Things I’ve Done for Money

I consider myself lucky, tremendously lucky, to have lived all the different lives I’d lived. So much so I had second thoughts about this blog post. Would it seem like bragging? But then I realized most people aren’t jealous of minimum wage – or less – jobs. But for the record, I am kind of bragging.

As a teenager, I got a couple of your typical teenager jobs. One at a movie theater, one as a barista. I was fired from both. I made an honest effort. And failed. I was a square peg in a round hole. My first good job was at the racetrack. The shedrows, to this day, are my high holy of holies. The 3:30am alarm, the sacred quiet of the place, at first no sounds but the movement of the horses in their stalls. I still remember their names, their faces. Chicken, Cops, Tatiana Taj, Rattlesnake Dancer… Then the sunlight would come, making the morning mist glow, a solid haze of light except for the silhouettes of racehorses galloping down the track, Mt. Rainier standing tall behind them. To this day I count those mornings as the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I spent my college summers working swing shifts in a Southern textile mill. Until you’ve worked twelve hour days, and the next week twelve hour nights, and the next week twelve hour days, and the next week twelve hour nights, you don’t know how destructive a schedule can be on your body. On the plus side, the culture of the plant rivalled anything on a soap opera, so at least there was the nepotism run amuck to keep me entertained. I also got to work with a lot memorable people. Sweet, sweet Opal, who collected mugs, loved Elvis, and asked me in horror if I worshipped statues when she found out I was Catholic. Mustachioed Avanelle, who literally ran out of the room when she found out my boyfriend was an athiest. Curmudgeonly old Martin Byrd,who presented me with a picture he had drawn on my last day of work. I still have that drawing.

Once you graduate from USC Film School it only makes sense that you’d take a job with horses, right? Back to the sacred quiet of the pre-dawn hours, watching Griffith Park change colors with the sunrise. The hard and filthy, honest and clean work. The big difference was that I was a part of a large workforce that was entirely Hispanic and entirely male. They made me feel like family, treated me with gracious respect. We set up a bartering system. I brought them Coca-Cola in exchange for carnitas cooked in an unused horse stall on a mini-sized grill. These were the best meals of my life. Tired, hot, sweaty, starving – huddled around the grill with my compatriots, drinking the ice cold pop, eating the perfectly seasoned pork and peppers wrapped in a tortilla. Thanking RenĂ©, my favorite co-worker and impromptu chef, after it was over. Years later, my church sent me to a conference in Charlotte. At a round table discussion about the “challenge” of the Hispanic population, I listened to a bunch of rich white people spew some of the worst racism I’ve ever heard in my life. Once they’d all shared, I had my say. I felt a lot like Steve Martin at the beginning of The Jerk. “I was born a poor black child…” Except I used the word Hispanic instead of black and I was crying.

I have also been a professional party favor. My party trick? Reading tarot cards. But being a gypsy woman has its perils. And I’m not talking about the time I wound up in a black Cher wig while wearing a coin belt (and all the other accoutrement). I’m talking about the counseling services you find yourself providing when the person across the table from you bursts into tears. It happens all. the. time. I tell the people that it’s nothing but a parlor game, a useful meditative tool to get them to think about an old problem in a new way. In truth, I’m not at all sure what I believe about the tarot, or even what I believe to be true about me as a tarot card reader. I honestly don’t know if I’m picking up on body language and clues in their speech, or how it is that I know what I know. What I do know is that a lot of people are deeply impacted by their readings, so, despite my spiel about parlor games, I treat the process with respect. (As you can tell by my use of the present tense, I still do this. I just don’t get money for it anymore.)

For awhile I worked retail in Beverly Hills. That job was the best. I had fabulous coworkers and some genuinely wonderful moments with actors like Kenneth Mars, who I worshipped and adored long before I discovered what an awesomely fun human being he was. Ellen and Jane Lynch were both incredibly generous comedians, more than happy to let me play along with them. And Aaron Eckhart is a really nice guy. Perhaps most deeply burned into my memory, however, was Priscilla Presley’s scary, scary, scary face, her eyes angrily staring into mine, while she was asking me questions I didn’t know the answer to, and half my brain just kept screaming THERE’S NO DEFINITION TO HER LIPS! THERE’S NO DEFINITION TO HER LIPS! DEAR LORD, WHAT’S WRONG WITH HER MOUTH? And the other half of my brain screamed, DON’T SAY THOSE THOUGHTS OUT LOUD, WHATEVER YOU DO! So that accounted for 100% of my brain, leaving 0% to deal with the issue of Priscilla Presley’s mountain cabin decor.

