The Sex Symbol originally appeared in Turf & Sport Digest, February 1982
Ever since Joe Namath and Jim Bouton let it be known that there are girls in every city who are interested in something besides an autograph and a discussion of the bootleg option or the infield fly rule, it has become common knowledge that athletes in all sports, including racing, have their own following of, in the truest sense of the word, ardent admirers.
I suspect that the interest in athletes initially developed to accommodate the excessive number of groupies interested in musicians. After all, whether he’s interested or not, there’s only one Barry Manilow, whereas an entire football team certainly expands the opportunity to accommodate a larger number of celebrity admirer
Recently, however, if I can believe what I read, this interest has expanded to include sportswriters, which either dictates that there are no longer enough athletes to go around or that the girls are getting pretty desperate.
Whatever the reason, I was naturally encouraged to learn that, as a sportswriter, I was about to become America’s newest sex symbol. Plus, I figured to have an edge over my peers that covered other sports. I mean, have you ever met a young woman who wasn’t enchanted by horses?
Certainly my specialty offered me a better opportunity to impress a girl by inviting her to the backstretch to “see the pretty horsies” than some clown whose closest association with horsehide was an autographed Yankee baseball.
Of course, it’s one thing to suddenly discover that you have been transformed into a coveted sex object, and quite another to figure out how to capitalize on the situation.
Athletes, after all, are fairly visible in public due to their television exposure.
About the only time a sportswriter attracts attention is when he falls off a bar stool and bleeds on a restaurant carpet, which doesn’t strike me as the most romantic way to meet members of the opposite sex.
Since the concept of sportswriters as sex symbols has, to my knowledge, not yet reached the stage where screaming hordes of adoring females are storming press boxes at the nation’s racetracks, it occurred to me that the best way to fulfill my new-found destiny would be to get out and mingle with the public and let nature take its course.
Besides, I’d always wanted to set some sort of trail-blazing example for my fellow writers, and being in the vanguard of sex symbolism certainly seemed to be an exciting way to go about it.
Since I perceived that the general public was not yet aware that I was the latest sex symbol, my first decision centered on an effective advertising campaign. After all, I couldn’t very well walk down the streets wearing a wooden sign that said ‘Sportswriter’ on it. Any experienced New Yorker would promptly ask me if the hot dogs were kosher. Or else they’d simply mug me.
Finally, I decided that business cards were the best approach, something I could casually produce for the enlightenment of any interesting females I should happen to encounter.
Accordingly, I phoned my local printer and asked him to print one thousand cards that read: ‘Ron Parker, Thoroughbred Racing Writer. Do With Me What You Will’.
I’ll admit that the printer gave me a strange look when I picked them up, but I refused to let his attitude bother me on the grounds that he wasn’t my type.
The next course of action was to distribute the cards, and after considerable debate I decided that my first course of action should be at a fairly popular bar I heard about that was across the street from the nearest racetrack.
I conveniently located a stool next to the cocktail waitresses station, ordered a bourbon and soda, and casually dropped half a dozen cards on her serving tray.
She glanced at one of the cards, then looked at me curiously.
“One for you,” I said suavely, “and some for your friends.”
“Well,” she allowed, “I don’t get off till Midnight, but let me ask some of the girls at the tables.”
“Oh?” I responded dumbly, surprised at the apparent effectiveness of the cards.
She proceeded to make her rounds, then returned.
“Ella seems interested,” she said, pointing out something resembling Godzilla’s sister, “although she wanted to know if you write about brown horses or just the gray ones. But then, she’s always been a little strange, and you don’t look like you could cover her $50 fee.
“On the other hand, the one at the next table wearing the black leather jacket and spurs might give you a real price break, she thinks you look submissive and innocent. Want me to work on that for you?”
“You don’t seem to understand,” I said, handing her some more cards. “I’m America’s newest sex symbol and, if anything, the girls should pay me.”
I leaned back proudly.
“You some kinda nut?” she asked, motioning for the bartender.
The bartender, obviously a retired defensive end for the Green Bay Packers, walked down.
“Got a problem here, Julie?” he asked ominously, looking in my direction.
“Not really, Charlie,” she answered, “I was just wondering if maybe you were spiking the booze with bute again. This guy here thinks he’s a sex symbol.”
Charlie looked me over carefully, then started laughing. “Yeah?” he said. “Looks to me like he’s on one of them LSD trips or somethin’. You want I should call the narcs?”
“Nah, that’s okay, Charlie,” she replied. “I think he’s about to leave.”
She nudged me meaningfully.
“That right, buddy?” Charlie asked, leaning over the bar to a point where our noses almost touched.
“Uh, sure,” I said discreetly while grabbing the cards still lying on Julie’s tray before heading for the door. “I just remembered a couple of Exactas I want to bet.”
