Samuel Lerner of Adelphi, Md. has been, he says, "fighting for his rights wherever he's been" as long as he can remember. Like, for instance the hot summer day in New York City when he was four or five years old.
"I was the little Jewish kid in the Mafia section," Lerner recalled. "Some of the bigger kids decided to duck the Jewish boy in the hydrant water. I told them they weren't going to do it. I went and got my wagon and walked through the water from the hydrant myself."
Which is by way of an introductory explanation as to how Lerner finds himself in the predicament he's in with Laurel Race Course.
"I'm a teller in the parimutuels," Lerner began. "I'm working at Bowie, on the mezzanine, in 1972 at one of the open windows. I laid my box against a partition at the $5 wild ($5 win-place show) for a second. By the time I looked back up, $1,150 in 50s and 100s has disappeared off the top rack."
Lerner said he intended to make up his mistake. All of it. All $1,750.
"I paid $700 back," he says. "Then I was told I'd be fired after I'd made it all up. I said the heck with that. I'm 67 now, retired from the Government Accounting Office, where I worked 31 years, I love to travel. I decided to travel instead."
Except, by November of 1975, Lerner was back behind the parimutuel windows at Laurel, working window No. 34. The shingle over the window said "Change and Information." A fan could get change, or information, or both. Courteously.
"Then the management came up to me one day and said, "This window is Change only'.They took the information sign away. I said nothing. Lots of people had always been coming up to the window, asking where the rest rooms were, how to bet the exacta or the triple, asking all kinds of questions I was happy to answer. But 'Information' meant the track had to pay $1.50 more a day to the employees at those windows. They discontinued it at window 34."
Lerner eventually was transferred from the stand to another window. That did not mean he had to have leave courtesy behind. All sellers and cashiers are expected to be civil when asked a question by a customer.
"But I'm a man of principal," Learner declared. "After the way I'd been treated, I felt there was nothing in my contract that said I had to continue giving out information as I'd been paid to do. So this November, when a person came to my window and asked a question, I told him, 'I don't know." They must not have liked the way I said it, cause the person up and threw a full cup of coke and ice. Hit me right in the face."
Nor was that the end of Lerner's trouble. He was taken behind the mutuel lines, to help service the front men, but soon was charged by his superiors with eating soup and betting on horses during work hours. Lerner admits the second charge, but denies the first.
"I wasn't eating soup. I was eating tuna fish," he said. "Now I've got a bad knee that requires cortisone and Novacaine injections, and I'm diabetic . . ."
Obviously, Lerner misses being able to dispense information at Laurel. It's not the $1.50 a day extra, it's the principle of the matter. To him, an information window should indentify itself, otherwise it's little more than a residence for a quick-change artist.
There is no stakes event on today's closing program at Laurel. The New Year's Day Purse, at one mile, is the $10,000 feature. Two horses that ran in Monday's All Brandy Handicap are entered. They are Shark's Jaws (third in the All Brandy) and Gay Candy (fourth).
Maryland racing shifts from Laurel to Bowie Race Course Monday for 66 days.