by Trey Nosrac
Missing red flags can be dangerous.
My first meeting/appointment/date/negotiation with Myra Jankowski took place at the Doughnut Hole. Known affectionately as The Hole, the restaurant is a remodeled Shell gas station that opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 2 p.m., earlier if they run out of doughnuts. Many of the clientele are horse racetrack workers who pull up to the drive-thru window to grab coffee and donuts on the way to the stables. Customers rarely venture inside, where a few tables and chairs perch on a speckled tile floor.
Myra walked in looking tidy in her black stretch pants, blue satin jogging jacket, white mittens, and beige knitted ski cap. To the casual viewer, she could be a mother whose teenage kids have flown the nest, and she is on her way to a yoga class. Surveillance reports identified her as a twice-divorced real estate agent without children who recently sold a condo to my ex-sister-in-law.
Red flag number one, be wary of meetings arranged by an ex-sister-in-law who has never been a fan.
Myra tilted her head and said, “You must be the infamous wayward brother-in-law, Trey.”
“Guilty as charged. Let’s grab a coffee and a doughnut.”
She deliberated on what kind of doughnut she wanted for a good two minutes. It was as if her life depended on maple or chocolate frosting. Clara, the round lady behind the glass wielding her enormous set of tweezers, caught my eye and rolled hers. A frosted chocolate cake was Myra’s final choice. Clara placed the doughnut on a paper plate, and we all shuffled a few steps to the cash register.
Myra asked Clara, “Could I have a fork?”
Clara reached behind and grabbed a clear cellophane package with a plastic knife, fork, and napkin inside. Wordlessly, she extended the packet to Myra.
“Do you have genuine plates and forks?” asked Myra.
“At home, yes. Here, no.”
Myra gave a soft sigh before accepting the packet in her mitten.
Red flag number two. The difference between particular and peculiar is more than spelling.
We sat on battered folding chairs at a wobbly round ice cream table. I watched in wonder as Myra removed her mittens and revealed surprisingly long, shiny, red fingernails with white designs painted on each nail.
Immediately, I began to wonder how much those claws cost, how much damage they could inflict, how often they get replaced, who thinks these are a good idea, and how does she pick her nose without a trip to the emergency room.
Then she unfolded her paper napkin, set it on top of her paper plate, and began to carefully cut her doughnut into sections using BOTH the plastic knife and fork. I believe kidney transplants have less fanfare.
Myra set down her plastic fork and asked coldly, “What are the specific parameters if I decide to invest in this young horse?”
She peered at me from beneath fake eyelashes that looked like spiders had landed beneath her plucked eyebrows, then got down to business. “Your sister said you purchased a young racehorse for $20,000, which is well beyond your budget, and that I might find the experience interesting. Half is $10,000 for the purchase. Exactly what are my additional expenses and expected revenue?”
“Is this some sort of weird foreplay?” I asked.
She gave a fake smile, “I just like to know what I’m getting into.”
“Well, Myra, this is horse racing. Nobody ever knows what in the hell we are getting into in the racing game. Horses can get sick or injured, be slower than box turtles, and many things happen. Many of the things that may happen are not great.”
Her eyes were lasers. I felt like a perp on The First 48 Hours. In a monotone, she asked, “Give me a rough estimate for my half of the expenses for one year.”
I scratched my ear and said, “$10,000 for the horse, $15,000 for everything else, so $25,000 total. But you don’t get half. You get forty-nine percent.”
She lifted one of those eyebrows. “You want control?”
“I want to avoid conflicts. There will be several decisions along the way.”
“And you don’t think a woman can make those decisions?
“Easy, Myra. Don’t go Me Too on me. I’m an equal opportunity creatin. However, I have years of experience owning harness racehorses in this case. Yes, as my ex-sister-in-law has probably reported, my horse ownership has been an expensive train wreck. Still, I would never supersede you if we were selling a Tudor Mansion, or a four-door mansion, or a yurt.”
Myra did not chuckle. Using a single tine of her plastic fork, she impaled a piece of doughnut the size of a pea and asked, “Can you give me some data or statistics on ownership and my prospects of making a profit?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind me making the numbers up. I paused, smiled, and asked, “You mind if I call you My?”
“Yes.” She said quickly.
Red flag number three. Best to stay away from people without a sense of humor or appreciation of nicknames.
“Myra, racehorse ownership is a bad idea if you have a controlling personality. The ownership of a racehorse is an unknown, a mystery with plenty of things that are NOT controllable. The game is for dreamers. If you want to control, you might as well try to catch the wind. Hey, that was a song, Catch the Wind. Donavan had the hit single. I think Dylan wrote it.”
“Yes, I remember that song. I like it, but I don’t think it was a Dylan song.”
“Pretty sure it was Dylan,” I said.
Myra was not a debater. She whipped out her cell and typed at the speed of light, glanced at her screen, and then cackled, “Hah, I was right, written by Donavan.” Myra was a gloater, “Catch the Wind came out in March of 1965 on Pye Records. The label is spelled P-Y-E.” She smirked and re-cackled, “My goodness, look at this list. At least 30 artists have covered the song, but I don’t see Bob Dylan on the list.”
I gave her a mini salute. “I stand corrected.”
Red flag number four, avoid smirkers.
Myra extended her hand and said, “I’ll give you $5,000 for 10 per cent.”
She surprised me so much with this random proclamation that I temporarily lost my ability to do simple mathematics. Nor did I calculate the ramifications. She flustered me. Impulsively, I nodded and shook her hand, careful to avoid the red claws.”
With Myra as my partner, the following year with our 2YO trotter was a nightmare on many levels. Myra magnified the pain at every level. Let’s just say Myra was the opposite of a silent horse partner, and she did not take losing gracefully. Bad deal. Bad partner. Bad racing season. Bad idea to share ownership with a sore loser you met five minutes ago.
My fault. Lessons learned. I missed the red flags at the Doughnut Hole.