This is a long post (cue Beavis and Butthead-style laughter), but if you make it through to the end you'll be rewarded with a tale of hope and inspiration for all.
I grew up just a few miles from Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. When we were both fifteen, my friend John Schwartz and I decided to go to the Derby infield to be among 100,000 drunks and degenerates.
The day began when a car pulled up to my boyhood home and a group of preppy yet seedy guys dropped John off on my front lawn. By the time I realized John was stinkin' drunk, pickled if you will, they were long gone.
John had began the day by drinking almost a case of beer. And this wasn't good beer; this was evil teenager beer. He was barely coherent but insisted on going to the Derby, so I proceeded to drag him down the street.
I didn't drink as a teenager, something those who know me now won't believe for a second, but I swear it's true. So there I was, sober, with a cooler of Cokes and sandwiches in one arm and a blitzed out of his gord six-foot tall high school sophomore in the other. As I walked along Taylor Blvd. in the direction of the track, my struggles were duly noted by passerby. Louisville is the unofficial sarcastic asshole capital of the world, and on that day I bore the brunt of the city's collective wit.
Also, in tenth grade I went to a private Christian school located directly across the street from the race track. We were almost in line for the infield when I spotted my vice-principal handing out anti-gambling literature and loudly voicing his disgust at the sinful cornucopia which surrounded him. I knew he'd see me, so I sat John on the edge of the cooler and innocently approached Mr. Vance.
"Todd," Mr. Vance bellowed, "what are you doing here?"
"Oh, just people watching," I replied, not too convincingly. "So, nice weather, huh?"
Damn, I was smooth. He now had the weather on his mind; no way he'd notice that ten feet to his left was a minor on the verge of complete organ shutdown.
"Does your mother know you're here?" Mr. Vance asked.
Shit. Vance had met my mother and was thusly aware of her existence. When I enrolled at the school, my mom had to meet with the school administrators and promise that our family had long ago rejected Satan and all his trappings.
"She's at Pic Pac," I said, referring to a dirty nearby grocery store. "She's gonna pick me up soon and we're going to the fish place. For, you know, fish sandwiches."
I didn't and don't know the name of the fish place, but it still exists, is near the University of Louisville, is only open on Saturday, is operated by Eternal Order of the Elk's Lodge old men and their surly granddaughters, and has the best fried fish on earth. But that's not important now. I had broken the first rule of lying: Don't give too many details.
Vance was on to me, but I was saved when a group of loudmouths from the northeast offered him a cold beer. As he turned to lecture them I made a quick getaway.
I was relieved that I wasn't going to be expelled three weeks before summer vacation, but my peace lasted about thirty seconds. That's when, as we stood in line, John Schwartz put on the most horrific and lengthy display of vomiting I've ever seen.
John chucked up the beer, his breakfast, a midnight snack, last evening's dinner, yesterday's lunch, strained carrots he ate as a baby, his spleen, and perhaps his mortal soul. All of this was witnessed by a shocked and disgusted yet oddly fascinated crowd.
When he finally finished, when I was sure he would turn to dust before my eyes, John Schwartz, spent from the Herculian effort of the expulsion, collapsed to the asphalt with a nauseating splat.
On the bright side, the cushioning effect of the barf he fell in probably saved him from a fractured skull. The crowd roared its approval as I hid my face in shame.
I glanced up just in time to see the ABC television camera coming toward John. I stood over John's motionless form with my back to the camera so they couldn't see either of our faces. It's been a while since this happened, but I think I said something like "Food poisoning...damn tainted clams!"
The camera crew, looking for a light and breezy "look at the crazies at the Derby" story, left when they saw we were kids; big kids, yes, but kids nonetheless. They couldn't follow a feature on which celebrity is wearing the dumbest hat with a seering expose on teenage alcoholism.
Once again I was relieved; once again it was short lived. John tried to get up. I don't know what was left in him that he managed to expell, but I do know this: it had the color of shit, it had the stench of shit, and it painted the cooler and shoes of two seriously burly women standing in front of us.
The women made it clear that they planned to kill John with their bare hands. The bigger of the two -I'm sure her clitoris had a foreskin - clinched her fists and was going to pick him up by his taint.
"Look at him!" I shouted. "He's pathetic. Anyway, if you pick him up he'll just throw up on you again."
The smaller one suggested they kick him to death, but after much pleading and debate, they decided it wouldn't be such a good idea to murder a fifteen-year-old and went about cleaning the sick off of their sensible shoes.
John refused to abort the mission and go back to my house, so I got him to stand and we made our way to the infield entrance. It says a lot about the Derby mindset that my cooler was painstakingly searched for any trace of alcohol but an inebriated, vomit-soaked minor staggered past a hundred state police officers without question.
Once inside, I dumped John off by a landmark so he'd be easy to find, grabbed a Coke out of the cooler, and began exploring the infield. These days, "Girls Gone Wild" has made public tit showin' almost commonplace, but the girls of the infield were true pioneers. Half of the girls I walked past showed me their breasts. I eventually just stood close to a group of guys with a succintly worded "Show Your Tits" sign and proceeded to get off the Derby bus in a town called Boobieland.
John, meanwhile, had discarded his soiled shirt, passed out, and acquired a second degree sunburn on his back. That was probably the last day I was glad I didn't have a drink.