When I was a boy in knee-length corduroy britches, knee-length stockings and about to enter my teens, my childhood world came to a disconcerting halt. I was told by older and more worldly-wise companions that certain citizens were not exactly paragons of respectability; they often rolled dice, cut cards, flipped coins and pitched pennies, dimes and quarters! Some, prominent in civic and business affairs, were truly (and secretly) steeped in sin. Every so often, these debauched individuals would stage a cockfight ... pitting one vicious, fighting cock against another equally vicious opponent. Many years later, I happened to mention this to a man who I knew had once owned, bred and raised a flock of bloodthirsty battlers. He laughed! "Those were great days," he said, "though spectators and participants attending the matches had to keep their lips buttoned." Of all the anecdotes told me by this white-haired patriarch, the following takes the cake:
"One Sunday, a friend from the other end of town called me and dared me to pit my best cock against one that he had been training for some time. When I said 'sure,' he asked, 'How about a little wager to make it interesting?'
"And when I okayed that, he got real cute. He said that we must each promise to ready our own birds ... without helpers ... pros ... or advice from anyone. Because it seemed only fair to do so, I went along with that too.
"However, as soon as he hung up, I phoned a trainer I knew and gave him the time and date of the fight. I also asked him if he could school my bird between now and the day of the match. He said he could, so I hired him right then and there. He said he'd trim him, exercise him and pair him up against one or two of his own cocks and have him ready in plenty of time for the big match.
"When that day came, I was worried, real worried. We-me and the trainer and my gamecock-were the first to show up. To be honest, I hadn't figured out what to do, though I had fretted about it for a week or more. I didn't know whether to lie to my friend, play him for a chump, or tell him the truth.
"In a way, the fact that I was of two minds is what saved me. For who should show up at this time but my friend and a stranger carrying a caged gamecock! And to make matters worse, he headed right for me. I knew then that I was cornered, that I had outsmarted myself.
"But oddly enough 'twasn't me that made the first move... 'twas my friend. He told me that soon after he phoned me he'd come down with a case of the 'trots,' and had been laid up for a fortnight. Not wanting to disappoint me, he said he'd asked a distant cousin to get his gamecock in shape. This cousin, he explained, not only owned a couple of birds himself, but on several occasions had pitted them against cocks in his neighborhood.
"He felt sure I'd understand, he said, knowing that if things had been reversed, he'd be willing to've let any member of my family train my bird.
"When he asked if I'd like to meet his cousin, I nodded yes, happy that he hadn't questioned me first. A few minutes later he returned, accompanied by his cousin. To my surprise, his cousin brushed right by me and extended his hand to my trainer, who promptly gave it a hearty shake.
"Two old friends...two confirmed rivals...two fellow trainers, considered the best in the game!"
(It has been said that one man may be sharper than another, but not sharper than all others. And that the one certain way to be cheated is to fancy one's self more cunning than another!)