There were other jobs in LA, too. Almost all of them procured for me by Peter X____. (Thank you, Peter.) Of those, the most fun was the film camp at Pepperdine. It was Peter’s camp, I just was there to do things like a.) forget a camper at LAX (hahahahaha….whoops) and b.) miscount the cameras so I could then tell Peter that several hundred dollars worth of equipment was missing when it wasn’t (hahahahaha….whoops). When I wasn’t screwing up, I was helping kids shape the stories they wanted to tell and watching those stories come to life on the big screen. It is amazing what they can make in a week’s time, starting from absolutely nothing. It is even more amazing to see the sense of empowerment they leave with, having successfully told their story.

In South Carolina, I got a job that gave me a wide range of tasks, the most satisfying of which was exploring a fairly vast tract of Blue Ridge wilderness, plotting new trails, cutting those trails, and then acting as a trail guide. I got to know those woods like the back of my hand. There was one section of forest frequented by a very large black bear. I never saw him, but came to understand his routine so well I felt like I knew him. One day, during a ride, I smelled something dead. Somehow, I knew it was him and searched the forest until I found his body. He’d been shot, his paws taken. It wasn’t even bear hunting season. It felt like I’d lost a friend. There was also a tiny sow bear who had triplets every year. I never saw her, either, but I’d see her little tracks, and the multitude of cub prints following her along. While I was there I made deep and lasting friendships. There was a lot of evil at that job, too much to get into here, and it made it us all into blood brothers. Like ‘Nam. Except not as bad. But close. Real, real close.

At the same job, rather bizarrely, I sometimes put on high end events with my blood brothers. We had a lot of latitude and huge imaginations. For one Halloween party, we literally brought a forest inside. There is something deliriously fun about cleaning up in the middle of the night after a sixteen hour workday. One time we loaded up an ice sculpture onto a rolling cart and went racing down the dock. Cart hit the rail and the ice sculpture went sailing gloriously into space, almost made it to the lake, but instead smashed spectacularly on the rocks below. After that we had a tumbling competition, still drunk on fatigue.

For three and a half years, I took care of Ursula. I didn’t do that for money, but it was like a job in a lot of ways. Especially in the number-of-hours-per-week department and sometimes she’d foist money on me, far more entertainingly she’d sometimes buy me “a liquor.” I learned a lot. Not just about the absolute cluster that is American medicine or the various ailments she suffered from (although I did learn a lot about what can go wrong with a 90 year old), but far more importantly I learned patience. I learned how to make a six hour wait-fest at a doctor’s office into a party. I learned how to act as an advocate for someone else. I learned a lot about love, both how to give and how to receive. She became my very own old lady and I became her granddaughter, even if I didn’t carry her genes.

There have been other things, too. Lots and lots of other things. Even stuff that might actually go on a resume. But the things above remain the most alive.

No Such Thing as Coincidence

There is a man in my life who I love very much. His name is Bond. He’s pretty unbelievably awesome, and, let’s be honest, damn handsome to boot. The man is the whole package, is what I’m trying to say. Also – a good time. If you want to have fun in Lexington, Kentucky, Bond is your man.

For a very long time, I’ve wanted to write Ani’s story. Ani is my horse, but she doesn’t have a story so much as an epic saga, a tale too big to fit in this space. Suffice to say, other horses taught me how to ride. Ani taught me about the kind of person I want to be. As much as I want to tell that story, in honor of her birthday, which is today, I am instead going to tell the story of how Ani brought Bond into my life.

When I got Ani, she was a mystery. I knew she was chestnut, I knew she was about nine, and I knew she had raced. All thoroughbred racehorses are tattoed on the underside of her upper lip, but Ani’s tattoo was blurry. It would tell us who she was if it could be read, but it couldn’t be read.

