by Trey Nosrac
My iPad just dinged. The news was bad. My favorite writer, Jay Cronley, cashed his final ticket. This was strange because the story I was fiddling around with was about the staggering uptake in the value of a book Jay wrote about horse racing. Now Jay will never read the story and send an email along the lines of, “Thanks pal, now a guy is outside my door with a copy of my book and an Uzi.”
Jay was wicked funny. He loved thoroughbred horseracing. When I asked about harness racing, he replied, “…ehhh.” Jay was not a flowery writer, he spit it our clear and terse. You would be smart to find one of Jay Cronley’s novels. The odds are 2-5 that you laugh out loud. However, as you will see in the paragraphs below, finding a Jay Cronley book will not be easy.
Rest easy my good man. You ran a good race. You made people smile.
* * *
This column is a public service announcement. You may have a book on your shelf of significant value and not realize it.
The title of the book is Good Vibes, a humorous romp about a racetrack loser who goes on a hot streak. Jay Cronley wrote the book in 1979, along with a string of other outstanding comic novels and a thoroughbred-racing column, from his home base of Tulsa, OK.
Good Vibes went Hollywood. The movie, Let It Ride, which starred Richard Dreyfuss, was based on Good Vibes and had a decent run at the box office in 1989. When Jay sold his book to Hollywood, the work underwent screenwriting, but his irreverent racetrack humor remained intact. The storyline is simple, a racetrack regular named Trotter spends a day at the track and just keeps parlaying (Let it Ride) until his winning reaches dizzying heights. Along for the ride are his loopy pal, his girlfriend and some racetrack regulars like Tony Cheeseburger. Pull up this YouTube for a sample of the style:
Here are a few nuggets that fell out of Good Vibes:
Tony Cheesburger: The 4 horse! Nobody bets the 4 horse, Trotter. The 4 horse is a joke. They let little kiddies on the 4 horse to have their picture taken.
Jay Trotter: May I… buy you a drink?
Mrs. Davis: I don’t see why not. I’m on the pill.
Jay Trotter: Who do you like in the second?
Looney: The six horse looks pretty good…
Jay Trotter: [dramatically crosses out the six horse on his racing form] You got a brother?
Looney: In Cleveland.
Jay Trotter: Call him up, ask him who he likes. I figure it’s in the blood!
Mrs. Davis: There’s a fine line between winning and losing.
Jay Trotter: Yeah, the finish line.
Marty: Eight’s the one, I’d stake my life on it.
Jay Trotter: They’ve got a $2 minimum bet.
Fictional/satirical writers that set their work in the sport of horse racing are a very sparse, very pathetic, club. We have so few members that we hold our annual conference in a used Volvo idling in a Taco Bell parking lot. This unique literary genre is a niche within a niche with a loyal audience of approximately 38 people.
A few years ago, I decided to revisit some of Jay’s books to plagiarize some jokes and equine situations. It has been several decades since he wrote these books so I figured he has probably forgotten what he wrote, and since we occasionally swapped emails, he may not sue me.
I rarely buy books, it always seemed pointless with libraries. I read quite a bit, but I never read a book twice. In addition, books cost money. I do not have money because I buy trotting yearlings. Therefore, off to the library I went.
Here is the transcript of an email exchange with Jay that changed my thoughts on the wisdom of purchasing books. It is also an alert to those of you who may happen to have a copy of this classic horse racing book collecting dust on your bookshelf.
TN – Hi Jay, I decided to order some Cronley books from my local library system. Get this – your books are out of circulation! When I headed to the library to plagiarize some other unsuspecting writers, I stumbled across a lone copy of one of your books that was misfiled. What is with the missing books?
JC – A pristine hardback of Good Vibes, the racehorse book, goes for big, big money, like $300 to $600 or more. I stopped looking.
TN – Yowza, the misfiled book I found was Good Vibes. I got it on my desk right now. Stealing a book from a library is cake. Talk me off the edge. Don’t let me go to the dark side. What’s the deal? I mean, Jay, I like your books but the last trotter I bought did not cost $600. Hey, Trotter, wasn’t he the lead character?
JC – Tell me about it. I wrote it, pal. And yes, the lead character was named Trotter.
TN – I read all of your books. I plagiarized many of your books. Unfortunately, I did not buy any of your books. I was busy investing in slow harness horses.
JC – My ex-wife has two. All I have is one paperback with mustard on it.
TN – Sheesh, I just looked on ebay. The lowest price is $305 and they go up to infinity. Wow. I was either going to work on a story or go to the track. Now I have a third option, swipe this library copy and put it on ebay or Amazon.
JC – If you peddle it – I know nothing.
TN – Nah, I’ll return it… don’t want no “Bad Vibes.” LOL.
JC – Very weak, pal.
Discovering that a relatively obscure 30-year-old book about horse racing had such value was a revelation. No wonder people pick through rubbish and hit yard sales early in the morning.
It depresses me that I did not purchase Good Vibes when it rolled off the presses those many years ago, but it warms my heart that a segment of people are collecting books — and that a horse racing book is at the top of the heap.
Occasionally, I consider writing a novel about the wacky world of harness racing, but then I sober up and remember I did write a book about an irresponsible loser who lived in an RV. That was enough for a slothful person with a short attention span. Besides, it looks like there is more money looking for stray copies of Good Vibes at garage sales than writing books.
Bottom line, if you happen to have a copy of Good Vibes on your bookshelf, you are sitting pretty. If you sell your copy for big money – remember who gave you the hot tip.