Editor’s Note: This is a fast and loose re-interpretation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” based on a recent evening the Rental Rehab ladies spent together. ~Kelli
It was Saturday night, the night of the Big Game, and we were having pre-gambling drinks in a flimsy watering hole called The Hurricane Bar. The Jai Alai arena was just across the street. There were tables scattered throughout the bar but the quality of people huddled in the corners of places like those was less preferable than the company of the sots ringing the bar. The waitresses seemed to be suffering from “ugly light syndrome.” Ugly lights are the ones that get turned way up to maximum wattage when a bar wants to close at the end of the night. A person has ugly light syndrome when they avoid at all costs anything resembling natural light. They looked young and pretty enough but their whiskey-cracked voices belied their true forms. Every laugh birthed a cough.
Wolfie liked the dive because it had cheap suds. I preferred their “aperitif,” which was really Jaegermeister poured from a machine that chilled each shot individually. These shots came in glasses roughly the size of goldfish bowls.
Beyond Jaeger and lack of funds, our only real problem at that point was the question of access to gaming tables on the top level of the Jai Alai arena. Finally, we decided to go ahead and just crash the games if necessary, rather than bet piddlywinks on Diego and his Jai Alai ilk. This was the last coherent decision we were able to make for the next 4 hours. From that point on – almost from the very moment we stepped into The Hurricane – we lost all control of events and spent the night churning around in a sea of drunken foreigners. My notes and recollections from Jai Alai are somewhat scrambled.
But now, listening to my little recording device that I carried all through that scene, I see more or less what happened. The recordings themselves are somewhat unintelligible; some of it is garbled from inadequate recording instruction; some of it is garbled from inadequate consumption of water in-between shots of Jager, but taken as a whole, with sporadic jogs to the memory courtesy of Wolfie, the notes shall tell the tale. To wit:
Foggy all night. Can’t see. Christ, here we go, a nightmare of whizzing objects and lethargy…But no. Arrive at the Hurricane Bar and a friendly gent approaches us – entertainment at once, not a bit dull.
Wolfie is now worried about being accosted in the dark parking lot. The friendly gent has informed her that women LOVE to be approached in badly lit parking lots, alone. It has happened before. Will it happen again? Horrible idea. Trapped at a full bar with a lecher. Holocaust-levels of smoke. A hundred thousand people fighting for a drink. Just wait a minute! Can’t breathe, the smoke. Patrons of the bar all lechers with us fighting our way out to the car. Poor Wolfie is about to crack under the “accidental” swipes of the gent’s arm across her chest. Drinking heavily, into the Jaeger already.
Across the street to the arena away from that bar, avoid that awful clichéd bar talk. Women can’t read maps and men don’t listen. Paunchy middle-aged men with hero stories of their youth. Big red sign: MISOGYNIST, flagging down the young bartender with a wink and a grimace. “That’s fine girl, most women don’t know what goes in a Manhattan anyway, I’ll just take another GOOSE on the rocks.” Grease stain on his shirt sighs up and down with his labored breathing.
Arena is void of people excepting the tourists and miscreants clustered in packs across the theatre seating. Vagrants pouring pints into huge foam cups, old folks in falsely jolly Hawaiian shirts, bartender with a goiter…how the hell does a dude with a goiter get a bartending gig?
The air was still and dank in the hall of the athletes. Their shots echoed off the wall, very loud, very alone. On our way out, in the upstairs poker rooms, we came across a Swede alone at the bar. He wore vacation clothes but claimed citizenship. Wolfie ordered a drink and I ordered an “international cheese plate.” I got the countries of provolone, Switzerland, and cheddar. Balls. The Swede slid down the stools to sit next to us and Wolfie eyed him nervously, “Can we help you?”
“No.” I answer for him but he ignores me. He launches direct into some hubris about Republicans and free market economy and how he runs a line of yachts now in the great old U.S. of A. While he blathers on about how all the Swedes are layabout louses who live on the government dollar I remember the people I know who have lived off government funds and the three jobs they worked under the table in addition to that paltry handout.