Driven to find out who Ani was, I joined the Thoroughbred Times Forum and asked questions of the posters there. Unfortunately, the people posting on the forum confirmed that wasn’t any recourse for me. Ani would remain anonymous.

In case you don't know horses, let me tell you - this is a beautifully bred mare. She is genetic quality through and through.

While the forum didn’t help me find out who Ani was, it did provide me with my first experience with people being wrong on the internet. The forum had hundreds of users and a huge number of them were wrong about a great many things. Like any sports fanatic knows, their sport of choice is extremely important and it is also extremely important to educate the people who are wrong about your sport of choice on the internet. At least it was in 2003.

As I fought passionately against the people who were wrong on the internet about my sport of choice, I found allies. One of those allies was a gentleman in Kentucky. He was equally passionate about people who were wrong on the internet. Sometimes we were on the same side, sometimes we were on opposing sides. (I hope it goes without saying that the forum quickly devolved into not just fighting about horse racing, but also fighting about politics, religion and other topics that weren’t as important as our sport of choice.) The gentleman in Kentucky and I were far apart on politics, but close on religion and close on horse racing, and two out of three ain’t bad. More importantly, he was smart and fair and funny.

Months went by. Ani moved from Greenville to Clemson, where she got a new vet. Dr. Stafford was a racetrack veteran. My long dormant hope percolated to the surface as I explained to him about the impossible to read tattoo, the tattoo that countless vets, friends, farriers, trainers and thoroughbred experts had proclaimed completely illegible. Dr. Stafford said, “Let’s bring her out into the sunshine.” We left the barn, he lifted her head, raised her upper lip, and as casually as you please, rattled off the letter and number that would identify Ani.

Thrilled, I sent off the paperwork to the Jockey Club. Yet more time passed. Finally, finally, finally, the packet arrived. Ani was actually Nellie Weathers. Her bloodlines blew me away. First and foremost, Ani was/is a living dinosaur. Horses foaled in 1993 just don’t have Double Jay as their grandsire, Double Jay being the champion colt of 1946. This gave me a feeling of kinship with Ani, as I am also a genetic dinosaur. My great-grandfather was born in the 18th Century. And no, that’s not a typo. I’m talking the 1700’s, y’all.

So, who bred this fascinating, beautiful and ridiculously athletic horse? Someone named Mrs. William C. Jacobs. Mrs. Jacobs had a horse in the Kentucky Derby in the 1960’s and that’s all I could learn about her. Given that most people don’t have a Kentucky Derby runner until they’re middle-aged or older (usually older) I figured she was dead by this point. I went again to the Thoroughbred Times Forum, this time counting on disappointment.

“Does anyone know anything about someone named Mrs. William C. Jacobs?” I wrote. “She’s dead now, but she had a Derby runner back in the day. She bred my horse, so I’m looking for information about her.”

I immediately got several messages from my favorite gentleman in Kentucky. “EMAIL ME,” he wrote. “SERIOUSLY. EMAIL ME RIGHT NOW.”

That day I wound up talking to Bond on the phone for the first time.

Mrs. William C. Jacobs was his mother and he was quite surprised to learn she was dead, given he’d had dinner with her the night before.

Moreover, although it was her name on the paperwork, it was in fact Bond himself who had decided to send Cour de Perse to Honey Jay, thereby creating the red chestnut mare I call Ani.

33,822 thoroughbred foals were born in 1993. Of the hundreds of users on the forum only a couple of them were breeders.

I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that if we listen to the music of the spheres we can sometimes catch the rhythm and dance along in time. When we do, the world opens up and puts us where we’re meant to be. Ani has helped me find the rhythm many times over the last ten years. Who knows where she’ll take me over the next ten. God knows, with her dinosaur genetics, the horse is going to live to, like, thirty-five.

What Makes an Adams

A handful of Adamses.

Monk and Frances Adams had nine children. Forty-two grandchildren. I have no idea how many great and great-great grandchildren. We will estimate that number at a million. Maybe somewhere south of a million, but not by much. You’d think in that vast explosion of genetic material you’d have a lot of variance. But you’d be wrong.

