I went to the Kentucky Derby and did not see a single fucking horse the entire time I was there. I spent Derby day huddling under a Maker's Mark promotional tent with my future roommate and about ninety-nine other strangers in a vain attempt to seek shelter from a driving rain that started about five minutes after we got there and continued until right after we'd gone too far from the track to turn around and head back. I didn't see any horses, but I did see a few members of the Westboro Baptist Church or maybe a different far-right evangelical congregation; it doesn't matter, really. They called me a fornicator.
A scheissgutzeit is a word I made up that combines the German words for shit, good, and time. A scheissgutzeit is an experience that is, by any objective measure, unpleasant, and yet one remembers it fondly. A scheissgutzeit cannot be beneficial or edifying in any significant way. Running a marathon is not a scheissgutzeit. Being locked in a room with a bunch of heavily intoxicated young men about your own age and not allowed out until someone has broken a bone is not a scheissgutzeit either; the term for that is hazing. A scheissgutzeit is just a thing that happens sometimes, somewhere at the intersection of the sunk-cost fallacy and a day that somehow manages to be frustrating enough that it horseshoes back around toward decent.
A horse named Social Inclusion ran in that year's race, and I was convinced it was going to be put down on the racetrack. People ought to be more responsible for how they name their horses, instead of risking life's love of unsubtle symbolism. Although, if it were up to me, at least one horse every year should be required to have a name like “I Drink Mint Juleps on the Graves of the Working Class.”
Either way, even if Social Inclusion was put down on the track or if someone had pointed out that A Horse Named Social Inclusion sounded like the title of a lesser known Tennessee Williams play, I was in no position to notice. I'd envisioned that attending the Kentucky Derby meant sitting in the stands and calmly watching thoroughbreds go tearing around the oval while I passed around drinks to my friends and possibly even strange women in outrageously large hats. Tom Brady got to do that. I went to the infield.
According to the Churchill Downs guide, the infield had a “music festival” atmosphere. That meant people got drunk enough to piss on the ground. They might not have understood the risk that an A-lister might spot them through a pair of opera glasses, which they would slowly lower to the ground before saying, to nobody in particular, “I do declare.”
Or maybe the people pissing on the ground had thought about this and decided it was still preferable to braving the gauntlet of evangelicals that congregated around the line for the toilets. They may have done this out of a desire to exploit a captive audience, or possibly out of a misplaced conviction about what it meant to suffer for their faith.
One of them held a megaphone and took time to harangue each person that came by. He'd spot a wrinkled betting ticked in someone's hand and chastise them for being an inveterate gambler. He derided the doomed alcoholics tossing away their plastic cups. Finally, he got to me.
I took him a moment, because I did not carry any of the outward signs of participating in the usual vices that someone can participate in during a horse race. I wasn't actually old enough to drink, and I hadn't placed any bets. I expected him to skip me and move on, but he must have enjoyed probing my soul for secret iniquities. The megaphone crackled as he pressed down the button.
“You are a fornicator!”
I'd never heard someone caress a word before when they spoke, but that was what this guy was doing with “fornicator.”
“And let me tell you, you don't fornicate on accident. You don't fall over and say 'whoops, I fornicated.'”
I'd been called a lot of things in my life, but “intentional fornicator” was never one of them. Nobody before or since has looked at me and thought “I'll bet that guy has a ton of sex.” I'd never understood the appeal of fundamentalist cults, but that was probably the closest I got to being recruited. In a crowd of drunk college students and middle aged gamblers, I was the fornicator—a true Missouri ten.
My roommate tapped me on the shoulder. “I'm freezing my ass off here.”
His horses hadn't done well. Contrary to the advice of the betting guide, the favored horses were still better at running on mud than the underdogs.