We were motoring down Hot Springs’ Central Avenue on our way to the lake when Junior asked The Observer what goes on inside the big building with the statue of the horse in front of it. The more Spouse and I told him about the joys of the Sport of Kings — especially the part about the horses and the tiny men who cling to their backs while they haul ass around the track — the more excited he got. Before long, I had been ordered to flip the Mobile Observatory around and we were headed back to Oaklawn, other pursuits forgotten.
Once we got there, we discovered it was a perfect day for the track: 73 degrees, the sky a cloudless, cerulean blue; a daytime moon hanging dreamily over the infield. The horses were frisky in the February sun, prancing up to the paddock sideways on the tips of their hooves, it seemed — all muscle and gleaming hide and lithe, equine soul.
We made it just in time for the second race, and The Observer — never Parent of the Year material — took Junior up to the window when we went to place some money on what the oddsmakers promised was a sure bet. As with all things, Spouse and The Observer believe in teaching our child the truth about the great Circle of Life: The big fish eats the little fish. The lion eats the zebra. Daddy blows Junior’s college money on the ponies. You get the idea.
Even with my goodest of good luck charms in tow, I wasn’t able to beat my long-running losing streak when it comes to Oaklawn. In the three races I ended up betting on, my sure things turned out less than sure, coming in so far behind that a search party was eventually sent out looking for them.
Clean air and soaking up the vitamin D aside, Spouse declared it was time to go when The Observer — in a fit of loser’s rage — began telling Junior lies about the glue factory, and the source of all that cheap corned beef they were serving inside.
He didn’t believe a word of it, of course. Even at his age, he knows better than to trust his old man — especially when he’s losing.
Scene: A surprise birthday party in West Little Rock on a recent Friday night. The birthday boy, who works in the governor’s office, is turning 30. He arrives with his wife around 7:30 p.m. and is genuinely surprised. After that, it’s a typical house party, a young crowd standing around listening to pop music, chatting, drinking, eating.
Then Gov. Mike Beebe arrives. Everyone pauses to watch as he greets the birthday boy with a hug, but after that, it’s back to normal. People return to their conversations. The governor makes himself at home, talking to the party guests, completely relaxed. And shortly after that, his wife, Ginger, arrives. They stay for about an hour, and except for their age (and the security detail trying to perch unobtrusively against a far wall), they blend in perfectly.
The Observer thought it was an incredibly kind gesture by the Beebes. They showed themselves to be generous, humble and genuinely devoted to their friends. And next time we throw a kegger, they are totally on the guest list.
It’s a shame, but when you’re grown up you can’t enjoy certain things anymore. Like red wine. It’s the best of all wines, and the best of reds is a gift from the gods. Until you’re in your 50s. Then it’s a trick played by the gods, a little joke to make you wish you were dead.
Nor can you fully enjoy a good thunderstorm anymore. Saturday, a day on which huge rains fell ceaselessly and enormous waves of water swept down our street, we turned on the news and saw that Dumas had been flattened.
No more guilt-free waiting in the drive-thru line at a fast-food restaurant. Once, it was a gas just to be in the car, ordering up a Coke and lard-fried potatoes. Today, we know we are spewing carbon-dioxide into the air as we sit waiting for our chance to poison our insides as well, throw our endocrine system into diabetes-producing hysteria, with high-fructose corn syrup.
It’s not all bad, this age-born wisdom. It is with open eyes that we see the $300 nylon gowns in the teen-aged boutiques for what they really are: 1950s leftovers from the nightgown department at Pfeiffer’s. Gen. Z, or wherever letter we are on now: Nylon is cheap. It is for underwear, cheap underwear. It goes inside your clothes, not out. Do not pay $300 to wear it no matter what. Spend your money on a glass of red wine, and enjoy it while you can.