"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break


Check out this wonderful first-person essay by Pat Jordan from Men’s Journal. Jordan writes how he learned about money from his father, a professional grifter:

In many ways, I am my father’s son. once, in my 60s, I told my father, in his 90s, that I was not much like him. “How so?” he asked. I said, “I never gamble.” He laughed, a dismissive laugh, and said, “You? A freelance writer for 40 years?” He was right. He had taught me how to con people early in my life. I used that knowledge in my late 20s to hustle pool like him. I wore construction clothes at lunchtime. I conned my marks into spotting me the eight and nine in nine ball, and if I lost I always went to the men’s room, climbed out a window, and left without paying. A lesson from the old man. “Always check the men’s-room window before you play,” he said. “Because even if you lose, you’re not gonna pay.” Years later, when I became a writer, I conned editors into giving me assignments. “You got to find out what they want,” he said, “then give it to them. Tell them anything they want to hear to get the assignment, then write it the way you want.”

He taught me so many things that became a part of my life, that determined how I lived my life. He taught me that only a fool believes in perfect justice. “There’s no such thing as an accident,” he said. “You’re supposed to know the other guy always runs the stop sign.” He taught me that a man never quits no matter how defeated he feels, that a man always has to have the courage of his suffering. And most important, he taught me that “there are only three vices in this world, kid: broads, booze, and gambling, and if you’re gonna do it right, pick one and stick to it.” I was in my 20s, with a wife and three kids, and there wasn’t much room in my life for vice. Years later, however, I had more than a passing acquaintance with one of those, and it wasn’t booze or gambling.

But in the one way that really mattered, to me anyway, I was not much like Dad at all. I never had his purity of understanding of the true nature of money. That has always shamed me. I have been burdened, conflicted, cursed, you might say, by my own fearful need to hoard money to forestall that looming disaster always around the bend, the foreclosed house from my youth.


1 Yankee Mama   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:19 pm

There's a reason Pat Jordan is my favorite. Funny that he had to hustle magazine publishers. Any publication worth its salt could see that the man can write.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:22 pm

I think that is the nature of the business. You may have a great relationship with a specific editor but once he leaves--or is fired--the next regime tends to dismiss the talent associated with the former editor. Almost impossible to imagine hustling a career as a freelancer these days, unless your name is Buzz or Michael Lewis.

3 Yankee Mama   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:32 pm

I suppose that's true for many industries. It's the impermanence of everything. That makes sense in the case of editors, who want to establish their own influence on the magazine (good or bad). And with the competition so stiff. Still, we're talking about a master essayist. Pity.

Buzz does not do it for me!

4 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:42 pm

With all the content that is available these days I often wonder what kind of dollar value is placed on good writing, really good writing?

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:46 pm

Buzz is better in longform (all of his books are brilliant) than in articles. His Barbaro and Kerry Wood pieces come to mind as being particularly indefensible.

Michael Lewis' VF piece on Cuban baseball from last year was one of the best pieces of baseball writing I read anywhere in a long time.

6 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:48 pm

I was thinking about this the other day, I'm pretty shocked we haven't gotten an avalanche of "And Then We Played..." quickie recap books by members of the '09 team.

You would think at the very least Girardi would team up with (lets just say) Joel Sherman and crank out some 200 page nonsense I'd end up buying just because.

7 Yankee Mama   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:51 pm

It's funny. The Banter, while being a Yankee blog seems to attract people who appreciate quality and artfulness. Between discussions of writing, movies, music, food , athletic prowess our chats tend towards an understanding and appreciation of excellence. And while we don't always agree, I sometimes think that we're in the minority with regards to the world at large. Maybe that's grandiose. I don't know.

That said, I don't know how many people truly value good writing (which I'm a sucker for). In modern literature, don't they pay by the word?

8 Yankee Mama   ~  Jan 5, 2010 3:58 pm

[5] Buzz has a new story in VF on Tiger about his fall from grace. I haven't read it yet.

He's a tad blowhardish.

