“Dad! There you are, Dad!” screamed a shirtless, drunk college student I had the unfortunate luck of making eye contact with during my last venture into the Kentucky Derby infield. That was the first Saturday in May, 1999.
There I was, minding my own business, strolling through the infield in search of photo opportunities, when out of nowhere comes this shirtless, drunk college kid.
“Don’t deny me again, Dad. I’ve missed you so much,” he said as he picked me up, raising me at least two feet off the ground.
Taken unaware, this six-foot-two, blonde beast swung me around like a rag doll, camera and all.
“Guys,” he yelled to his compatriots. “Come and meet my father. I’ve finally found him after all these years.”
Four more shirtless, drunk college students converged around me. I struggled to escape with little success.
As Junior set me down, the five of them rubbed the top of my head and continued to call me Dad. “How could you have left your son, your own flesh and blood, like that?” said one.
“He talks about you all the time,” said another.
“Do you ever think about what life might have been like if you had stayed?” said yet another.
“Give me a break,” I said. “I’m not old enough to be your father.”
“Oh, Dad, please don’t reject me again.”
“Reject you? I don’t even know you.”
“I know it’s been a long time, but we could get to know each other again.”
“Again? I’ve never known you,” I stammered.
The five of them, all crewcut blondes, probably from Ohio, Pennsylvania or Iowa, closed in around me and began to bellybump me from one to the other. They continued to rub the top of my head.
“You sure are a cute little fella,” said one.
“He’s a feisty one, too,” said another.
“Quit it,” I yelled. “Let me go.”
“It’s not that easy, Dad. If Mom ever found out that I had see you and let you go again, she’d be heartbroken.”
“Heartbroken? Your mother doesn’t know me.”
“I know,” he said. “She said you were always so distant.”
Luckily, Junior and his friends were momentarily distracted by a young woman raising her shirt over her head to the inebriated chants of approving collegians.
Being as old and mature as I have apparently become, I was able to avert my gaze, seize the moment and escape from Junior and his friends.
Slip sliding across the beer-drenched grass of the infield, I made my way back to the pavement and eventually back through the tunnel to well-heeled civilization, wondering to myself why I had ventured into the infield in the first place.
Maybe I was drawn there by memories of the days when I was one of the infield crowd instead of standing out so much so that 19- and 20-year-olds feel comfortable bellybumping me and rubbing beer in my hair.
“What’s up with you,” one of my compatriots asked as I returned to the paddock. “You look quite the site and you smell like a brewery.”
“I went into the infield,” I said.
“Oh,” was the response. Enough said.