A Bet and a Debt


A Bet and a Debt

One thing in common between a bet and a debt is that someone has to pay up and the other side gets paid. Generally, bets are paid after the results of the wager are finalized. In fact, just this week a lucky or prescient person could have bet 1,000-pound sterling on an English soccer team called Leicester City to win the league championship and would have won 5,000,000 sterling (yes, five million!). Debts, on the other hand, get paid when a specific date arrives or action takes place (such as a sale of a home) according to the terms of the loan agreement. In general, in most cases that’s how the world works, and millions of debts and bets are settled every day of the year around the world.

Upon hearing about the huge payout in the UK, I began to think about a bet that I made that will never be paid, and a debt that I plan to collect after a delay of almost 40 years.

First the bet, over 50 years ago I made a bet with my best friend Bernie, (we are still best friends to this very day) about a colorful (no pun intended) politician named Adam Clayton Powell, who was the first black elected to Congress from the State of New York https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Clayton_Powell,_Jr.  We both acknowledge that we made a bet, but neither of us remembers what the bet was about, who had what side of the wager, nor the amount at stake. Nonetheless, we have repeatedly referred to this bet whenever we appear to owe each other some money over the last five decades. For example, in our student years we might go out for a beer or cup of coffee and one of us would pick up the tab; the one who paid would then ask the other for his share of the bill, and the one who did not pay would say, “but you still owe me from the Adam Clayton Powell bet”. This dialogue has gone on for years and we both suppose that we are even, although the original obligation to pay the bet has been long forgotten.

Now to the debt; I had the privilege to spend two years of my life getting an MBA at the University of Michigan, which is located in beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the furthest east I had ever lived, and while geographically at the eastern end of the Midwest, the fact that you could buy the New York Times at the corner newsstand made me feel at times that I was living out east. As I was finishing my MBA I happened to be reading the famous autobiography of one of the most interesting Supreme Court justices of the 20th century, namely William O. Douglas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Douglas.  Justice Douglas’s book was called “Go East Young Man” and while I don’t believe I ever finished the book, I was drawn to its title and started to day dream of a grand road trip out east before taking my first job back in Chicago. The plan would be for my new bride and I to take our 1965 Chevy Impala (this was 1977) which required a pint (nearly a liter) of oil every time you filled up with gas due to a leak in its aging engine across the border of Canada and drive to Niagara Falls; from there we would head to Cooperstown, New York, the site of the Baseball of Fame and then drive back to Chicago via Cleveland Ohio where we would visit good friends. I had planned the route, budgeted the cost and began to mark my calendar. My presentation of this plan met with some healthy skepticism; My wife said, “We really can’t afford it; I am not sure the car will make it, and how can we shlep all of our personal belongings on a trip?” Her arguments certainly made sense, then she hit me with the perfect punchline, “Let’s first get settled, and then I promise you we can take such a trip in the near future”. I eventually acquiesced to her persuasive arguments and assumed the day was soon coming where I would experience one of nature’s wonders at Niagara Falls and make a “holy pilgrimage” to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Fast forward 39 years, and we are planning a family reunion in Chicago in honor of my father-in-law’s 90th birthday. I realized an opportunity now presented itself, the time had come to collect on my wife’s promise/debt, I asked her if she remembered her promise, to which she replied in the affirmative. At that moment, I felt time had stood still, I was no less excited than back when I looked over those maps so many years ago; now with the help of the internet and a few phone calls, reservations were made, dates confirmed and the debt would be paid.

My take away from the above is that some things in life are best forgotten, such as a bet that served to bond a friendship for over half a century, and to never give up collecting on promises from people you love. Some of you may never make a wager, but all of us can fulfill promises to ourselves and to others; it’s never too late.

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