Undoubtedly you’ve heard it before. Maybe you came across it in a dime store joke book, read it on the inside of a bare popsicle stick, or overhead it on the playground when you were young. It’s a question as ubiquitous as “What is the meaning of life?” and as provocative as “Shall we dance?” You’ve probably asked it, answered it, and chuckled at, maybe even done so a multitude of times. Why was 6 afraid of 7? Well, because 7 ate 9.
God, I wish it were that simple. That would be so much easier to comprehend than the truth. But the world doesn’t work that way, does it? Not for people and definitely not for numbers.
The real reason 6 was afraid of 7 had little to do with 8, 9, 10, or even 11. You see 6 was afraid of 7 because 7 was 6’s bookie and 6 got in a little too deep.
It all started with the ponies as it so often does. 6 went down the track on a breezy Saturday with a pal, had a couple of drinks, and found himself on a bit of a hot streak. 4 hours, too many G&T’s to count, and $1,200 later, 6 left the track on the highest of highs. He’d been hitting on the horses all day and even after throwing some cash at the waitstaff and his buddy 5, who’d fallen on hard times after the divorce, he still had a significant chunk of change in his pocket. It had been a good day for 6 and he went to bed that night with a smile on his face.
The next day, 6 sat in his shoddy apartment trying to decide on what he should do with his winnings. He could give some to charity, sure. He could maybe pay down some of his credit card debt, that wasn’t a bad idea. He could even buy himself a new pair of bluejeans, that might be nice. Maybe the stretchy kind that he used to like! He could have done all of those things, but he didn’t. Instead he called up his ex-girlfriend 3 and asked her if she was still “friendly” with that bookie who took the big bets. She said she was, but that that dude, 7, was dangerous. He had nearly put 14 in the hospital after he tried to skip town during the French Open last year. 6 assured 3 that he was only placing a small bet and that she had nothing to worry about.
6 called the very next day and spoke confidentiality to 7, even though he was actually quite scared. 6 attempted to exchange pleasantries, but 7 asked that he cut to the chase. 6 told 7 he wanted to bet $1,000 on the Chicago Bulls to cover the spread. 7 grunted and hung up the phone.
The next night, the Bulls played. They lost and didn’t cover the spread. 6 was out $1,000 just like that and he hadn’t even had a chance to buy those stretchy jeans he wanted. The next night 6 bet another grand (one he didn’t have) on the Bulls to cover. They didn’t. The next night he did the same thing. And the Bulls did the same thing too. On the fourth night, to make up for his losses, 6 placed a $3,000 bet on the Bulls not to cover the spread. They covered. 6 was out $6,000.
After the game, 6 grabbed a suitcase and threw all of his most prized possessions inside. He still had his original money on him, the $1,000, more than enough to catch the train to San Francisco and start a new life. 7 would be mad, maybe even infuriated, but 6 didn’t think he’d ever have to see 7 again. 6 could shave his head, grab a fake mustache, and start wearing more floral just in case 7 ever made it all the way to the bay.
As he walked out the door, the phone rang and it was 3. She said 7 was coming to collect now and that if 6 didn’t have all of the money then he better get the hell out of town. Seconds later, a booming knock came at 6’s door. 6, knowing what awaited him, climbed out the back window and used the fire escape to get down. His luggage opened at one point and all of his prized possessions were scattered about the dirty alley. He didn’t care. 6 just had to get out of dodge once and for all. Having at last reached the ground level, 6 sped around the corner and met 7 dead on. And what’s worse, he was there with 1 and 2, notoriously bad dudes. 7 took hold of 6’s shoulders and looked him square in the eye while 1 and 2 took turns hitting him with a phone book. 7 didn’t say anything to 6. He didn’t need to.
No one ever heard from 6 again.
So you really want to know why 6 was afraid of 7? Because he got hot at the track and let his greed get the best of him. Maybe 7 did eat 9 for all I know. Hey, it could have happened! 6 was an okay guy. He meant well. But he lost his way and paid the price. Numbers gambling away their lives is a little ironic, I guess. But irony is lost on those in body bags.
Adam Dietz is a writer and the host of the Home Improvement (the sitcom) podcast “Home Impodcast.” His work has been featured in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Slackjaw, and The Art of Autism. He lives in Milwaukee with his partner and their two cats.