have horrible luck with dates. The movies I suggest are straight-to-video
dreck and the restaurants better suited serving their meals in
doggy bags. But even when the uncontrollable variables are controlled,
I still muck up the works. Ill drink too many gin and tonics,
recount the joke about the cripple drowning in the pool, or relate
the afternoon I had my eyebrows waxed. Girls just dont understand.
I spend a good, oh, 95 percent of my time single. And since relocating
to New York City several years ago, the percentage has steadily
inched toward 100. In this metropolis youre closer to pigeons
than the average person. One-night stands? Please. Im the
son of a doctor of infectious diseases, petrified at the mention
I resorted to the unspeakable: the personals. When I envisioned
the type of person utilizing personal ads, I saw a slack jawed,
pockmarked mamas boy that practiced taxidermy to unwind.
Blatant exaggeration, yes, but such was my naiveté, only
two years removed from college. There, it was harder to score
a six-pack than a girl willing to contend with my neurotic bullshit.
Woody Allen, if only the ladies found my Jewish neuroses as endearing
voted against newspaper personals, opting for something a bit
more 21st century. Instead, I found a nice Internet
dating site, centered in the aforementioned urban miasma, and
whored myself. The questionnaire was basic, including about twenty
questions. They ranged from my drinking preference to five items
necessary for survival to favorite on-screen sex scene. I uploaded
my info and waited for love to appear in my inbox.
week after posting, a reply arrived. "Elizabeth" found
my personal appealing, mostly because of my boast of "an
impressive array of iron-on letters that I use to make t-shirts."
I quickly replied, and a communiqué was initiated. We exchanged
flirtatious e-mails for several weeks, fleshing out our faceless
personalities with anecdotes and trivial facts.
are six things I learned about Elizabeth:
was 21 years old.
was from Olympia, Washington.
liked horses. A lot.
attended indie rock shows.
embroidered sweatshirts by hand.
was fixated on the South.
too, had visited the Northwest, enjoyed the occasional indie rock
show, and wore sweatshirts. Since we were destined for each other,
the next step was a face-to-face. I wrote and asked for her phone
number. She gave it to me. I called.
Elizabeth," I said like a stock car in fifth gear. "Its
Josh, the guy youve been e-mailing. How are you doing?"
I cant understand you," Elizabeth answered with West
Coast inflection. "You sound like youre talkin
some sort of Puerto Rican English."
unnecessary barb for someone enunciating like Jeff Spicoli, but
I tempered my anger. I assured her I was not, and slowed my speech.
We enjoyed a nice conversation, most of which centered on horses
and the South. Stanley Kubricks The Killing had a
profound impact on Elizabeth, as well as The Dukes of Hazzard.
After about 45 minutes, I asked her if she wanted to do something.
me," I hopefully clarified.
sure, but I dont wanna go to another dive bar or something.
Every guy I meet wants to go to a dive bar. We have to do something
unique, something crazy. What do you have in mind?"
dive bar. Cheap alcohol, lots of smoke, surly bartenders; what
could be better? Pausing for a second, I recalled Elizabeths
equine love. "You like horses, right?"
Elizabeth said. "Why?"
how about we go to the racetrack next weekend and gamble away
our rent? Maybe well get lucky."
thats how Elizabeth and I found ourselves at the Aqueduct
Racetrack. Upon meeting her, I was smitten. Standing 53"
with short red hair and pale blue eyes and the cutest jean jacket
this side of Levis, she was the prettiest person at the track.
That was a compliment, though not a difficult one.
Aqueduct was a mélange of the down n out, the hopeful,
and the hopelessly hopeless. Mothers toting babies chain-smoked
in nonsmoking areas. Grandpas watched races with fingers clutched
equally around tickets and canes. Bedraggled men drank beer and
rummaged through piles of discarded tickets, hoping for a winner.
At least I wasnt the only one.
racetrack was a far remove from the metropolis, located near JFK
airport. This was apropos, as the Aqueduct resembled a 60s
airport lounge for the destitute. The multi-tiered facilitypainted
heavily with pastelswas like an electronics store run amuck.
Hundreds of banks of monitors flanked walls and hung from ceilings.
They featured horse races and odds and odd bits of info. Like
amoebas and their osmosis, the gamblers absorbed the flashing
grabbed my arm and pulled me close. "Dude, we are so not
in Kansas anymore. Lets bet."
nodded slowly, duly noting the physical contact. Then I turned
my attention to gambling.
idea seemed simple enough: Step up to the barred windows, throw
down a fiver, and say, "Im betting the bank on number
seven!" But betting was so, so complex. Placing and showing
and tripling and exact; these terms made sense separate of the
racetrack, but now I was clueless.
scanned the board; eight nameless horses were listed, each with
separate odds. Two-one, eight-five, five-three, four-two; what
did they mean? I hadnt taken math since my junior year of
high school, and even then Id needed to scrawl formulas
on my hand to obtain a C in trigonometry.
who do you wanna bet on?" Elizabeth asked.
how about number seven?" I suggested. "Sevens
always been my lucky number."
like number four. And the odds are one-one," Elizabeth said.
"Is that the best you can do?"
pondered for a moment, scratching my chin and staring at the blinking
and bleeping boards. Would she like me if my idea of math involved
removing my shoes and socks?
know," I started, heading down the treacherous honesty route,
"I have no idea."
all right, silly," Elizabeth giggled, tugging my jacket and
squeezing my arm. "Well just bet a couple dollars.
I just like the idea of winning."
honesty wins again.
stepped up to a barred bettors window. A white-haired granny,
who looked like a Shar-Pei that had known better days, greeted
us. She was wearing a turquoise Garfield sweatshirt. Ive
long felt that wearing sweatshirts in public once youve
passed 35 is a sign that life has browbeaten you into submission.
If you look like youre ready to sweat to the oldies then,
well, what do you care about?
two kids want?" the Garfield-lover barked in a voice thick
with decades of cigarettes. My hypothesis was one step closer
gimme two bucks on number seven," I answered. Elizabeth and
I had agreed to bet on my number.
that all, ya cheapskate? Dont you wanna win big, son?"
thank you. Thats all for me." Son? Cheapskate? I only
thought movie characters spoke like that.
yourself, ya cheapskate," the granny said. She threw my betting
slip in front of me.
squinted at the granny and snatched my slip. Rubbing the possibility
between my fingertips, I shoved the paper into my pocket. Lucky
number seven it was.
and I headed outside into the cool air and settled into plastic
grandstand seats, about ten rows from the track. The grandstand
was virtually vacant; most of the gamblers were inside, watching
from the warmth. Joining us were a few kids chasing plentiful
pigeons and a smattering of hardcore bettors. Were they hoping
for a windfall or just not to fall any further?
soon flurried around us. John Deere tractors dragged the starting
gate onto the track. Jockeys maneuvered horses into gates. Reins
were grabbed tight. Horses whinnied and neighed and bucked. "Come
on, number four! Johnny wants a white Christmas!" was shouted
from the left. An elderly woman genuflected in front of me. Whose
lucky day would this be?
clutched my ticket and turned to Elizabeth.
turned to me.
smiled at each other.
the horses took off with a shot.