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Whirlygig: 73: Out on the Town

Keeneland races with good-looking people and memories of leather

By Brandon Brady · April 16th, 2003 · Whirlygig

Eyeing the Races
The way this city gives way to spring makes my heart sing. I can't get enough of the daffodils, the redbud trees and the birds chirping. How quickly I'm ready to forget the dark winter nights and high heat bills when all of the sudden the grass is green and the spring meet gets underway at Keeneland.

All roads point south in April to Lexington for those of us who love horses and good-looking men. I should say that I like my horses to be good-looking, too, but really they're all beautiful as the grooms lead them to the paddock area. The animals' coats are gleaming and their muscles rippling as they're saddled and prepared to go to the gates.

Meanwhile, the men are plentiful and sharp in their sports coats as we claim our tickets at the will-call window in the clubhouse. I stand near the fresh flower arrangement that's the size of a small car and check out the guys ever so discreetly. My friend Richard touches my elbow and we head off to look for the rest of the gang he knows that are also in attendance.

Friday is my favorite day to go to Keeneland, as it's like a businessman's special. I guess the majority of these guys have sneaked away from their offices for a little light gambling and a drink or two. The lines at the bar are almost nonexistent, and you can walk up to the betting window easily. This isn't the case on a weekend and particularly not this Saturday, when the Bluegrass Stakes runs a Derby contender or two. Plus, on the weekend there would be ladies in bonnets all around blocking my view.

This day is perfect weather with robin-egg blue skies and a slight crispness to the air. It makes wearing a jacket and tie comfortable but sunglasses also necessary. I think you can tell a lot about a man by his choice of shoes, watch and tie as well as his eyewear.

It's probably a matter of personal taste, but I don't like the sunglasses that make the man look like an insect or the ones that have the strap around the neck and say "surfer dude" or "I just came off the ski slopes." This is Lexington, and I think a pair of aviators reminiscent of Tom Cruise or some horn-rimmed dark lenses will do nicely.

We join up with four of Richard's buddies from Cincinnati in the paddock area. I realize they're checking out the ladies quite obviously, so I feel less guilty about my own gazing. Richard comments that he's amused to see the men check me out until he realizes the men are his friends, but they're only teasing and I quickly point out an attractive female. Bob tells me I can choose his women anytime, as he agrees with my taste.

It's harder to actually pick the pretty girls from a distance and the men admit they've made a few errors on this front today. The rear view of the woman in front of us is good, but when you get up close you realize you'd be scraping the makeup off the pillow the next morning.

Well, so the men tell me, since I'm inexperienced with sleeping with women and wear very little makeup myself. We all kind of cringe collectively.

I guess I'm lucky that men pretty much wake up looking like they did the night before. Of course, there's usually the stubble to deal with, but I assure the guys that I like the rough look sometimes.

The men inquire if I also like the biting and pulling hair thing, which reminds me of the way the race horses hang on their stablemate as they go out on the track for their warm-up jog. Is this a sign that things are warming up on the sidelines or are all men just curious to know what women like? God bless them for asking.

I decide to tell them that the smell of leather is good and share a story about a time in a phone booth that leaves them nearly speechless. No, it wasn't Clark Kent, but I can still smell his leather jacket if I try.

Whit wants to know how exactly one goes about getting a girl like me in a phone booth and whether my hat fit. I laugh and assure him I was wearing a sweater and jeans instead of race day apparel.

If I recall, it started with the dark mysterious stranger looking at me rather intently from across the pub, where I was seated with a group of friends celebrating our last night in Frankfurt. His steady gaze made me squirm a little in the red leather booth and brought a slight blush to my cheeks. It didn't keep me, being a bold and slightly adventuresome American girl back then, from sending him a cocktail.

I can't resist the direct eye contact approach to this day. When Whit pulled down his sunglasses and raised his eyebrows, it made me realize that this day was a winner even though I hadn't cashed a ticket. What race are we on anyway?

-- Wendy Robinson

Tengo Lessons
The return of Yo La Tengo to Cincinnati was long overdue. The last time the show was packed, but from where I was seated you could hear a pin drop. I remember arguing with David Enright a while ago about whether or not the audience was rude and loudly talking throughout the set.

I had my ticket well in advance this time and an extra one to boot. My friend had to work at the last minute and couldn't go. All week I'd been trying to give the ticket to a friend, but everyone already had theirs.

Before the show, a few friends and I decided to meet at The Comet for a drink. I ran into a guy who I should've recognized but really couldn't place at the moment. When he offered to buy me a beer, I was a little hesitant but said OK. I then became convinced he might be this nice but geeky guy I see in the bar once every blue moon. He said he wanted to play a game of pool. I'm always up for a game of pool but had to say hello to the people I was supposed to meet.

Shawn was, by some grace, put on the show's guest list, but he couldn't remember the last name of the girl who'd been so gracious. I decided he could use the extra ticket, just in case.

I went to pick up my beer and start a game of pool when all of a sudden I heard my friend Kristine announcing to the guy I wasn't sure I knew that I had an extra ticket.

Suddenly, I felt a wave of anger rise over me. How could she suppose I'd give the ticket to just anyone? I'd promised the ticket to someone already. Plus I don't like feeling forced to do something and be made embarrassed because of it. To top things off, this was the strange geeky guy (I thought). And I wasn't sure I wanted to do him any favors.

"Butt out," I said to my girlfriend. It was a rare display.

When I was setting up the pool table, I decided to find out who he really was. I was still a little confused.

"The last time I saw you was...?" I asked.

"At the Northside Tavern..."

Ohhhh. It was our best buddy Joshua. He was slightly new to town and had a small circle of friends -- us. It was a little scary that I'd forgotten who he was. Sometimes you just feel stupid saying, "I'm sorry, but who the hell are you?"

He said he'd lost 30 pounds since the last time I'd seen him (three months ago) and dyed his hair (black). Once my head cleared, I didn't mind at all offering him the ticket.

Joshua had never been to the Southgate House and needed to follow someone but couldn't leave his car on this side of the river. After a round of musical cars, we were on our way.

I arrived alone and sailed through the line. Stepping into the ballroom, there were so many people and so little hope of finding a place to sit. I just stood for a while, absorbing the trance-inducing music. When my back began to protest, I searched for room upstairs but it was wall-to-wall people.

Eventually my friends and I found a peering spot where we could actually see one of the band members, Ira Kaplan, playing guitar onstage. Actually, he was sort of waving the guitar around in the air and mock-smashing it to the ground for distortion.

Some of Yo La Tengo's songs are quieter than your average rock show, so it was a little disappointing to hear people talking throughout the songs -- including my own friends. David Enright (aka "David En-wrong") was right. On the other hand, if you can't see the band, what the heck else are you supposed to do?

Exhausted, I left before the encore. I was happy to see this great band again but couldn't stand it for another minute.

-- Ilsa Venturini

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