Twice a day, I would walk past the TAB.
On the two seats outside there were often old guys smoking cigarettes under three big windows; two with a screen-printed image, and another just clear glass.
Little men in white pants and colourful tops sat on top of puffed looking horses.
Then through the window as I walked:
High-viz vests and white overalls splattered in paint, jeans too long but not wide enough at the waist rolled up at the bottom, crinkled buttoned up shirts with packets of smokes ready in the top pocket, facial hair of all different arrangements, cheap nylon sports jackets and trusty torn denim ones with pockets stuffed full of lotto tickets and betting stubs and worn leather wallets and car keys, beige pants ageing at the knees and brown leather jackets worn everyday from 5 onwards, perfect attire for drinking beer, smoking ciggies and gambling.
All stood facing the same direction (the top left corner), their heads tilted back slightly with eyes glazed over and mouths ajar.
[Ten bucks left-doesn’t really matter if I loose it or double it-food in cupboard-plenty of noodles-payday-Wednesday-anyway-7.30pm-pull open doors- walk in]
I joined the congregation, put hands in pockets, tilted head up towards the screen in the top left corner and tried to do what everyone else was doing.
Short sightedness and the usual forgetting of glasses meant I quickly lost interest but stood there for a few minutes anyway.
Two out of the four walls were covered in pieces of white A4 paper with small black writing printed on them. The jackets and vests and shirts and jeans would move from the screen watching group over to the paper covered wall in dribs and drabs, then over to the counter directly behind us, and then either back to the screen watching or out the front door to the street, or the back door to the pub.
I watched a hi-viz with hat and sloppy undone work boots move from the screen watchers over to the wall lookers. He searched for a few seconds- maybe 15- took a rectanglular piece of card from a slot full of them, searched for a few seconds more- maybe 6- put a finger against a particular point on the paper covered wall, filled out the card with pen provided, and over to the counter to place his bet.
I guessed it was about time I did the same, so made the movements over to the wall where I was confronted by the small black words:
[head to head live betting, winning team and margin, half/fulltime double, tri-bets, 1st stoppage in play, lineout throws, 1st team to score, 1st place kick, highest scoring 2nd half, 1 dollar Blues and 2 dollar 20 Hurricanes.]
After much finger pointing and number checking I finally managed to fill out a card.
I took it up to the counter and the bookie read my bet out aloud, something I noticed he didn’t do with everyone, but perhaps just those obviously new- a sort of double checking.
An old guy with one lonely tooth at the front chipped in from over to the right, “You reckon?”
He wore white running shoes, blue jeans, a black t-shit, a blue nylon jacket and a blue peaked hat with ‘Wattyl’ embroidered on the front.
In the next little while, the old solo toothed man, who introduced himself as Johnny Johnston, told me everything I needed to know about betting on the races and the rugby and various other things he’d learnt throughout his life and thought I should know- all valuable information. I listened carefully.
He leaned in close when he had something important to say.
“…stick to the sports to start with…horses is where you’ll lose…too much to account for ya see…ya got the track conditions, the jockey, the weather, and then of course there’s the horse to consider…an animal ya see…ya dealing with animals!…”
Johnny raised his eyebrows and the pitch of his voice when he said ‘animals’.
“…I’ve always been into sports ya see, number one boxer in New Zealand…came out of Lower Hutt…naturally. Could’ve gone to the commonwealths had it not been for my first wife. See my nose, and my knuckles…”
He held out his hands with knuckles in odd places, and then threw them up towards his nose- bent as.
I thought it was best not to enquire further about his first wife and the Commonwealths.
Whenever having a conversation with a boxer they must always show you how fast they can jab, the fastest jab around of course, and their fists always seem to come frighteningly close to pushing your teeth through your lip or breaking your nose.
I let Johnny show me his jabs and confirmed that yes they were very, very fast.
A man with headphones in his ears and peaked cap heard Johnny telling me about one of many rugby scores.
He sidled over and in a quiet voice said…
“Nar nar, the blues won 21 – 18….’’
There was what seemed like a very long pause – Johnny just stared at the guy with almost a look of disgust on his face and then said,
“Naaar maaate…it wasn’t that close… I’m sure of it.”
But the other guy was also sure and so a lengthy back and forth discussion (who scored this and that try, how many were converted, who got sent off at which stage in the game having so and so consequence on the final result, half time scores and ball in hand breakdowns, minutes left on the clock and desperate drop goal attempts gone right or wrong), began to take place. I kept mostly out of it , partly because I hadn’t watched a game of rugby in years, and partly because I didn’t think it was that important…didn’t have any money on it ya see.
Every now and then, the man with headphones would put his finger up in the air (and so we stopped) and focused his eyes on a point on the floor or the wall.
In his ear, old bald headed Murray “Deaks” Deaker was spouting on to his followers, keeping them informed, making them millions.
He stayed like this for a few seconds, then, his finger would drop and his eyes would raise and he would continue his discussion/argument with Johnny while I stood there giving the odd nod.
The importance of the Blues vs. Hurricanes score decreased, the discussion died down, and I took my chance to leave.
I put my betting stub safely in my wallet just as Johnny had advised [do I need to hold onto this? Haw haw haw- yea like it’s bloody gold mate, but only if it’s a winner, if it’s a loser giverme haw haw haw] and left the T.A.B.