26 years old, today. It may be the most insignificant milestone I've passed, other than 19, 22, 23 and 24.
We had a memorable, jam-packed weekend, my parents and girlfriend and I. After retrieving Mom and Dad from the airport Friday night and depositing them at "I Guess You Could Call This" Comfort Inn "The Loosest Sense Of The Word," we started our Saturday at 9 a.m. -- a grown-up time, and one therefore foreign to me.
Finding breakfast downtown proved difficult when ANOTHER water main ruptured, this time in front of the chosen coffee house, but we eventually scored biscuits and gravy at an unassuming eatery that serves Serbian pork as a weekly special and resembles a dentist's waiting room.
Next it was on to Churchill Downs, that place where they have the Kentucky Derby and the women with startling hats the size of kiddie pools. Parking was a boondoggle -- the appropriate word for the situation, but one I like so much for its seeming Southernness that I'd otherwise have invented a predicament to attach it to -- and I found myself following cars to what I assumed was a parking lot, until I reached, simultaneously, a cul-de-sac and the conclusion that I had backed the wrong horses. Backing the wrong horses would later become the day's theme, until Mighty Martha, of course.
Churchill Downs was hosting a free chili cook-off, and entry to the track was $2; it was an attractively priced lunch, even when factoring in the $2.75 per Mountain Dew. Most of the chili was good but forgettable. The best entry came from a riverfront seafood joint, and the indisputably worst was Maker's Mark's, a vinegar-laced muckup a patron warned us about upon our entry. "It's not right," she confided, tossing a chili-smeared spoon in the garbage. We tried it anyway, and it was so bad that it confused me. I couldn't even spit it out, I just rolled the poison around in my mouth as I rifled through a list of suspects in my head. "Ipecac? Horseradish? Natty Ice?"
We bet on horses. $2 a pop, and the program tells you how to phrase your request at the window: "Churchill Downs 3rd (race of the day), I'd like $2 to win on No. 2." I picked a horse to place (finish 1st or 2nd) and it got 7th. I picked another horse to win, and it placed. I picked a horse to show (finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd), and it finished slightly ahead of the ambulance that follows the field. Finally, I picked Mighty Martha to win, at 15-1. By the time the horses left the gate, four of them had scratched -- one after rearing up in the gate and, I believe, hitting his head, with an awkwardness to which I could keenly relate -- and Mighty Martha was at 5-2, the second favorite. Near the last turn, our party was headed for a trifecta, as my father's and girlfriend's horse was first, mine was second and my mother's was third. But their horses faded (to an official dead heat in 3rd) and mine scampered to glory as I shouted something unintelligible and counted my winnings, which nearly covered the losses incurred on the first three nags.
We walked in Cherokee Park; it was a beautiful Indian summer afternoon, and the dogwalkers and super-serious Tour-de-France-aspirers were out in full force.
Dinner was Mayan. Sangria, duck mole' with corn cake and baked beans, and flan. Wonderful place. I'd sooner scrape something off that kitchen floor for lunch than go to McDonald's again.
Oh, and I'm going to hell, by the way. The waiter placed my dessert in front of me and named it: "Flan." Only he pronounced it like the "Flan" in "Ned Flanders". This seemed counterintuitive to me; that "a" seems a perfect candidate to be pronounced like an "ah" in Spanish. And instead of saying "Thank you" like a normal person surely would, I said:
That's "gracias", in the native tongue of Mr. ThinksHe'sFunny. I hope they have flahn in hell.
After dinner, at our apartment, we placed a needless, goofy call to my sister, who dutifully described her evening out (which was in progress) in a tentative "what has my family been drinking" voice. Then we headed to Howl at the Moon, a piano bar.
My disjointed memory of Howl at the Moon is best summarized in bullet points:
--Mom requested Steely Dan's "Dirty Work", and the guy had to play it for a minute and a half before he remembered the words.
--I again requested Ben Folds Five's "Song for the Dumped" and was again rebuffed, but not in a way that allowed me to keep my $3. The procedure is, you write down the song on a piece of paper and put it on the piano, and if you expect them to even consider playing it, you leave a tip with the piece of paper. Like a bally idiot, I neglected to ask if either of the players knew the song (well, one of them had told me on a previous visit that he did, which preceded the first rebuffing). Well, it wasn't played, but seven identical-sounding Jimmy Buffett ditties were.
--I signaled for the check by signing the air, but waitress Vicki misunderstood and brought me another beer. Disaster.
A tornado ripped through the area in the middle of the night. It was at least a horrible thunderstorm downtown, perhaps not the strength of the winds that killed several people in Evansville. I woke up, shut the windows and drank three glasses of water.
Today, Sunday, my actual birthday, we had breakfast at the locally legendary Lynn's Paradise Cafe, filled with kitschy art, a gift shop and scores of young families. Jaunts to a few art galleries followed; one of them sat at the base of a water tower that appeared to wobble if you looked up at it. And no, that sensation had nothing to do with my hangover.
The most serious hiccup of my hosting period followed. All my mother wanted for lunch was soup, so I took us to a place I was sure would have it. It does have soup, but not on Sundays. What? Apparently the buffet requires extra food storage space on Sundays, and the soup was taking up more room than it deserved. Disaster.
I dropped off Mom and Dad at the airport, finished David Sedaris' essay collection "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" and am now taking a waking nap, sitting in bed and idly surfing through Internet reports of Terrell Owens' miscreancy without really reading them. And so, the most comprehensive of Bluegrass Beginnings posts ends with a whimper: Am I in my late 20's now, and if so, shouldn't I be capable of successfully signaling for the check?