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Robert

Roman

Empire

RED BRICK ALLEY STORIES

The Killards Are Coming

Every damn day in Religion Class, Sister Anna Banana yapped about the Soviets revving up to start a nuclear war with the new president, Ronald Reagan. She said after the cities burned to Holy Hell, there’d be something called “nuclear winter” that would kill all... 

Double-Strength Demon Dogs

Fantastic Freddie was the only altar boy from the Red Brick Alley. He was always consecrating Ritz Crackers and trying to make us eat them like communion wafers. He light-fingered incense from the sacristy, and he blessed water from Old Lady Tully’s spigot...

Laser Loop

I couldn’t see over the tall green school bus seat except when we hit a pothole and I bounced up in the air like a Pop-Tart jumping out of a toaster. Nobody at Saint Augie’s could believe I was allowed to go. My first school picnic ever. I was good from the day I handed in my pink...

The Boy Wonder

How the Hell did Jaggerbush get himself up there? He was clawing his way up into the open window above the Science class door like a real-life gargoyle. The blockhead of a wooden mallet stuck out of the back of his Toughskins where his butt crack was. He wore three...

About The Author

Rob.jpg

Robert Roman grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where he sold newspapers to cars from a concrete island. Read more→

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  • Robert Roman

“Pay Up, Football Fan!” Said The Flip-Flop Man


I scrounged up an ‘aftermarket’ replacement for my pilfered catalytic converter and fled Los Angeles for Slippery Bowl LVII.

No, my destination was not Slick Farm Stadium. Those pickpockets were still slow-rolling reimbursement for my cata-jacking. I would watch the game with the Ancient Ones. This was a high holiday after all.

My hooptie hybrid skidded around the last lonely exit to Pit Bull Springs. White windmill wings spun silently, ominously overhead. I lowered all four windows. Scorched sand ripped across my face. Nothing else smells like that. The smell of burnt air in the morning. The whole world smelled like…extinction.

My old Dad had paid up the cable bill, my Mother unearthed the clicker, and we were stocked up on enough guacamole to choke Liberace’s billy goat.

Something was missing.

I asked the 88-year-old, former crane operator if he had any action on the game.

“Everybody I know is dead.”

“Aren’t there thirteen casinos within,” I peeked at the warped wheels of his walker, “walking distance?”

“These pikers don’t have a sportsbook.”

“There’s a Catholic Church down the street. Padre doesn’t have a block poll in the vestibule?”

“This isn’t the North Side of Pittsburgh, kid.”

Every pre-game commercial on the bundle provider promised free money. Free. Money. Oscar-winning actors, world-famous comedians, Hall of Famers and their goofball brothers declared cash was one easy click away. How many gambling apps could there be? Apparently, Erectile Dysfunction had been eradicated along with small pox, which would explain the harmonious conviviality of today’s social discourse.

My old Dad shook his head.

“They took everything from me.”

I glanced at my saintly Mother, “Um, everything?”

“I used to loaf in sporting houses and clip joints, shoot craps in back alleys, bet on horses. They legalized every damned thing. Now, to play a number, I have to wait in a line behind a bunch of old bitties at Ralphs. And the prices of their tomatoes is criminal.”

I pointed at the flat screen, “What about these gambling apps?”

He glared at me like I’d told him to download Grinder.

“I’ll find some action for us. I know just the degenerates to call.”

At the turn of last millennium, I worked as a researcher on a popular TV game show that will remain unnamed in case any former contestants see this and sue for unpaid winnings due to gross negligence and grotesque incompetence. The Burbank Wienerschnitzel is to blame, your honor. They sell beer by the pitcher!

Our research crew, the Leakyest Winks, made more than one desperate haul across the desert to Swindle City where we watched cage fights and played six-deck, machine-shuffled unwinnable blackjack in the bowels of Excalibur. These maniacs bet on everything from the Ward/Gatti Trilogy to which musical group’s equipment sat in the hallway outside The Tonight Show stage. One Wink, the Atlantean (hailing from Georgia, not the lost, sunken city), used to cash his unemployment checks at an Oxnard casino to, in his words, “turn it into something.” Surely, they would be down to wager.

I sent a group text.

“Dear Dregs, I’m open to any manner of point spread, prop bet, parley or whatever else the kids are doing these days.”

No response.

I texted, “Please do your patriotic duty before kickoff.”

Digital crickets.

I don’t speak fluent emoji, but I’ve heard tale that certain cartoon symbols guarantee a response.

I sent an eggplant.

The Atlantean texted, “Philly by 7.”

I replied, “Since you are over 18, chronologically anyway, I will take Mahomes and the points.”

And that was it. Radio silence.

I offered one last wager to the group. The game MVP: A$AP Rocky.

No takers.

It was as if they’d forgotten how to bet.

How could this have happened?

The NFL has spent half a century spouting piffle about gambling’s threat to the “integrity of the game.” This, from the cartel that blackballs players, tanks games, denies black coaches top spots, and covers up every manner of crime including hiring Jeff Saturday as a head coach.

Super Sunday detonated television advertising fees with dancing Clydesdales, talking frogs, and underwear models heavy petting plump vegetables. Thanks PETA! Now Kevin Hart simply slouches on a couch and blathers about fuzzy math. Apparently, six million greenbacks per 30 seconds of commercial time isn’t enough. Bring on the new revenue stream! Goodell’s Orwellian 180 on legalized gambling is right there on what’s left of the Twitter machine for all to see.

Marx’s maxim might have held true if the NFL hadn’t siphoned all faith, hope, and love from religion. Sports are the opium of the people. Huh’merica’s drug of choice has always been NFL Football. Now Flip-Flop Man is cutting his meth supply with the fentanyl of online gambling. In Goodell We Trust.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Billy Collins’ poem “Lucky Bastard” is about his father and a golf buddy drinking outside LAX and betting on whether the planes would bank left or right. Watching the two men trade singles and fives, laughing and calling each other “lucky bastard” with each win, Collins writes:

“I learned again the linkage between friendship and money and the sweet primacy of one over the other.”

Flip-Flop Man has murdered the gentleman’s bet. Never mind that you will never, ever beat the all-knowing algorithm. Never mind the redistribution of wealth switching from person-to-person to person-to-corporate-overlord. All wagers will now be against the faceless, digital house. Like man-cave dwellers opting for Pornhub instead of braving an actual date with a real-life human, the Leakyest Winks had lost their ability to make a simple wager. My friends had devolved into INCELS of betting.

When my old Dad said they took everything from him, what his Silent Generation gruff wouldn’t allow him to say was, they took his friends from him.

What will they smash and grab next?



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