Still, I refused to let this minor setback discourage me, deciding that my only problem lay in not selecting a bar with a more educated clientele that would appreciate my status. Thus, the following evening, I decided to drop into Disco Dave’s, a popular hangout fro trainers, overweight jockeys and rock music groupies. It didn’t seem like much of a challenge, since the word around the track was that even Frankenstein could get a girl at Disco Dave’s, but I reasoned that a budding sex symbol had to start somewhere.
I sat down next to a fairly attractive brunette and decided to start with a more conventional approach. “Can I buy you a drink?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” she said somewhat distantly while continuing to bang one hand on the bar in time to a fairly loud song that was playing on the jukebox.
“Bartender,” I yelled over the music, “bring the young lady another drink.”
“One zombie for Miss Space Cadet comin’ up,” he hollered back happily.
After the drink was served and had stopped bubbling and smoking, I carefully placed one of my cards next to it. She continued to bang on the bar until the song was over, then looked at the card, although it was obvious she was having some trouble reading it.
“You’re Ron?” she asked with interest.
“Far out,” she grinned, grabbing my arm. “I’m Charity.”
“Far out,” I echoed, reasoning that anyone with a name like Charity had to be a step in the right direction.
“Thoroughbred Racing Writer and Sex Symbol,” she giggled. “That’s really a groovy name. Maybe even better than Moses and The Two Tablets.
“You got a gig here tonight?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“A gig,” she repeated. “Like, is the group playing here or,” she added, squeezing my arm, “is this your night off?
“Well, I’m certainly free tonight, if that’s what you mean.”
“Far out,” she squealed. “Tell me, are you lead guitar or do you pound the skins?”
“Actually, I’m a writer,” I explained, finally grasping her questions. “Y’know, words on paper. I pound, as you so eloquently put it, a Royal typewriter.”
“Words?” she asked with a suddenly puzzled look.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to appeal to her native intelligence. “You know, those things that people read.”
“Read?” she replied, suddenly letting loose of my arm. “Say, are you one of those weirdos I been hearin’ about?”
“Charity,” I began to explain in the manner of someone who suddenly realizes they’re fighting a losing cause, “it is my job to inform and amuse the public, which is far more important than simply wiggling ones hips on a stage.”
“Can’t wiggle your hips either, huh?” she sulked.
“Listen, Charity,” I went on desperately, “why don’t you come over to my place tonight and I’ll show you my columns. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“Not tonight,” she replied, waving at a guy at a nearby table wearing a fluorescent jumpsuit and playing a set of bongo drums. “I’ve got a headache.”
“But I’m a sex symbol,” I pleaded.
“Yeah?” she smiled, starting towards the bongo player. “Well, that’s different. Tell me where the Sex Symbols are playing next time you’re in town and I’ll be there right after the last set.”
At this point it had become apparent that, since the girls near the track had not yet heard about sportswriters sexism, I was simply ahead of my time. I had to assume that this was simply because the news hadn’t gotten past the racetrack yet. In fact, I began to theorize, it was quite possible that there was a conspiracy among females who attended the races to suppress my symbolism for purely selfish motives. After all, I concluded, there were only a few racing writers at the track to go around.
Finally deciding that this must indeed be the case, I decided to spend my next afternoon at the track, wandering through the stands and introducing myself to attractive girls, secure in the knowledge that it would only be a question of time before I was recognized.
I decided to start in the Turf Club, where I immediately spotted one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life sitting alone at a table.
“Hi,” I said shyly, handing her one of my cards. “Haven’t I seen you in a press box somewhere?”
She studied the card for a moment.
“Not unless you were tending bar,” she answered stiffly. “Look, Mac, I don’t know what your game is, but you’d better move on before Bugsy gets back.”
“Bugsy?” I asked quizzically.
“Yeah, Bugsy. King of the Northside. You new around here or are you into instant suicide.”
Just then someone behind me tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned around and looked up. And up.
“You got a problem, buddy? A voice from the heavens asked me.
“Uh, no sir,” I stammered. “I was just introducing myself to this charming young lady. She’s yours, right? I, ha ha, knew that right away, since it’s obvious that you’re a man of exquisite taste.”
“He gave me this card,” the woman interjected, handing my business card to King Kong.
“Sex symbol?” he frowned. “What’s this sex symbol? You trying to make time with my woman? Or,” he added reflectively, “is this a new cover that Rocky came up with?”
“Uh,yeah, sure, that’s it, Bugsy,” I said impulsively. “Rocky did it, he thought you’d get a big laugh out of it. Pretty funny, right? Like, ha ha?”
“Yeah,” Bugsy started to chuckle, “come to think of it that is pretty funny. Imagine some newspaper guy thinking he’s a sex symbol. Yeah,” he began to roar, “that really is a riot. That Rocky, he’s a card but this is the best yet.
“Thanks for bringin’ it to me, pal,” Bugsy said, by now almost in tears of laughter while shoving a hundred dollar bill into my hand. “Here, treat yourself to a couple of Trifectas for your trouble.”
