Lou sits there on his stool when I pull up to the guard shack at Gate Five. I wave and he smiles a big, sweet, toothless smile. Stale cigarette smoke wafts through my car window. The few strands of hair left on Lou’s shiny, speckled head are combed over and greased down. I ask how he is and he says he’s looking forward to seeing his new grandson. Lou rushes his answer as if he thinks I’ll get bored talking to him. He’s learned that people rarely listen and that often the best conversation an old man can have is with himself.
Lou used to gallop horses in the seventies, but gave it up after one flipped over and landed on him. His pelvis nearly cracked in half and he was never able to ride again. After that, he settled for a job at the entrance to the backside of Santa Anita Park. The backside, where the horses are kept, is the stage behind the curtains, the place most fans never see. Lou came to the track when he was about fifteen, the way most lifers do, and now he sits in a guard shack waiting for a heart attack. The way most lifers do.
At Santa Anita, a once-prestigious sport still survives, barely, on its past glory. The track here works the same as any chicken-wire, bush-league track in West Virginia or South Texas. Everyone has a purpose and plays a role and, with luck, eats at the end of the day. I drive up to the stables and the sweet smell of horse shit replaces Lou’s cigarette stench. I sip my coffee and climb out of my groggy morning haze. It’s not yet light out, but it’s time to ride.
Photo by Anne Fishbein
Notes on a Dirty Old Man
Jan 23, 06:09 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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