Saturday, September 22, 2007


Starr Ann and I extend greetings from the unplumbed depths of utter decadence. That's right! This morning, after chores, we showed our adult selves the door and declared a day of shameless indulgence.

Our opening ceremony involved two spoons, a mixing bowl, and a box of brownie mix. After preparing the black sludge, we carried our sacred vessel to the living room and ate raw brownie batter all through Saturday cartoons. If you have never luxuriated in the gritty, gooey chocolatiness of this delight, be vigilant, you may have latent Republican tendencies. I'm so full right now, I can't even think about lunch, which we've already planned - onion rings and french fries. Sweet sure does set you up for wanting salty, doesn't it?

By unspoken agreement, we are only talking about things that make us happy or proud or hopeful today. Or stupid things that crack us up.

We got to talking about Barbara Livingston, the extraordinary equine photographer. Starr Ann and I are always amazed at how we can, at a glance, usually tell it's a Barbara Livingston photo. She just released her second book, More Old Friends, and we cannot wait to check it out. Aside from her uncanny ability to expose something about each horse's unique personality, Ms. Livingston has an engaging prose style that makes you wish you could sit down in a racetrack kitchen with her and spend an hour or two over a greasy breakfast and too much coffee. At least, that's something Starr Ann and I would love to do.

Of course, that got us to thinking about our years on the racetrack. Starr Ann retold her favorite story from the backside. It started when we were up at Arlington Park one meet. Starr Ann got to be buddies with an old, done-for jockey named Ramon. Ramon was foreman of the outfit we were working for and he and Starr Ann shared an insatiable appetite for Greek food. Every day, they took off for the same Greek restaurant as soon as the final horse was done up. Ramon had a little tiny drinking problem. He made it to work every morning, but sometimes found himself short on cash toward payday. Not a big deal, by racetrack standards.

Starr Ann used to lend him a little money at the end of the week, which Ramon always paid back the morning after we got paid. Well, one day we got word that our friend back in Kentucky, Celia Susan, needed us to come home right away. We took off as soon as the call came in, having time only to leave a note on Ramon's tack room door, saying goodbye and to keep the $50 he had borrowed from Starr Ann. It wasn't his fault we were taking off in such a hurry.

Now here's the good part. Well, it's not all good. Years later, we heard that Ramon had been in a pretty bad spill. He was ponying a two-year-old that went bonkers and (this was before the new rails) Ramon came off his pony after being dragged along the railing a long ways. Nearly killed Ramon, and he ended up losing his left leg. It had to be at least five years after all that when we next saw Ramon. Starr Ann and I were taking a couple of horses to the track at Churchill, and he passed us, going the opposite way, ponying another two-year-old back toward the barn area.

There was only time for him to holler, "Aphrodite! What barn?" Ramon always called Starr Ann by the name of the only Greek goddess he knew.

Starr Ann told him Barn 18, and we glowed all through the rest of the morning, looking forward to seeing Ramon.

He didn't get to our barn until he'd had time to clean up real nice. As he gimped down the shedrow on his prosthetic leg, we could see that the five years had weighed on him about like twenty. But he still had that great big Ramon smile! Starr Ann hopped down from her perch on the shedrow rail and was about to hug him real hard, but Ramon held up his right hand to stop her. At the same time, with his left hand he was reaching into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a $50 bill and presented it to Starr Ann with the utmost gentlemanly grace. Then he threw open his arms and accepted Aphrodite's embrace. Some people just have class that nothing in this world can rob them of.

I was about to retell my favorite racetrack story, but (remember? I said the adults had left the building) the sugar hit Starr Ann's bloodstream and she got all silly. Sometimes, I swear, the two of us regress to the mentality of ten-year-old boys. So, I'll spare you the rest of this particular conversation, which went downhill fast and ended up featuring a lot of fart references.