9 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 5, 2010 4:00 pm

[8] I was actually AT the Joe Buck taping where he got into it with Leitch (still one of the 7 or 8 most surreal experiences of my life), you don't have to tell me how blowhardish he can be.

BUT the guy can write, that I can't take away from him.

10 Yankee Mama   ~  Jan 5, 2010 4:07 pm

[9] Really! It was downright disturbing. Interesting that Leitch went on to have a "mainstream" position. Shows you how blurred the line is between what Buzz thought was journalism and blogging.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 5, 2010 4:08 pm

I haven't read FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS so I can't comment on Buzz as an author, though he came off badly in that infamous HBO segment. I thought his piece on Tiger was pretty good though.

I'm less of a Michael Lewis fan than I once was. He's an agile stylist and an impressive reporter but his stuff strikes me as increasingly slick.

12 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 5, 2010 4:14 pm

[11] Friday Night Lights is actually a great book, but it just sucks now because you can't really read it without reading it through the filter of it being part of Friday Night Lights: The Franchise. It's a shame because the original text touches on subjects the movie and show (which I've admittedly only seen 1 or 2 episodes of) never addressed.

I go back and forth on Lewis (I have real problems with the undertones of Blind Side), but that VF piece really is worth your time.

13 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 5, 2010 4:24 pm

I read and liked the VF article. What is most impressive is how much space he got. Very few writers are afforded that kind of word count these days, and Lewis is riding the gravy train--who could blame him? I started Blind Side and it didn't hold my attention (though I did enjoy a football piece he did on Eli Manning several years ago). I've also never read any of his earlier books.

William Nack is another classic long form guy. Doesn't have much of a sense of humor but he's lyrical and sharp. His book on Secretariat is terrific too.

14 Dimelo   ~  Jan 5, 2010 5:45 pm

“there are only three vices in this world, kid: broads, booze, and gambling, and if you’re gonna do it right, pick one and stick to it.”

that sounds like something my dad would say.

15 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 5, 2010 6:53 pm

I'll always feel privileged that Randy Johnson saved his absolute best for his 2 years in the Bronx

16 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 5, 2010 7:35 pm

Holliday stays with the Cards .... 7 years, full no-trade ... wow

17 lroibal   ~  Jan 5, 2010 7:50 pm

I can relate to the gambling comment. I don't play the lottery, or gamble with money. I've been to Atlantic City and Vegas to see shows without risking a nickel. Freelancing for over twenty five years with a family to support is all the gambling I need in my life.

18 Paul   ~  Jan 5, 2010 8:39 pm

Good wordsmiths will never be paid enough. It's the nature of being beastly in a profession where Beast is your audience.

19 ms october   ~  Jan 5, 2010 8:42 pm

[17] i really enjoy your work a lot

[15] hahahaha - gotta laugh - that whole thing was pretty disappointing - though i marvel at his growth as a pitcher - but i'm still pissed he got 300 wins and moose didn't get there

[16] i would have like the yanks to get holliday ; but at 7/$120 - hell fucking no.
i guess about the only intrigue of the off-season is where damon and and the injured pitchers end up, oh and if the mets sign molina (hahahaha)

20 Will Weiss   ~  Jan 5, 2010 9:42 pm

[12] Great call. The book, when it came out, really offended the Odessa area. It read, to me, as a piece of long-form journalism that holds up without an agenda in a way that Malcolm Gladwell's stuff tries to, but fails. And I like Gladwell's writing a great deal.

For all the stories we've written here about fathers and sons, this Jordan piece ranks among the best. Alex, in your works with him for the compilation book, did he ever talk to you about this stuff?

21 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 5, 2010 10:00 pm

Did Pat ever talk about growing up the son of a gambler? All the time, sure. He's written other essays about his old man and gambling--for SI, for the Times magazine. I like how specific this one is. We talked a bunch about this theme while he was working on this particular essay. There is another killer essay Pat wrote on his dad, which appeared in AARP--a magazine that apparently pays very well by the way--five or six years back.

And of course, the stuff about his dad goes back to his two memoirs--A FALSE SPRING and A NICE TUESDAY.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver