When the Knicks lost to the Bulls, but only by two, my old man clapped his hands. Vinnie and I looked at him, wondering if this were one of those times he was being antagonistic for the sport of it, or if he’d misread the score.
But he tipped his tallboy back, leaning back in his La-Z-Boy, and explained the spread—that when you bet, it wasn’t about wins and losses so much. No one would bet on the Knicks to beat the Bulls, but to come within six points? That was the point spread they needed to cover.
Vinnie said he’d bet on the Knicks.
Just the same, Vinnie’d bring up the point spread logic, talking Cara Joyner and the homecoming dance sophomore year.
I invoked the easy sports metaphor first. “You’re not in her league.”
He argued no two people were equally attractive—equally good looking or funny or smart. “There’s a spread.”
But Vinnie didn’t beat the spread for Cara. Wouldn’t beat it with Valerie or Jenny either. Had to rethink the whole thing.
My mom and pop split up about that time. Because he was betting too much. Because of a lot of things. Mom said the gambling was representative of all the reasons she had to go, of the way my father thought. I watched them split their things. Mom got the practical pieces. The cookware, the couch, the Encyclopedia Britannicas. The house. Dad, he got the baseball cards, the big TV from the living room.
I’d stay with Mom most of the time, but got split between the two of them, spending time with Dad across weekends, and certain weeknights. Spread thin.
And Vinnie changed around his theory. That my old man covered the spread for a time, but the margin of difference grew larger and larger until he couldn’t anymore. Until he lost his bet.
I lived in that margin.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York, and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won the Bayou Magazine’s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has published work in journals including The Normal School and Bellevue Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.