Biff America: Bad hands, good attitude

Jeffrey "Biff" Bergeron

Dicky Fingers was a gambler; that was his only job. 

He drove an old Buick, dressed modestly and was always smiling. When he wasn’t smiling, he was laughing. I never knew, or can’t remember, his real last name. He was called “Fingers” because of his hands. The story went that, years earlier, Dicky was slow to pay off a debt, and to remind him of his tardiness, some thug shut his hands in a car door.

During my late teens I worked at a greyhound dog racing track. (Disclaimer: I now know that greyhound racing is cruel and, in most states, illegal. That realization was one of a long list of my ignorances back then.) I would see Dicky most nights I worked. Win or lose, I don’t remember him without a chuckle or smile.  

Dicky Fingers had the gift of both mirth and forgiveness when a dog he bet on didn’t come through. He’d say, “Poor fella, he cost me a few bucks, but at least I’ll never be neutered.”

Fingers found humor in all that life brought him, even his losses and pain. He laughed about his hands like he joked about everything: “They are better suited for counting cash than playing the piano, and when the weather gets cold, they remind me to pay my bills.”

Dicky made a living 50 bucks at a time playing the dogs, bridge and poker. He never bet on sports, horse racing (the ponies) or any event with a human element. Dicky’s assertion was that people were often unpredictable and sometimes dishonest. His skepticism of humanity was not reflected in his dealings with its members. He seemed to know everyone and liked everyone he knew.

Like any colorful character, Dicky had sayings and aphorisms, some of which I plagiarize to this day:

  • “Stay away from that gal. She has more finger prints on her than a Celtics basketball.”
  • “That galoot might be ugly as a bucket of ears, but he’s strong as a bull and smart as a tractor.”

Granted those quotations are not worthy of Bartlett’s, but to a high school kid, they were pure gold.         

It wasn’t only Dicky’s eloquence that has stuck with me after over 40 years. In my mind’s eye, I can still picture him standing in front of the paddock wearing an old tweed sports coat, matching hat, Tiparillo in hand, staring into the eyes of the dogs about to race as if to get some hidden signal: “Bet on me. Today’s my day.” Even while trying to read a dog’s mind, Dicky would be smiling. 

When he wasn’t smiling, he was laughing. 

When I look back on Dicky’s good nature and the reason for it, I settle on the belief that he had the gift of perspective. He had little in the way of possessions, wealth or security. He must have known, considering his lifestyle, there was a good chance that he could end up poor and alone, but he was wise enough to know others had it worse.   

Despite those harsh realities, some blessed gift allowed him to see not only the good in people but the good in life.  

“The highest state is laughter.” Some yogi said that. 

Depending on your situation, 2020 has either been a major inconvenience or a financial, personal, medical and emotional kick in the teeth. Certainly, different folks have differing abilities to emotionally deal with the dumpster fire this year has been. It would be easy, yet colossally naive, for me to say we all should be like Dicky and maintain a perspective to allow us to seek out what’s positive while accepting what is unchangeable. But the truth is, we all have varying capacities for dealing with life’s challenges, even during the best of times. In these times, for some, it brings them to an emotional brink. 

But I will say this: I don’t care who you are or what your condition; there are those who care about you. If not friends and relatives, then churches, nonprofits and social services. Two great resources are Building Hope Summit County and the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. Ask for help just as you would give help if asked.

And for the rest of us, who by dumb luck or genetics are carrying a lighter load, let’s all slow down, be a little kinder, more empathetic and reach out. I will admit, 2020 has been a new type of awful, but at least I haven’t been  neutered.

Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at

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