Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spencer's Birthday at Santa Anita Racetrack (Part Two)

At the end of the last post, I was savoring a moment of clarity about how very little we truly need...
Unfortunately, the boys have not pondered this basic truth as I have. And after repeating that mad dash to the fence a few more times, they are restless. Just as I start rifling through my mind for some organized game I can pull together, Pat appears with tickets for the booths. Five per kid. Earlier, we had decided that the tickets would serve as party favors.
“Plus,” he tells the kids as he rips up the tickets, “there’s a real treat here. We’re going to get to meet the actual real live horse who played Seabiscuit in the movie.”
Spence and Murphy clap their hands, eyes wide with anticipation. The other boys’ reactions are more subdued. What? Were they were expecting the real Seabiscuit? Maybe they haven’t seen the movie. Or perhaps they have become jaded Hollywood kids already. Last year, the dog who played Marmaduke visited their school and they all got their pictures taken with him. Meeting animal actors, and even human ones, who portrayed heroes, was routine for them. Who knows? Perhaps they had grown wary, suspicious. When they visited the doctor, they worried. Would he turn to them in front of his framed headshot on the wall, and say “It looks like a hairline fracture to me. But, hey, I’m not a real doctor. I just play one on TV.” Poor guys. They were growing up in a fake world. I get it.
Spencer, however, is still eager. To say that he has a rich imagination is to understate it. He has lived out many lives and roamed as many fictional lands in his mind. So meeting the horse that portrayed his all time favorite steed in the movie is good enough for him. Small events like these are seeds. Out of them grow hours of play. Next week I might look out our window to see him racing around the courtyard, hearing the thunder of hooves behind him as he storms across the finish line. 
Pat closes up the cooler and leads the boys across the field as I trail, counting heads.
We find the smallish horse, pawing the ground in a small paddock. A painted sign on cardboard identifies him as “The horse who played Seasbuscuit”. There is no mention of the equine actor’s real name. That has to sting. And we are the only fans there.
Pat pulls an apple out of his pocket and starts cutting it with his jackknife, “Who wants to feed him?” He asks.
Small hands jut forward and he doles out slices of the apple. Spencer presses his forehead to a slat of the gate to get a closer look. And it is comforting to know that he is seeing his hero – the tiny horse who wouldn’t quit – and not the actor who had outlived his usefulness. I check myself. Maybe that’s not it at all. This horse is not you. Possibly this is enough. Hell, maybe he hated the movie set and dreamed of a day when he could lazily nibble apple from children’s palms.
I take a picture of them hanging onto the gate with the horse’s face sticking through the slats. I will send it to them as a memento of the party. They can place it next to the one of them with the canine actor who played Marmaduke.
Pat tosses the apple core into the paddock and rallies the troops. We are on the move again. My eyes slid over the tops of the boys’ heads. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.  Good. It’s a short distance to the booths and the kids quickly scatter.
“Pat. I have Murphy, Spencer, and Kevin Wu,” I shout, keeping my eyes trained on them.
Pat shouts back that he has the rest. Although it’s possible that he doesn’t. Just as much as he expects to be loved, he expects the universe to be benign. To support rather than squash. To lift up, rather than cast aside. To deliver the lost child, rather than swallow him altogether.  As charming as this worldview is, it requires me to be that much more vigilant. I must be the sentry, always anticipating danger so that it does not overtake us.
One. Two. Three. Four. Four. Four. Where’s? Five. And six.  I can’t wait to get back to the cooler. Away from the crowds where I can count over and over in peace.
Kevin Wu runs up to me, Spencer and Murphy behind him. “I won a glider,” he crows, thrusting the flimsy balsa model forward. Spencer and Murphy inspect it.
I am happy for Kevin Wu. Maybe it will keep his mind off of fake nausea on the way home.
Young-Jae materializes. “Where did you get that?”
“Over there,” says Kevin Wu, pointing to a ring toss booth. Really? Kevin Wu actually won at ring toss?
“I want one of those,” Young-Jae says. “But I don’t have any tickets left.”
He looks up at me, his look of entitlement so plain that I can see the hotshot floor trader in his future, hopped up from coke the night before.
Giovanni strolls up and spies the glider, “Hey, where did you get that?” Kevin Wu points to the booth again. Giovanni goes through his pockets. But I already know that he won’t find any tickets there. I throw a look to Pat walking toward us, with Max in tow.
Young-Jae turns to Pat, “Do you have any more tickets?”
Pat stops. At a buck a pop, we have already exhausted our ticket budget of thirty dollars.  For Christ sake, these kids might not possess Kevin Wu’s ring toss talent. It could cost us another fifty just to get five more gliders. I consider slipping the sweaty vendor a ten and buying the piece-of-shit toys outright.
Pat runs his hands through his hair, “Guys, we said five tickets each. You’ve had your fun. Now let’s get back to the cooler and play a game.”
All but Spencer let out an audible groan. It’s not that Spencer wants the glider any less. Or that he’s fundamentally less acquisitive than the others. He simply knows that Pat won’t budge. And, unfortunately, he also knows that we cannot afford it.
The boys stand their ground, not knowing what Spencer knows. Pat is not going to buy more tickets.
Giovanni’s hand shoots up from the small throng, a wad of cash in his grasp. “I’ll buy them,” he says, like a cowboy walking into a saloon from a month long cattle drive. The boys jump up and down. Even Spencer.
Before Pat and I can say a thing, they turn, tripping over themselves, and follow Giovanni striding toward the ticket booth.
“What just happened,” I say to Pat. “Should we stop them?
“Why?” He says, putting his arm around my shoulder.
And for the life of me I can’t think of a good reason. I lean into Pat. The benign universe has delivered up Giovanni and his wad of cash. I have known Giovannis all my life. They love the big moment. The grand gesture. And today, he gets to be the hero. I watch Giovanni hand strings of tickets to each boy and they move in a clump toward the ring toss.
I don’t how how much money it takes for each boy to walk away with a glider. But when they return to the cooler, they toss them into the air until Kevin Wu breaks his and it’s time to go home.
The Jocky

The boys meet the horse who played Seabuscuit

1 comment:

  1. Man, you GET to me! I am in the anxiety, I'm in the grot, and then I'm at the finish line, hugging Pat and clapping Giovanni on the back. Thank you for the laughoutloudness of your fabulous writing.