Ken had been married to Natalie for a few months before he revealed his true self.
During the honeymoon stage of their relationship he had concealed his mania for gambling, or at least had indulged in it with some discretion. He would handicap football games in solitude and sneak out to a phone booth near their suburban Maryland home to conduct his numerous transactions with bookmakers.
But soon Ken came out of the closet and turned Natalie into a full-fledged football widow. On almost every autumn weekend for the last six years, he would take his position in front of the television, spread out his schedules, betting lines, statistics and tout sheets, call his bookie and then sit there galvanized for hours on end.
Natalie would occupy herself with housework or yard work, and Ken would be virtually oblivious to her existence, except when she chose to express her displeasure by vacuuming in front of the TV set during some crucial fourth-and-one situation.
Ken's unquenchable appetite for gambling and sports became a major sore point in the marriage, a constant cause of bickering and fighting. Natalie wished Ken would quit betting. That, of course, was out of the question. Ken wished Natalie would make an effort to share, or at least to comprehend, the great passion of his life.
A few Saturdays ago, Ken was pouring over the college football schedule and marking his intended bets when Natalie glanced over his shoulder and asked, "Can I do that?" She went through the lineup and put a check mark by each of her selections. At the end of the day she had picked nearly 60 percent winners. Ken had lost $200 to his bookie.
The next weekend, Natalie sat down with Ken as he did his football handicapping and made her choices again. "I really started getting into it," she said. "Ken went to the race track for the afternoon, but I sat down in front of the television a little after noon and pretty soon I was waiting for every score. They'd give them so fast I couldn't keep track of them all so I set up a tape recorder so I wouldn't miss any of them. When Ken got home I had him calling the SportsPhone so we could get the late scores from the West Coast."
Again Natalie picked about 60 percent winners. Ken lost $500.
Within a couple more weeks, Nataie was comparing point spreads from different sources, studying the Gold Sheet and continuing to select a preponderance of winners. "She was outpicking me like crazy," Ken conceded. "It was getting embarrassing."
Having found out what it was like to have a wife who shared his principal interest, he pleaded, "Will you please stop this?"
Natalie acquiesced. "It's nice to share your husband's hobby," she said, "but not when you're going 10 and four while he's two and 12." So as Ken places his bets and watches games, Natalie occupies herself with housework and yard work again. The difference now is that she does them with an air of smugness rather than hostility, and has to restrain herself from asking her husband if he needs any help doping out the Tangerine Bowl.