Steve Dunleavy, the bouffant-haired, proudly authoritarian Aussie columnist who managed to seem ignorant even in comparison to the New York Post‘s opinion-writer All-Stars — for non-New Yorkers, imagine the literary and journalistic equivalent of this pitching staff, writing articles about traitorous liberals and how awesome cops are every day — is easier to take in the memory than he was when he was still writing. Looking back, he seems like a throwback tabloid journalist, if perhaps one with an unseemly hard-on for guys with guns; like Jimmy Breslin, maybe, only if Breslin’s impulses trended more fascistic than populist, and Breslin was drunker.
Back when he was still in the Post, it was hard to say much good about Dunleavy. Jeff Johnson, for instance, wrote this about him back in 2004, in a post that includes two of S-Dun’s most egregious columns:
I wonder what another Post columnist, Phil Mushnick, who day in and day out busts the chops of the rising tide of assholes and fools in the sporting world, would have to say about colleague Dunleavy”the hard-boiled nitwit whose columns are fueled only on gin, cigarettes and a certainty that New Yorkers just adore the crooked assholes who supposedly a) spend their time defending and protecting us or b) figuring out new ways to rip us off? Maybe the Post™s unspoken brotherhood won™t let Mushnick talk.
And while Johnson was right, he was also wise enough to realize that when it came to people to talk to about betting on horses, Dunleavy was still a pretty good guy to interview. At Vice, as part of what will be an ongoing Derby-related series, Johnson posts an enjoyably semi-coherent interview he did with Dunleavy back in 2005.
So what can you tell us about betting on horses?
Here’s a point, my bookie, since 1970”err, Frankie Downtown is still alive, bless him. Is he a wise guy? No. But he’s a made man. Frankie Downtown would deliver on Mondays at Costello’s Bar. Say I wasn’t in. I was out of town or out of the country and I owed, at a maximum, 75 bucks. This is back in 1968 or 1969. I wasn’t there when he came around, and say the next week I won $100. He wouldn’t say, “Well, you lost $75 last week, so here’s $25.” He’d pay what he owed me, and leave it to me to settle what I owed. He would never subtract my losings from my winnings. By the way, I’ve only seen him twice in my life, talked to him on the phone quite a bit. If he taxed me, I’d say “You’re a fucking mobster.” Well, what does my state (NY) do? Seventeen percent! The gambling ring does better than Enron. They pay what they owe and you don’t have to knock their door down. Am I professing a love of the mafia society? No.
Gambling is the wrong word. You do bet, with a modicum of alleged knowledge. But I’ve never made a big bet in my life. If you opened my wallet, moths would fly out. My biggest payout is $600. When I am left to myself, I normally win.
Meaning when you don’t study anything?
No. When I do study. When I am not in a bar, amongst all the talking, sucking down booze. The only secret, and let me make this loud and clear, is when constipated D.A.s swoop on a so-called gambling ring”they should be going to Albany and saying stop taking people’s money from their winnings. It’s outrageous.
And that’s pretty fucking Dunleavy right there: incoherent and indignant in about equal measure, proud of his mob bookie, pissed at the government, and almost certainly pissed (in the British usage) in general. “As much as I pretended to loathe his love of the mafia and firemen who wouldn’t snitch on each other,” Johnson writes. “I actually really miss his writing.” And, as loathsome as Dunleavy’s shtick truly was, that does make sense to me. I’d take his sort of prose over the Comic Book Guy-meets-Milton-Friedman maunderings of John Podhoretz or the perilously undermedicated Andrea Peyser, who survive him at the Post.
Also, there’s no way that a softball scold like Mushnick would wind up getting mugged while passed out on a bench near his favorite bar. He’s still outraged over the fact that baseball played in the Mountain time zone doesn’t start at 5:45pm, EDT.