In the air-conditioned lounge I met a man from Houston who said his name was something or other--"but just call me Jimbo”--and he was here to get it on. "I'm ready for anything, by God! Anything at all. Yeah what are you drinkin?" I ordered a Margarita with ice, but he wouldn't hear of it: "Naw, naw...what the hell kind of drink is that for Kentucky Derby time? What's wrong with you, boy?" He grinned and winked at the bartender. "Goddam, we gotta educate this boy. Get him some good whiskey..."
I shrugged. "Okay, a double Old Fitz on ice." Jimbo nodded his approval.
"Look." He tapped me on the arm to make sure I was listening. "I know this Derby crowd, I come here every year, and let me tell you one thing I've learned--this is no town to be giving people the impression you're some kind of faggot. Not in public, anyway. Shit, they'll roll
you in a minute, knock you in the head and take every goddam cent you have."
Today we missed the Kentucky Derby. It is a tradition for me, as I've written here before, not because I love horses or gambling, but because my it was something my father always watched. I've watched it in great places, many times, for whatever reason, at the famous Breakers aquarium bar in Palm Beach, at the old speak easy Bradley's, in the same town, and fancy ass bars in my own hometown. I've also watched it on my couch alone. But I always watch.
Not this year.
"There's going to be trouble," I said. "My assignment is to take pictures of the riot."
I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. "At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers." I stared at him again. "Don't you read the newspapers?"
The grin on his face had collapsed. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"
"Well...maybe I shouldn't be telling you..." I shrugged. "But hell, everybody else seems to know. The cops and the National Guard have been getting ready for six weeks. They have 20,000 troops on alert at Fort Knox. They've warned us--all the press and photographers--to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. We were told to expect shooting..."
"No!" he shouted; his hands flew up and hovered momentarily between us, as if to ward off the words he was hearing. Then he whacked his fist on the bar. "Those sons of bitches! God Almighty! The Kentucky Derby!" He kept shaking his head. "No! Jesus! That's almost too bad to believe!" Now he seemed to be sagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty. "Why? Why here? Don't they respect anything?"
I shrugged again. "It's not just the Panthers. The FBI says busloads of white crazies are coming in from all over the country--to mix with the crowd and attack all at once, from every direction. They'll be dressed like everybody else. You know--coats and ties and all that. But when the trouble starts...well, that's why the cops are so worried."
He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: "Oh...Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in this country? Where can you get away from it?"
Fuck me, I love the way Thompson begins this article. His skills were great. There has never been anything like him. He speaks profound truths with hypnotic absurdity. Most do not observe the one and cannot pull off the other.
I started that last night, but you know how it goes. I had to make dinner, have a drink, clean up, smoke the rest of last night's cigar. . . . There is not time for anything when you are retired in a Corona Virus lockdown.
But my hometown is preparing to open on Monday. The Boulevard, my mother reports, will be blocked to automobiles. The streets will be filled with tables for dining. That is how it should have always been, of course, not now. But I am the only person in America who is not consuming takeout, I think. Even some of my most paranoid friends are. Their appetites consume them. That and the fact that they never cook. As the internet meme goes, "There is no food in the house, only the stuff to make food."
I have cooked every meal I've eaten since the end of February. I am a good basic cook. I make healthy, substantial things. But I, too, would like a break. Jesus, what I wouldn't give for some tacos. I could make them, but it is a lot of work for one. My soul for some sushi or a big bowl of ceviche.
All around me, the world is starting to move again. I am going to miss the quiet, the lack of airplanes and automobiles in a hurry. I'm going to miss the cleaner water and cleaner air and cleaner earth. But the boneheads want their old life back, a life full of sporting events and bars, you know, the essentials. I guess they really miss the sports bar. That must be a top priority.
But here I am, circling back. I guess I am a hypocrite, aren't I, lamenting the loss of the Kentucky Derby.
Well. . . as my good friend used to say, "I don't have to be in the right to criticize."