I thought I’d put together a handy guide of the traits common to Adamses. You might find it useful in identifying an Adams in the wild, or perhaps just so you can better know the Adams in your own life. So here they are, in no particular order:

1.) AN ADAMS CAN’T WHISPER. Experts aren’t sure if there is a problem with the vocal cords of the Adams clan, or if it’s a common sense issue. It’s hard to say. I’ve seen many an Adams attempt to whisper and just not get anywhere with it the effort. Usually, though, the volume is turned to eleven and stays there. For example, a couple of years ago I found myself seated two feet from Lindsey Graham. The following came out of my mouth. “THAT GUYS LOOKS LIKE LINDSEY GRAHAM.” Barely a pause. “OH, THAT IS LINDSEY GRAHAM.” Barely a pause. “HE LOOKS SO MUCH OLDER WITHOUT MAKEUP.” And then I realized everyone at my table was recoiling in horror, and that I had been using my outside voice the entire time, because I only have an outside voice.

2.) AN ADAMS THINKS THEY’RE A HERO. Look around. Is there a major crisis happening? Is a building in flames? Are shots being fired? Is there a very short person running INTO the problem instead of away from it? Congratulations! You’ve probably spotted an Adams in the wild! Some of our clan is athletic, others not really. Either way, we all tend toward the idea that we’re superheroes. I remember my Uncle Albert telling me about his cop days and saying, “So, I’d always go in first.” It was a matter of course. He was an Adams, ergo, he’d be the first one in through the door. Whether this instinct is born of courage, stupidity, or a combo of the two, it’s hard to say.

3.) THE MOTTO OF AN ADAMS IS “IT’LL BE FINE.” Yes, it’ll be fine. Whether we’re jerry rigging a trailer hitch or negotiating a major life crisis, we will assure you, it’ll be fine. Just trust us. It’ll all be fine. Really. Don’t worry. Nobody’s going to die. Unless they do. In which case, just wait a little while, and then it’ll be fine again. If you try to insist that something is not fine, you will watch as our eyes glaze over, we stop listening, and start daydreaming about something way more interesting than the idea that everything isn’t going to be fine.

4.) AN ADAMS LIKES FOOTBALL. A LOT. If you’re an Adams, you may choose between two teams. Auburn or Alabama, but really just Alabama. I included Auburn out of deference to Uncle Frank.

5.) IF YOU’RE AN ADAMS, YOU PROBABLY HAVE CANCER. If you don’t, just wait.

6.) AN ADAMS HAS TWO SPEEDS – FAST AND SLOW. An Adams does things real quick. “Let me grab a beer real quick.” “I’m going to run to the store real quick.” “I’m going to make lunch real quick.” We do things real quick so that we can do everything else real slow.

7.) AN ADAMS DOES NOT HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF PROPRIETY. I remember at Uncle Rodney’s memorial, a bunch of us found a bullwhip and we were all cracking it in the driveway, and then some of the kids found a .22 and Lord knows what they were going to do with that, and then some grownups came out (BTW – I was, like, 29 or something) and we kinda got in trouble and kinda didn’t, because the bullwhip was really cool and everyone wanted to try that.

8.) AN ADAMS LOVES A FUNNY STORY. Funny stories are what make the world go ’round, if’n you’re an Adams. Adams love to tell a funny story, love to hear a funny story, and they love to laugh at a funny story. There might be some Adamses that don’t love a funny story, but I haven’t met any. Of course at every family reunion you meet a good twenty or thirty close relatives you’ve never met before, so maybe the humorless Adams is out there, just waiting to be discovered. I doubt it. We also have a special love for telling stories about Spoonerism slips. Adamses sometimes have a hard time getting their words straight. Uncle Albert once told several hundred people at a conference not worry about the heat, as they were about to turn on the ovulating fans.

9.) AN ADAMS IS NOT SHY. This is an understatement. At family reunions, spouses of Adamses have been heard to say, “This is kind of a lot.” And the Adamses are like, “WHAT? THREE HUNDRED PEOPLE ALL YELLING AT ONCE IS OVERWHELMING TO YOU?”


The Depressing Song-Off of Epic Grandeur

So, I have two people in my life I love very much. They are Alrinthea and Brenden. Now, somehow, through the bizarre quirks of fate, they had never met at any of our parties. Which is kind of odd, as they both attend pretty frequently. Finally, on St. Patrick’s Day, they met, and I was flabbergasted that I had to make introductions. “How do you not know each other yet?” I bellowed. It was St. Patrick’s Day, so there was bellowing.

