A Day at the Races

Collin’s birthday often involves doing something we don’t normally do. We’ve jumped out of a plane and chewed on Flintstone-sized drumsticks in a prehistoric steakhouse.

This birthday we’re at the horse races. Having never attended a horse race, I mostly associate it with Bukowskiesque characters in bitter desperation, a row of red-eyed old men in pale golf shirts and checkered pants squeezing the racing program in a sweaty fist and begging Sagar-the-Horrible to make their rent. The only reason I knew there was a racing program at all was because of Bukowski. It’s important to learn from the things you read.

I have never been a big gambler, but that’s only because I don’t often find myself in places where gambling is the vice du jour. When I do find myself in a casino or at a track of some kind, I will figure out how to gamble and then I will gamble. During my Christmas visits, my father and I bet on every football game that is on TV. I adopt his phrases of rationale – Oh, I do it to make the games fun to watch. It’s fun. And then I follow his lead by staring at the television and seething and exploding over anything that goes against our team. By the end of the game we have fun-induced apoplexy.

The crowd is not at all what I expect. There are definitely the Bukowskis, old guys with binoculars around their necks and forty tickets in their pocket protectors. Their binoculars are bent at the horses during the races and the girls in between the races. Otherwise there are lots of families, more kids than one would associate with horse races. There are young couples out for the day. Some people are dressed up for the occasion (we’re among them). There are more ascots at this race than I have seen in the last thirteen years in Prague combined. I am comforted by the others, who have made the extraordinarily questionable fashion choices I’ve come to associate with Prague or, more likely, young people (bright green shorts and a slightly different bright green shirt. I will never understand).

The day is gorgeous, sunny, breezy, and there is beer. We have hotdogs and shots of bad rum. But mostly, we look at the program and we bet on horses. At first I break out some very specific Czech just for the occasion – Rád bych vsadil padésat korun na sázku na pět koní (I’d like to place a fifty koruna bet on horse five).

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. So I bet on names that stand out to me for some reason. This includes Markus and Morgan (Walking Dead) and Wenus (I’m a sucker for a Chandler Bing in-joke). We all bet on Forrest Gump, solely for the purposes of being able to exploit the once in a lifetime actual applicability of shouting “Run, Forrest, run!” Despite being able to run like the winds blows, Forrest comes in second. He is the closest I come to winning. Until the last race when a dark horse called Raylene squeaks one out for my benefit.

What concerns me is not the money, it’s the ease with which gambling takes over. It’s almost unnoticeable. By the third race, I am not using my neato Czech phrases anymore, but I’m far curter and more to-the-point (Fifty on Three, Thirty on Two and Six. Yes, of course to win.). I have deemed some of the betting windows bad luck (she was responsible for Neer-Do-Well); some others come to know me (hello again, sir. Almost had that last one.).

I suppose it’s what special occasions are all about – doing something you don’t normally do. On my birthdays the only new thing I do is not pay for most of my drinks. But on Collin’s we jump out of airplanes and eat raw meat. I guess May 13th is the day of the year when I see what I would be like with different influences in my life. I really hope he doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.

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