The Jai Alai players pressed on behind us, behind their plexiglass cage stage so that the fans won’t be hurt by the 150 mph balls. 50 to 1 bets being won behind us. Many winners, more losers. What the hell. Hecklers in the audience try to jam up against the plexi, shouting curses at the players, led out by wrinkled guards. A Dolphins jersey gets wrestled out… “Diego you owe me a car payment, you bastard!” The Swede offers us a free round of drinks. Why not? Get it on. Not feeling very well, the weather is smoky with a touch of food poisoning. Can’t ever trust those damn weathermen.
Weathered faces with a gauche style, white pantsuits and big sunglasses. “Boca Face,” also known as “too much surgery,” or “doctor’s got a new ski lodge in Aspen.” Women cut up too early, or not cut up enough. Definitely no energy in the faces. No interest or curiosity. Suffering in lip-filler silence, nowhere to go after thirty in this life, just hang on and humor the children. Let the young enjoy themselves while they can. Why not?
The grim reaper comes late in this state…slowly withering under the sub-tropic sun, screaming for the pool boy beside that little 3-foot tall faux-butler to hold your drinks. Maybe it is the butler that is screaming. Bad DT’s and snarls at the bridge club. Going down with the stock market. Oh Jesus, the kid has wrecked the new car, wrapped it around the big stone pillar at the bottom of the driveway. Broken leg? Twisted eye? Send him off to Harvard, they can cure anything up there.
I left Wolfie debating at the poker room bar and went off to place our bets on Cancio and Elizalde. When I came back she was staring intently at a group of retirees playing Texas Hold-Em not far away. “Jesus, would you look at the corruption in that face!” she whispered. “Look at the madness, the fear, the greed!” I looked then quickly turned my back on the table she was watching.
Wolfie wanted to see some decadent South Floridians, but she wasn’t sure what they looked like, I told her to go to the women’s rooms and look for ladies in white linen dresses vomiting in the disabled stalls. “They’ll usually have chardonnay stains on the fronts of their blouses,” I said. “But watch the shoes, that’s the tip-off. Most of them manage to avoid vomiting on their clothes, but they never miss their shoes.”
The Jai Alai games were progressing at a mad pace and we were definitely losing our money. We went all in we placed some trifecta bets. As the hour grew late I suggested to Wolfie that we spend more time in the arena. She looked a little hesitant about it but since discussions with the Swede were coming to a stalemate she shrugged and said, “Right, let’s do it.”
To get there we had to pass through the Smokers’ Lounge. Each step through that room felt like a step down in status, as we left the heights of the mezzanine to stumble through Mordor in order to get back to the game. Total darkness save for the few flashing neon lights, nobody could see each other… nobody cared. Bigger lines at the betting windows than in the seats, gamblers up so often they just hung about the windows, waiting for the numbers to flash on the big board, largest Bingo game ever.
Customer arguing with bartender about a pour; “Hold on there, I’ll handle this” (brandishes bottle of gin, dribbles a bit in); bored tourist families dragged along with dad while he tries to wrench an ounce of pleasure from their trip to visit nana, retiree sweatsuit with the words “Phat Farm” across the back (obviously no clue as to the broader cultural connotations of wearing a Russell Simmons item on her back), a huge fat drunk reeling over the handrail to the seats because he can’t sit down.
The matches themselves seemed only 2 minutes long and even with our choice of seats and a drunkenly scrawled spreadsheet we couldn’t really figure out what was happening. We accost the lady at the window and are informed that Arregui and Arrieta have lost.
Once the matches were over, the crowd oozed its way to the exit doors. By this time we were both half-crazy from too much Jaeger, men fatigue and culture shock, lack of light and general dissolution. Chatting gamely with retired photographer on the way out, he informed us that he’d won $50 on tonight’s games. We bemoaned our losses and he slung an arm around us to cheer us up. He’d done his share of losing on New York teams, from where he hailed. He had photographed lots of New York detritus and decay in his day, he said. And then he added, with a big grin, “But the only bums I ever photographed were those damned Mets.”