It was time for another cup of coffee (when is it not?). So there I went, marching toward the front of the newsroom, mug in hand. Suddenly, from a nearby desk, I heard:
"Hey, man, you like Denver?"
I screeched to a halt and said:
"Yeah, I hear the skiing is pretty good, but the restaurants won't make you homesick for Paris."
"Don't be a wise guy," said my colleague. "You know what I mean."
I did, indeed. He was talking about the Denver Broncos of the National Football League, and their game that Sunday. But he wasn't asking my opinion as a fan. He wanted to know if I thought he should place a bet on The Men in Orange.
As we discussed the aches and pains of Denver's defensive line, I noticed some stirring around the room. Yes, just as I suspected, it was another spontaneous gathering of The Water Cooler Caucus, that collection of newsroom lowlifes who comprise the free world's oldest deliberative body. As always, we dispensed with the singing of the national anthem and got right down to business.
"I am no shrinking violet, as the women of Washington know only too well," said one of our younger backbenchers, to whom humility is a foreign language. "But I think discussing in a public place which NFL team to bet on is illegal, isn't it?"
"Betting's illegal; talking isn't," interjected an editor who's always both wise and brief (is there a difference?).
"What he means is, he likes Denver, but not enough to lay any lettuce on the line," added an old buddy who has been losing on Denver for years.
"Will the gentleman yield?" I said. "I think that, instead of picking at motives and disparaging each other, we should ask whether betting on pro football around the office ought to be illegal. I, for one, don't think so."
"Maybe betting wouldn't be so bad," said another "Senator." "But we simply must outlaw talking about it. I have sat right up here by the message center for more than 10 years, and I have heard more hours spent gossiping about quarterbacks than anyone in journalism school would believe. I don't object to gambling on moral grounds, or because guys are betting the rent money. I object because it wastes so much time and energy."
Our legal expert had been thinking. Now he weighed in with: "The laws against betting are designed to protect people from their own worst impulses. But there's room to wonder, when states are subsidizing gambling through lotteries."
"Precisely what bothers me," said the veteran Denver-bettor. "You have cops who work for the D.C. government arresting people for gambling, when other employes of the D.C. government are promoting the very same thing."
"And you always get selective enforcement," I pointed out. "Remember those gambling busts last year of the big-name TV reporters? I'm not saying those guys were innocent. But I am saying that the cops went after them because they knew the names would cause a big splash, not because the TV guys were betting enough to threaten the economic underpinnings of the republic."
"But there has to be some control on this," noted the legal expert. "It's no good for society if people cheat and steal to come up with enough money to bet every Sunday. The gambling laws are designed to keep people from breaking other laws."
"But how can you enforce gambling laws?" asked Mr. Humility. "Are you going to post signs in every office saying DON'T BET -- BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU?"
"Gentlemen," I said, "I'd like to see us go the other way. I'd like to see the D.C. government get into sports betting openly and thoroughly, so it can drive bookmakers out of business. Heck, they've already pretty much done that with Off-Track Betting in New York. What would be wrong with doing the same thing for football bets? It would even be better for the consumer. He wouldn't have to chase after his bookie at all hours. He could walk into a brightly lit storefront on Connecticut Avenue, buy a few tickets and be home for supper."
"Mayor'll never go for it," said the brief-but-wise editor.
"He'll go for it if he wants a balanced budget," said the man who sits at the front of the room.
"Be serious," said Mr. Humility. "Can you feature the Mayor going before the TV cameras and saying, 'Gambling is good for Washington, folks. Go right on down to the D.C. Football Parlor and wager all your money on the Denver Broncos.' "
"The city's virtually saying that about the lottery already," I pointed out. "Have you seen those TV ads? Everybody so delighted to be pouring their money down the drain. At least with football you have a reasonable chance to win."
Glares started emanating from the executive suite about then, so we wrapped things up. I got my coffee and was retracing my steps when I heard:
"Hey, man, if you didn't like Denver, why didn't you just say so?"
"You're hopeless," I said.
And then I whispered:
"But so is New Orleans. Denver's a cinch."