, or even something fun like a backlit keyboard? To go more elaborate, a new chair might be in order. Gamers have lots of experience looking for a comfortable chair and this PC Gamer review of chairs is a good place to start shopping.

How to Watch Circa Grand Opening

Tonight, October 27, is the grand opening for the Circa casino on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. This social club has been making downtown its center of Vegas activity for years now, preferring to stay at The D, owned by Derek Stevens and the same group opening Circa.

In noted contrast to the publicly owned casinos on the Strip, Derek seems to embrace gamblers, cater to them, and promotes what gamblers want – a decent shot at the games and a damn good time.

Circa is a phenomenal addition to downtown. As a group we look forward to getting there sometime soon. But for tonight, if you want to get in on the action, here are some ways to do so remotely:

And although they will not be there, Vegas podcasters Five Hundy By Midnight will be doing a preview chat for their Patreon supporters at 7:30 PM Eastern tonight. Tim and Michelle do a wonderful job following Vegas happenings and sharing their visits. The community of listeners is also well informed, and should have interesting things to say ahead of the opening.

Tracking Social Club Resolutions 2020

The year 2020 has wrecked a lot of plans. With only 99 days left in the year, let’s look back at these social club resolutions for 2020 that we made back in December of last year, and see how we managed.

  • Get Doug to Vegas – Did we ever sneak this under the wire. We left on Sunday, and by the weekend sports were canceled and Nevada Governor Sisolak was preparing to shut down non-essential businesses.
  • Pay Up on the Game of Thrones Fantasy League – The winner was going to be treated to dinner at Midieval Times. The bill will remain past due, and who knows when we get to pay this off.
  • Host Another Manbarn Tournament – with the shift to online, we should be able to do this. We tried at one point and drew some casual visitors, but without the appeal of seeing people and sharing the good time, this may be a tougher sell.
  • Join the Super Contest – we did this while in Vegas. We are off to a rocky start, but as a group we are having a good time and managed to turn this into an internal contest, too.
  • 2021 Calendar Done in 2020 – absolutely no excuses on this one. Nothing but time, and the calendar should be available. Now what we feature in the calendar is another story.
  • Expand the Clothing Line – got this done. And the new items might be what you expect now but definitely not what you could have guessed back in December of 2019.

On Further Review, Better Money Plane Bets

Isabella (Katrina Norton) maintaining deep cover as a flight attendant on board the “Money Plane.”

When I was in high school, my friends and I loved to find and rent B movies and watch them for the fun of it. We loved the outlandish premises, gaping plot holes, budget scrimping techniques, use of stock footage, and general silliness of it all. We would relish spotting a particularly poor edit or howler of a line or scene chewing acting. Anyone could request a pause and rewind, and we often did that. It was a sign of our enjoyment.

I recall replaying one particular scene, I believe from “Small Kill (1992)” – starring Gary Burghoff (!), that we watched over and over because a friend spotted the papier mache replacement for a head that you could clearly make out before a gory kill shot.

We had cliches and tropes that we actively looked for in these movies: decapitation, defenestration, gratuitous nudity, death before title sequence.

The worst thing we could say about one of these movies was that they were boring. In particular I remember being just pissed at “The Plumber (1979)”, an Australian made-for-TV movie that failed to entertain on any level. We did not rewind or pause a single time.

So if you want a movie review of “Money Plane”, you are not approaching it the right way. All you need to know is you will want to pause and rewind several times. Have fun with it.

I will make the following positive observations:

  • Kelsey Grammer (The Rumble) has gas left in the tank. He delivers the movie’s best lines, and not just the ones you have seen in the clip about betting on a dude and an alligator. He has a set piece about creating his own artwork that is also memorable and maybe the most original line in the movie.
  • A delightful allusion to “The Matrix” delivered by Patrick Lamont Jr. (Trey).
  • Katrina Norton (Isabella) is highly photogenic and has genuine screen presence. She apparently has gotten a recurring role in Nashville. Here’s wishing her good luck and continued success.
  • Kudos to the stunt people. Fans of professional wrestling who found this through Adam Copeland (Jack) should enjoy the fight sequences. And there are a couple of amusing, novel kill sequences.

That said, I made up some prop bets before seeing the movie, and here are a couple I wished I had proposed (some of which are going to serve as a critique):

Number of deaths resulting from wagers – over/under 1.5 – This is a good line because you can be assured there will be one. But what are the chances there will be a second?

Will an animal other than a dog appear on screen – yes +200 Everyone has heard the dude and alligator clip. Will we get an alligator? Any animal other than an easily trained dog? Animal handling takes budget, so the chalk is on the no. And as it turns out, one comically acted scene would be the cause of a lot of debate.

Number of clear procedural errors in conducting a casino game – over/under 2.5 – Movie fanatics love to look for errors like continuity and anachronisms and so on. Gambling procedure is pretty well known, strict, and easy to spot on film. This would have made a great bet. As it turns out in one hand of poker there are at least three. I had to re-watch the scene multiple times just to make sure I was not mistaken in what I was seeing. In the age of televised and live streamed poker, how the film makers got this so wrong is really something.

Number of Jack’s crew to die in the heist – o/u 0.5 – real drama means real peril. How many of Jack’s crew will the film makers have the stomach to take out?

Number of scenes with Jake and The Rumble face-to-face – over/under 1.5 – You can see one in the trailer. It is the establishing scene for the heist. So what you are really wagering on is the resolution, the final confrontation. There has to be one, right?

