Dog day at the dog track

Since my past seems far more interesting than my present (for the time being, anyway) here’s another journal entry. This time, a holiday adventure in Phoenix, Arizona, to visit an old flame.

September 7, 1992

Cathy picked me up at Sky Harbor three days ago. She had to fire another nanny. This one was even crazier than the last one. This one dyed Amy’s hair blond. [Note: Amy was Cathy’s five-year old daughter. Her father was Mexican. She had a dark complexion and jet-black hair. A beautiful child.] It turns out the nanny’s daughter died a decade ago when she was just five. She had—you guessed it—blond hair. Cathy was pretty rattled. She probably dodged a kidnapping by a few days. Amy looks bizarre.

We went to the dog races with three of Cathy’s friends; Jeff and Brian, who I think are gay, [Note: Were they ever!] and Barkley. Beforehand, Cathy told me that Barkley was [theater director] Peter Sellars’ father and I didn’t believe her, but he looks just like him so it must be true. It was 50¢ night at the track. The parking, admission, hot dogs and tacos were all 50¢. Do you know how many tacos you can slam at 50¢ a pop? Quite a few. Jeff has a deep knowledge of dog racing (due to his gambling addiction), so I followed his lead in betting. We lost every race. He ran out of money and asked me, someone he barely knows, for $2 to bet the last race. Pathetic.

Dog racing is a tragic comedy. There’s a TV monitor in the clubhouse so you can watch the dogs being loaded into the starting gate. It ain’t pretty. They’re shoved into tiny, dark boxes by Mexican kids. The handlers grab them by the collar and rear ends and throw them in. It looks like an uncooperative cannonball being coaxed into the mouth of a cannon. A metal door slams shut behind them.

I always thought the dogs chased a stuffed bunny but Jeff said the Humane Society put an end to that so now they chase a bone with white streamers. It travels on a rail that circles the track. The race starts and the dogs shoot out of the starting box like the devil’s twisting their tails. They look gaunt and emaciated, but they are fast, fast, fast. They chase after it like they’re crazed or starving. They sprint at top speed. Then the bone suddenly takes a sharp left around the first turn and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

The track is loose dirt and you’d think that’d provide enough traction, but in every race a few dogs lost their footing on that first turn. Greyhounds run about 40-45 miles per hour (I looked it up) and when they fall, it looks like a giant ball of dirt rolling at a high rate of speed with legs and a tail sticking out of it. Like a Warner Brothers cartoon. In a few spills, the dogs became projectiles and took out a few other dogs with them. It’s a canine freeway crack-up. It’s so sad and so funny. The crowd would let out a collective “ooooohhhh.” I think they liked it the same way a NASCAR crowd likes a car crash or a hockey crowd a good fistfight. The spills are so violent that you’d think the dogs would be all busted-up with broken bones and a fucked-up sense of direction but they’re troopers. They pick themselves right up and take off after that damn bone.

The race ends and the bone is suspended just above their reach. They yelp and leap wildly trying to get at it and their trainers run out onto the track and harness their dog. I watched every race from the rail because I didn’t want to miss any good crack-ups. Plus, the clubhouse was like a fucking gas chamber with all the cigar and cigarette smoke. By the end of the evening I think there was a film of smoke on my eyeballs because they were burning. What’d I expect?

I thought this was an interesting juxtaposition. The olde world streetlamp. The Empire State distorted in the background reflection.


I saw this after the fact.


I’m not sure how I feel. This place is a target, there’s no doubt about that, but I don’t like being watched.

I’d like to thank the Academy…

versatile-bloggerLet me entertain you
Let me make you smile
Let me do a few tricks
Some old and then some new tricks
I’m very versatile

Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne

The lovely and talented Jennie from Tip of My Tongue gave me a Versatile Blogger award. How nice is that!? Previously, the only accolade I’ve received was the WordPress King of Typos and Misplaced Commas Award, which might sound awful, but it came with an honorarium.

As part of my thanks/acceptance, I’m required to reveal seven random facts about myself. Unfortunately, the REALLY interesting tidbits are not fit for public consumption. You’ll have to be content with these.

1. I saved a life. Actually, I saved several. I was on a Coast Guard search and rescue team. I drove the boat. When you throw a line to a boat that’s taking on water and transfer the passengers over, they look at you like you’re God. We were, literally, the difference between life and death. It’s pretty intoxicating stuff, especially when you’re just a kid. I haven’t done anything as gratifying before or since. The investment banking weasels I worked for after the Coast Guard are paid many multiples more, but they’re not fit to tie the shoes of the men and women in the Coast Guard.

2. I don’t recall having one conversation with my father. Not one! That dude looked right through me like I was a wisp of steam that somehow got into the dining room. He was a tragic figure, but not in the grand Shakespearian tradition of Hamlet or Edward IV. He was a mama’s boy who felt put upon by the world. His favorite song was (not kidding) Burt Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. Boo-hoo-hoo. Poor me.

3. Many, many years ago, I attended a picnic in Bruce Springsteen’s backyard. It was at his horse farm in the bucolic New Jersey countryside in late September. A beautiful early Autumn day. Blue skies and a cool breeze. There was tons of food and stuff for the kids to do. There was a demonstration of trick horseback riding. Near where a field started, a stage was set up. Not a giant one like in a stadium. It was just four or five feet off the ground. The kind you’d see at an outdoor community theater production. Some members of the E Street Band were there along with other sundry New Jersey musicians. After we all stuffed ourselves silly with bar-b-cue and beer, they climbed on stage and played for about three hours. None of his songs. They were all from the Motown catalog and classics from the 60’s with a few chestnuts from the 50’s and 70’s thrown in. Different musicians would hop on and off the stage but Springsteen never left. Fred Schneider of the B-52’s sang a rousing version of Sam the Sham & Pharaohs’ Woolly Bully. I talked to him afterwards and he said he had no idea what the lyrics were and was just making it up as he went along. As dusk settled, a gigantic, golden, harvest moon came up low on the horizon. Springsteen looked over, saw it, and launched into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising. It’s one of my top five best days ever. Stuff like this isn’t a part of my life. I’m just regular.

4. When My Bride and I announced our engagement to her parents, her mother wept. And they were not tears of joy.

5. I’m a small-time rare book dealer. I’ll buy a book that I feel is being sold under-value with the intention of reselling it either at an auction or on eBay. The problem is that once I’m holding it in my hands, I can’t bear to part with it. That’s why I can’t do it for a living.

6. I didn’t lose my virginity until just two months shy of my 20th birthday. I had plenty of opportunities but I never wanted to be that close to anyone. Also, I didn’t want to become dependent on something that could be taken away from me as easily as it was given. Pretty smart, right?

7. The most important relationship in my life has been…ready?…New York City! The most heartfelt and gratifying relationship is with My Bride and Daughters. But, let’s face it, if it weren’t for New York City, for better or worse, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I wouldn’t be typing these words. It molded me. And make no mistake—it was a real relationship with highs and lows and arguments and longing. I got mad once, walked out on her and had an 18-month affair with Phoenix, Arizona, but I came running back begging. She took me in, thank God. What was I thinking?

57th street

57th Street R train station below Carnegie Hall

6th avenue

55th Street and 6th Avenue