Al and Brenden quickly realized they shared a love of music. They took over the music for the evening, which was fine. They seemed to be having a great time, and they were making great selections. For awhile. And then I noticed the music turn maudlin. I started to make hostess-walk-bys to see what was going on. The music remained maudlin. Then I heard the following words:

“We can have a depressing song-off!”

These words were said with great cheer and happiness, and yet I did not take it with a similar feeling. I said:


Brenden and Al laughed, and cut the maudlin music. A few days later, Brenden officially put The Depressing Song-Off on Facebook, with Al and Brenden trading vicious blows of suicide-inducing music. At some point, the masses cried out for the contest to be turned into a tumblr, and Al even more officially created this: From Pain Springs Beauty.

Yes, it’s a tumblr dedicated to determining the most depressing song ever created.

It is a surprisingly gleeful enterprise.

But then, it was created by these two people:

Derby 2012: Your Handy Dandy Guide: Part II – The West Coast

Is that a long enough blog post title for you? I hope so.

Word on the street is that Bodemeister is kind of an idiot.

So, the West Coast! Bob Baffert has a loaded hand this year, but in my opinion only one of his many Derby prospects is worth discussing, and that’s Bodemeister. DEAR LORD, you say, THAT’S A HORRIBLE NAME! Yes, yes it is. This poor colt is named after Baffert’s youngest son Bode, who in turn is named after the Olympic downhill skier. Bodemeister is also owned by my least favorite owner in the business, Ahmed Zayat. (If you want to read an earlier rant about Zayat, go here.) As an additional karma impediment, you have Mike Smith agreeing to ride a longshot in the Derby (my favorite longshot, in fact) and then reneging in order to ride Bodemeister. Also, Giacomo aside, it’s always been my feeling that Mike Smith and the Derby just don’t get along very well. Kind of like Pat Day, who did eventually get a win on Lil E. Tee. Which just goes to show, horribly named horses DO win the Derby sometimes. So, why talk about Bodemeister at all? Because he did this in the Arkansas Derby. He didn’t just beat that field, he destroyed it. And while it can be argued he wasn’t facing the cream of the crop, he carved out steep fractions and then closed well. You also have the following paradox – rarely do horses win by open lengths in the final prep then win the Derby. However, for a front running sort like Bodemeister, that trend actually reverses. Winning Colors and War Emblem, for two examples, were front runners who won their final prep by open lengths. So, is it a good thing or a bad thing that Bodemeister won so impressively? A case can be made either way. Interestingly, Bodemeister, who is bred for the distance, has been loving the Churchill surface in his work outs leading up to the Derby. Some horses hate Churchill, so this is an important consideration.

You can’t talk about the West Coast without talking about Creative Cause. The stalwart gray has danced every dance, finishing third in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile to Hansen and Union Rags. The thing about the Creative Cause is that unlike his tenacious sire, Giant’s Causeway, he doesn’t seem to like a dogfight. When the chips are down, Creative Cause seems to say, “Ehh…I think you want it more…” Out of eight starts, he’s won four, finished second twice, and third twice. And he’s never far behind even when he loses. But this is a horse worth mentioning, as he’s very talented, has a tremendous foundation in him, and figures to be right there at the finish. I’m just expecting him to get second or third.

Doesn't I'll Have Another have a beautiful eye? So intelligent!

