The distinguished author/handicapper/columnist Andrew Beyer attacked the city of Louisville in Tuesday's Washington Post. "If it weren't for the Kentucky Derby, Louisville could sink into the Ohio River without the world's noticing or caring," Beyer wrote. In the certain knowledge that lightning will be sent to part Beyer's hair, I am avoiding his company.
Many things put Beyer out of sorts here. He sees roving gangs of horse trainers and officials conspiring against the hapless bettors, one of them named Beyer. "Conniving trainers," he called them. Nor can Beyer abide corporate executives and college students who, he says, make the local bars inhospitable to a man seeking intelligent conversation. If a man must spend a week in Louisville, Beyer said, "It does help considerably to be inebriated . . . The city is a wasteland . . . devoid of good restaurants and good night life."
A literary critic, on reviewing Beyer's work, said, "Andy did the work of two men there-Laurel and Hardy." Another reader said, "Beyer's the kind of guy who would take Ray Charles to a Marcel Marceau concert."
I am kinder.
I think Beyer has talked to too many horses.
Louisville is heaven. The dogwoods are in bloom this week in this city that is a veritable park. On the river-front, the city is reaching for the sky with a group of new buildings designed to make Louisville's urban center the pride of Kentucky. Besides which, Louisville is the home of Phyllis George, who though this is hard to believe, is even prettier than the dog-woods.
In rendering inoperative the fantasies of millions, Ms. George six weeks ago married the Kentucky multimillionaire, John Y. Brown Jr. Brown now is running for governor. In a press release, Brown's people sought to convice Kentuckians that Ms. George is more than simply another Miss America.
"Some of her domestic duties are sewing buttons on John's coats and putting his socks together," the press release said.
Little wonder, then, that John Y. fell for her. A woman who can put socks together is hard to find, even in Louisville.
Ms. George is not the only civic virtue here. Actors Theatre of Louisville is a nationally honored repertory company that three times has sent shows to Broadway. Mikhail Baryshnikov was so taken by the city in a visit last year that he will return this fall to dance with the Louisville Ballet company. One suspects Baryshnikov found a bar with intelligent conversation.
What would the world be like had Louisville sunk into the Ohio River? Not only would Baryshnikov have to settle for lesser cities such as New York and Moscow, perhaps even Paris, heaven forbid. We would also be deprived of the mint julep. Alone among cities, Louisville sustains the idea that bourbon can be improved by dropping a green weed in it.
Without Louisville, Muhammad Ali would have been, perhaps, the Albuquerque Lip. Colonel Sanders might have pumped gas in his retirement instead of licking his fingers. Without Paul Hornung, who learned to chase girls in Louisville, pro footabll would have been dull. Johnny Unitas came to Louisville to play college football, and Wes Unseld grew up very large here.
All this is in addition, of course, to Louisville's reputation as a spawning groung of wonderful newspapermen. Modesty is strong but not strong enough to prevent my mentioning I worked for both of Louisville's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, for 11 years.
"Derby Week can be tiresome, taw-dry and maddening," Beyer wrote.
Clearly, the unfortunate man never has been to Anita Madden's Derby Eve party down the road in Lexington.
Howard Cosell may believe the Derby was created to keep him busy when football season ends, but the overwhelming evidence is the Derby exists just so Anita Madden can throw her party.
Mrs. Madden is famous and infamous in the Bluegrass. The wife of a Lexington horse breeder, she puts on an intimate party for 1,000 people in a circus tent every Derby Eve. The theme usually is erotic, which may or may not be coincidental to a woman made rich by the breeding habits of horses, and the 1977 bash, to pick one, was representative of what Beyer might call tawdry. One man's tawdry is another's fascination.
At the party, twin blonds of astonishing proportions wore nothing but three leaves while swinging from trapezes attached to the circus tent's roof. They were guarded by a 6 1/2-foot tall black wrestler in a gold bikini.
One guest arrived wearing a chastity belt. Another came in steel-studded, black leather (carrying a bull-whip). And a distinguished racingf official wore his King Kong costume.
"Isn't the Derby fun?" the castity belt said to King Kong.
King Kong replied, "Where's your key?"
The Los Angeles sports columnist Jim Murrary referred to this piece of heaven as "Lousyville." It was possible, Murray said, to become drunk just breathing the air, seeing as how it wafted over from distilleries next to downtown. "The town smells like a wet bar rag," Murray said.
Any objective reader recognizes these bleatings as a song sung blue by a man who has cashed no tickets at the track. Andy Beyer once sung the song in accompaniment to his fist pounding a hole in the press box wall at Gulfstream Park. To preclude an encore, there now hangs in the Hialeah press box a punching bag labeled "Beyer's Pacifier."
That may give us a clue to his dyspepsy here, for in his latest book, "My $50,000 Year at the Races," Beyer bemoans his poor results in Kentucky. Derby Week was a particularly distressing period, costing him about $2,000.
"When they read what you wrote," a man said to Beyer today, "you'll never become a Kentucky Colonel."
Beyer said, "That's okay. I don't have any white shoes, anyway."