Bugsy sat down at the table and started to laugh even harder as I tactfully headed for the elevator that led to the press box. “That Rocky,” I heard him roar in the distance, “he sure can come up with some crazy ideas.”
Once in the relative safety of the press box I sat alone nursing a free beer while wondering where I had gone wrong in life when an attractive young lady who was obviously a member of the media walked up to me.
“You’re Ron Parker, right?” she smiled warmly.
“Well, yes,” I replied, flattered by the recognition and her smile.
“I’m Vicki,” she continued, “and I’ve always wanted to meet you.”
“You have?” I responded brilliantly.
“Oh, yes. You know, I’ve read all of your columns.”
“You have?” I repeated dumbly.
“Of course. I’ve been following you for years.”
I didn’t like the way she emphasized the word years, but decided to ignore it on the grounds that the situation offered interesting possibilities. After all, if she had read my columns, it would certainly save a lot of time having her read them to learn that I was a genuine sex symbol. Of course, I hadn’t thought of a line beyond ‘come up and read my columns sometime’, so there was a distinct possibility that my method of enticement was compromised. Still, I reflected, this seemed like the most promising chance yet.
“I think,” she went on, “that my favorite columns you wrote were about the time you went to Mars, and the one where you went to the lake to talk to the ducks, although sleeping with a smelly buffalo was pretty good too.”
“I didn’t sleep with the buffalo,” I replied defensively while wondering ifI’d remembered to buy some anti-perspirant at the store during my last trip.
“Whatever,” she continued. “I even remember the time you walked around the backstretch talking to the horses.”
“And you liked all that?” I asked, increasingly impressed.
“Sure, I think you’re the funniest writer around.”
I wasn’t sure how to take the word funny, either, but at least I had finally encountered someone who knew me and, thusly, would presumably recognize my sex symbolism. And, because of that, I knew that I had finally reached the first stage of fulfilling my new-found destiny.
“Vicki,” I smiled as charmingly as possible, “how would you like to go to my place after the races and see my typewriter? I’ve got a great piece in process about a left-handed Orangutan who gets lost in the Hollywood Park saddling tunnel, only managing to escape after he meets Francis The Mule, who happened to be working late studying for his owners license.”
“I’d love to, Ron, but I have to go to my Mothers for dinner, and I’m already late.”
“But Vicki,” I protested, “you’re missing the chance of a lifetime to be with a sex symbol!”
“Sex symbol?” she smiled. “Didn’t he win a stakes in Canada last year? Gee, I sure hope they ship him in, I’d love to see him run. Well, gotta go, I really enjoyed meeting you.”
“The pleasure,” I sighed, “was all mine.”
Now feeling thoroughly rejected, I decided to wander down to the Clubhouse and bet on the last few races, figuring such an activity would not only cheer me up, it might even result in some financial rewards.
As I was standing in a betting line before the sixth race, the woman in front of me turned around. “Tell me,” she asked, “do you think the three horse has a chance to win this race?”
I pondered the situation for a moment as she looked at me quizzically with beautiful dark green eyes, and then decided to hand her one of my cards.
“Actually,” I began, as she read the card, “it all depends on whether or not the six horse discombobulates before the four horse has a chance to antidisestablish the inversion bias created by the seven horse, who will find it necessary to relevate because of the valification aspects involved. If that happens,” I added knowledgeably, “then I would say that the three horse has just as good a chance as any of the other horses in the race.”
“Why, thank you,” she said admiringly. “Not many people would be as helpful as you seem to be.”
“Well, thank you,” I replied with increasing interest.
“You know,” she continued, “it’s so hard to find an intelligent man these days. And,” she added, pondering the card I had given her, “I’ve never met a writer before. Tell me, are you doing anything after the races?”
“No,” I allowed, pulse quickening.
“Then,” she continued, “why don’t you come over to my place. We can have a couple of drinks and you can explain all about track variants and all those other funny things that confuse me so much. Would you like that?”
“Yes,” I replied, trying to contain my enthusiasm while thinking about the fabulous stories I could regale my peers with at the next turf writers meeting. ‘Eat your heart out’ I could envision telling Bill Nack, ‘all you can do is scare Round Table.’ ‘Go to San Francisco and get a haircut,’ I would tell Tony Chamblin, ‘and leave sex symbolism to me.’ And what I would tell Leon Rasmussen, an expert on breeding, about such popularity is best left to the imagination.
“Should I pick up some wine?” I asked with the air of a man who had finally found his niche in life.
“No,” she smiled, “that won’t be necessary, I’ll have George pick some up for us.”
“Yes, my husband. He’s always wanted to meet a sportswriter. I know you two will have a lot to talk about.
“And I know he’ll think your business card is absolutely adorable, you really must tell us what joke shop you have them printed at.”
It’s not easy being a sex symbol when you’re the only one who knows about it.