Maybe. Depends on how many B movies you have seen.

Money Plane Prop Bets

If you have not seen this 15 second clip from “Money Plane”, please do.

Money Plane will be available for streaming this Friday July 10, and represents the kind of movie that is enjoyable because it is so ridiculous.

We are not going to bet on the dude and the alligator, but here are some things we will consider betting on for this movie:

Number of times someone says “Money Plane”, o/u 23.5

Even money bet.

Kelsey Grammer manages to say “money plane” 3 times in just this 15 second clip. The movie is only 82 minutes long, though, so you may be taking your chances with this one.

Adam Copeland executes Spear Finishing Move, Yes/No

Yes +125 (opening line +150)

The star of the movie was a professional wrestler, Edge, with a finishing move called the Spear.

Making this an underdog as the movie involves a flying tackle which may be tough in close quarters on the plane. More importantly, WWE almost certainly retains intellectual copyrights on these moves, and I doubt the budget allowed for the producers to license it.

Thomas Jane shares the screen with another speaking cast member, Yes/No

Yes +200 (opening line +250)

While Copeland is the star, Thomas Jane brings more star billing to the movie. He has The Punisher and the HBO Series “Hung” to his credits.

But a review of the trailer does not show him in the planning scene (“this is insane!”) and it does show him operating a drone. A drone? For an actor with solid action movie credits?

This seems to indicate the producers were able to secure Jane for a day and film him, but without anyone else from the billed cast available. So they contrived a way for him to join the action remotely.

This is pure handicapping based on the trailer alone, but could be a fun bet and could stir debate with the grading. Speaking of which…

Number of times someone calls the Thomas Jane character, o/u 5.5

Even money.

Related to the above bet, but gives that bit of fun every time someone reaches for the telephone.

Death Before Title Credits, Yes/No

Yes +200

Always a reliable trope – will there be an on screen death before the title credit? If this were a horror move, shade it to the yes. But in this case, if they use any action before the title sequence, it is to establish Copeland as a thief in the robin Hood mold, and that does not usually involve killing.

‘7 Days to Vegas’ is Fun and You Cannot Talk Me Out of It

Duke (Vincent van Patten) on the long walk to Vegas.

“7 Days to Vegas” (2019) tells the up and down story of Duke (Vincent Van Patten) and how he ends up in an all-or-nothing bet that will grant salvation of finally ruin him.

Or, more accurately, Duke tells the story through narration that persists through the entire movie.

Arguably, this is necessary for a movie that deals with a sub-culture like gambling and whose central dramatic plot is a proposition bet that might seem completely implausible to those not familiar with gamblers and what they are willing to wager. It could also be said that movies like “California Split” and “The Gambler” have done a fine job of establishing their protagonists’ willingness to bet on anything (the seven dwarfs bet in “California Split” comes to mind) without the need to explain everything with voiceover.

This is all just for debate, though, because narrate is what the director Eric Balfour has Vincent Van Patten doing.

Duke goes from actor with some mild success to a has been doing infomercials, to just a has been. But Duke is an affable guy with a knack both for attracting players to his home poker game and enough skill to beat them out of their money.

With the aid of his convivial wife KC (Eileen Davidson, married to Vincent in real life), Duke sees his stable of players increase both in raw number and in the size of their bank rolls. A central part of the attraction of Duke’s growing game are the creative proposition bets that players participate in, both financially and physically.

As the name implies, a prop bet is a wager made on the proposition that event has or has not happened, or a feat can or cannot be done. A hallmark of a group of gamblers is their willingness to bet on a wide array of things. The social club this Web site is built around is no exception. We have bet on weight loss, current events, who will spend the least amount of time in their Las Vegas hotel room over the course of a weekend trip, and how many of our kids someone could successfully name from memory.

Anyone that is part of a gaming group will recognize the dynamics in play with Duke and his friends, enjoy their hijinks, and envy the action. Those that are not can still appreciate the collection of personalities that Duke has assembled, and their willingness to put significant money at risk.

Eventually the game moves out of Duke’s house and into the upper level of a swank Beverly Hills bar. The personalities get bigger, too. Beyond a small time magician (Willie Garson) and his name-dropping publicist brother Carl (James Van Patten, brother to Vincent in real life) new players include colorful names like Angry Jim and Squeeze, and successful figures in the entertainment industry. One in particular, is movie director Sebastian (Ross McCall).

Angry Jim (Don Stark) tries to swing an eating prop bet his way.

Sebastian is a foil to Duke, not just in terms of his Hollywood success and wealth, but also in how he approaches the game and the gamblers in it. While Duke happy to drink along with his friends and play on the level, Sebastian is more keen to see them get drunk and use that to his advantage. Duke shears sheep, Sebastian wants to slaughter.

At some point this includes stealing the game itself out from under Duke. That strains Duke financially, and coupled with the rivalry between the two, leads to the prop bet that defines the movie and gives it its title. Duke bets Sebastian that he can walk from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 7 days.

Duke stands to win $5 million if he can complete the walk. The challenge strains his marriage, his friendships, and his endurance. His cohorts use it as a backdrop for more gambling and carousing. There are attempts to influence the bet, changes in stakes, and a surprise appearance or two.

If that sounds like fun to you (and it does to me) you will enjoy the rest of the movie.

I know I did, and no amount of narration can ruin that for me.