For Ronald Probstein, growing up in New York City during the Great Depression was as unconventional as it was unpredictable. His father, Sid, was a gambler, ticket scalper, bookie, and horseplayer, and Ronald’s boyhood hangouts were the betting parlors, cigar shops, boxing gyms, and area racetracks where his father conducted business.
Known as “Honest Sid,” his father adhered to the adage, “To live outside the law you must be honest,” and he operated with the “unshakeable conviction” that a big-time payoff was only the next bet away. More often than not, it wasn’t. As a result, earning enough money to maintain a middle-class lifestyle was a hard-won endeavor, and the Probsteins spent the majority of their lives in a peripatetic scramble from one low-rent apartment or cheap hotel to the next–their lodgings a reflection of Sid’s ever-fluctuating finances.
“[Ours] was a family portrait of an American scene that Norman Rockwell never captured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post Probstein notes in this candid reminiscence of his father’s life.
Written in well-paced, but matter-of-fact prose, Probstein’s book recounts Sid’s foray into gambling at age 17, and his stint as a rookie in minor league baseball–which ended abruptly when Sid, deeply indebted to loan sharks, agreed to throw a game to get out of hock. Probstein chronicles his parents’ courtship and writes with genuine sentiment about the toil that Sid’s Runyonesque way of life exacted on his mother. He recollects his boyhood delight at meeting prizefighter Joe Louis and famed Jewish boxer and war hero Barney Ross and the fun of romping through Times Square’s theater district. He also reveals the shame he felt about his father’s “aversion to regular employment,” his arrests and court appearances, and the time he found Sid rooming in a sleazy flophouse.
Probstein’s plain writing style often restricts the memoir’s poignancy, but Honest Sid rounds out as a son’s kindhearted laudation to his flawed, yet loving father.
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