Now, onto my favorite West Coast horse – I’ll Have Another. This beautiful chestnut presents an intriguing picture. Firstly, no horse in the Kentucky Derby is better bred for distance than this guy. His bloodlines are a who’s who of classy stamina. If he doesn’t win the Derby (and stays sound) the Belmont is right up his alley. Secondly, this horse strikes me as super intelligent. Just the way he carries himself, his expression while racing – I get the feeling that this horse knows his job very, very well, which is surprising, as he is so lightly raced. But in the Robert Lewis stakes, where he was 43-1, he won by daylight and did so with his ears pricking. In the Santa Anita Derby, he had to run down the tough Creative Cause, and did so with his ears flat back, his expression pure grit and determination. He’s a big, pretty, grand looking chestnut, and he is loved to death by his jockey, the complete unknown Mario Guiterrez. Mario came to the tough Southern California racing circuit having ridden some in Vancouver, Canada, which means less than nothing to the sharks in Cali. Mario was barely getting by, just galloping horses, when owner Paul J. Reddam saw him. He said to his trainer, Doug O’Neill, that he liked the looks of Mario, and if they ever got in trouble maybe they could use him. Well, Mario got a chance to gallop I’ll Have Another, and he was blown away. His enthusiasm for the horse helped convince O’Neill to take a chance in the Robert Lewis Stakes, and when they couldn’t get top jock Rafael Bejarano to ride, Mario got the mount. Happily, Mario retained the mount in the Santa Anita Derby, and piloted him perfectly to the win. Mario’s joy after the race, and his love for this horse, was something to see. Also filled with joy were the hundreds of friends the owner brought to Santa Anita. This horse isn’t named “I’ll Have Another” for no good reason. Reddam brought six buses of friends to the track. Remarkably, I’ll Have Another the horse handled the drunken winner’s circle craziness like a champ. He’s a smart horse, as I said before.

So, what are the downsides, here? Well, for one thing there’s a reason he’s so lightly raced, and that reason probably has to do with soundness. He recently experienced tight back muscles after a work out, and underwent shockwave therapy to ease the tension. Additionally, he’s doing all of his prep in California. 18 of the last 20 Derby winners have prepped at Churchill Downs. Finally, O’Neill, the trainer, is not known for his success outside California. He trained the famous Lava Man, and had notoriously struggled to duplicate that horse’s success outside his home turf. (Interestingly, the now retired Lava Man acts as I’ll Have Another’s pony, and leads I’ll Have Another to the gate on racedays. Apparently, the two horses get along very well.) Obviously, I have a lot of love for this horse, but he’s definitely up against it for a few reasons on Derby day. Here is his Santa Anita Derby win. Please watch Mario’s reaction afterward!

Daddy Nose Best is a fierce competitor.

Rounding out my highlighted West Coasters is the tragically named Daddy Nose Best. Who comes up with these names? Seriously? Who took this big, beautiful, bay horse and gave him this name? Anyway. Remember the longshot Mike Smith abandoned in order to ride Bodemeister? This is the horse. Now, for the record, Daddy Nose Best has been ridden by Julian Leparoux, who will stick with Union Rags for the Derby. Mike Smith had never even been on the horse when he punked out. Luckily, Garret Gomez snatched up the ride, which I think is for the best. Garret, imo, is a better rider than Mike, and Garret has made a lot of noise about how he wouldn’t trade horses with anybody. I can see why. Daddy Nose Best, unlike Creative Cause, is willing and able to win in a dogfight. By the way, Garret is leaving nothing to chance, and is getting to know the colt by riding him in his preparatory work at Churchill Downs. The Derby will be their first race together, but he’ll know the horse by then.

Daddy Nose Best is out of a mare named Follow Your Bliss. My parents used to say that to us a lot growing up, and so the mare’s name has special meaning to me. Moreover, she lives in Camden, South Carolina. Her sire, Thunder Gulch, won both the Derby and the Belmont, so there’s a lot of distance blood in her. Daddy Nose Best was purchased for only $35,000, and considering he’s already banked over half a million, it’s looking like a pretty good deal. He won both the El Camino Real Derby in Northern California and the Sunland Derby in New Mexico, both wins coming after intense dogfights. Now, these are not exactly racing meccas, and this is why he will be a longshot on Derby day.

I also really liked this pic of my favorite longshot.

Daddy Nose Best is trained by Steve Assmussen, who I just don’t get. I think he mishandled the ever living holy heck out of Rachel Alexandra, and I don’t understand why people think he’s so great. He certainly floundered around a lot with this horse, starting him sprinting, then trying him on dirt, turf and synthetics. On the plus side, the horse is sound as a dollar and tough as nails. He’s had more races than anybody else in the field, and he’s finally found his groove going long on dirt. Steve has said Daddy Nose Best is a smart horse who likes to take in his surroundings and is very consistent. “He never has bad days,” according to Steve. He’s definitely been training well at Churchill. To get a sense of Daddy Nose Best’s commitment to the win, check out his El Camino Real Derby win.