The Jockey’s Plan
The wiry old man with the messy white hair lifted the dripping roast beef sandwich to his mouth. Just before he could take a bite, the folds of meat oozed out from between the slices of bread. One piece plopped onto his plate, the rest fell into his lap.
A man sitting next to him with a large nose and bushy gray mustache began laughing.
“Yeah, go ahead, laugh it up, Henry.”
“What do you think I’m doin’? Why do you keep ordering that sandwich, Chester? That happens every time.”
“I like roast beef, okay?” Chester said, dabbing at his pants and faded green sweater with a napkin. “It’s the bread, I keep telling Tommy he needs to order better bread, but he won’t listen to me.”
A stocky old man wearing a plaid cap that matched his baggy pants shuffled over to the end of the bar. He grunted loudly as he climbed up onto the stool next to Chester.
“Hey, George,” Chester said, trying to reassemble his sandwich.
George nodded and took off his cap, revealing a shiny bald head. “Chester.”
“George,” Henry said.
“Henry. What are you fellas eatin’ today?”
“I’m having a Reuben, Chester’s eatin’ the roast beef surprise.”
“What’s the surprise?”
“That he has to eat most of it off his pants.”
A young, bored-looking waitress chewing gum walked over to George.
“Well, let me see,” George said, grabbing a menu and adjusting his thick glasses. “Hmmm, well…no, I guess I had that for supper yesterday. Hey, how ‘bout a- no, not today.”
The waitress blew a large pink bubble and let it pop.
“Um, oh, why didn’t I see it before? Pastrami, definitely pastrami.” He handed her the menu but before she could take it, yanked it back. “Wait…no, pastrami is good.”
The waitress snatched the menu and walked away.
“Look it there,” George said after he surveyed the mostly empty restaurant. “It’s Rudy Clopinger. I haven’t seen that guy in years.”
Henry and Chester turned to stare at a small man sitting by himself in the far corner. He was about sixty but his hair — slicked back on his head — showed no sign of gray. A half-filled glass sat in front of him.
“That it is,” Henry said.
“Who’s Rudy Clopinger?” Chester asked.
George smiled. “You don’t know Rudy Clopinger? Can you believe this guy, Henry?”
Henry chuckled uncomfortably. “Yeah, where ya been, Chester?”
“That Rudy’s certainly a strange fella, isn’t he?”
“Uh, yeah,” Henry said. He, uh, sure is.”
“So who is he?” Chester asked.
“Go ahead, tell him, Henry,” George said.
“Nah, why don’t you tell him, George?”
George shook his head. “You’re the storyteller.”
“Will somebody tell me who the hell he is already?” Chester said, raising his voice a little. He turned to look at Henry.
“Well, okay. Ya see, Rudy Kalinger was the-“
“Clopinger,” George said.
“Right, right, Clopinger. You see the story of Robby Clopinger is a complex one…”
“His name’s Rudy.”
“Of course, that’s what I said.”
“Uh, Henry, you do know who Rudy Clopinger is, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” He peered back at the man in the corner. “Didn’t he play for the Raiders in ’71?”
George laughed. “Not exactly.”
Chester glanced at Henry. Henry, looking a tad bit ashamed, averted his gaze.
“Okay,” Chester said after a moment. “Who is he?”
George grinned and hiked up his pants. “Rudy Clopinger was a jockey.”
“Ya know, I thought he looked familiar,” Chester said.
“Yup, he raced horses all over the place: Rochester, Devlin, Rooster Creek, you name it, he probably sat on the back of a horse there.”
“So, how’d he do? Did he win a lot?”
“Perfect record,” George said with a smile.
“He never lost?” Henry asked, perking his head up.
“Never won,” George replied. “Came in dead last in almost all of ‘em, too.”
“Wow,” Chester said.
“That’s right. Rudy would always overdo it. He’d train his horses too much and in the race he’d push ‘em too hard, right outta the gate, he’d act like it was the final stretch. But that probably wasn’t the main reason he was so bad. You can’t tell by lookin’ at him but he’s a couple inches taller and was probably a few pounds heavier than the average jockey. A lotta folks thought that’s why he couldn’t win.”
Henry frowned. “So why should we care about some two-bit washed up old jockey?”
“I’m gettin’ to the good part, hold your horses.”
Chester laughed. “Hold your horses! Good one, George.”
“So anyway, near the end of his not-so-illustrious career, Rudy comes up with a plan.”
“What kind of plan?” Chester asked. “To finally win a race?”
“Well, sort of. Rudy…well, you might say he was a little nutty, I think all that losin’ might have gone to his head. So he came up with this plan for his kid.”
“He had a kid?” Henry asked.
“Well, not then he didn’t, that was part of the plan. Rudy thought if he could find a woman, but not just any woman, she had to be the perfect woman, and they were to, ya know, get together and have a baby, that kid would grow up to be a world-class jockey.”
Chester and Henry glanced at each other with bemused looks.
“I told you he was kind of nutty.”
“So what kind of woman was he looking for?” Chester asked.
“Well, as you can see, Rudy’s a short man, but apparently not short enough to be a successful jockey. So he figured if he could find a short woman, but not just short, really short, that their kid would end up bein’ the perfect size.”
“So he was lookin’ for a little person, one of them…midgets?” Chester asked.
George frowned and shook his head. “No, no midgets, Rudy was strict about that. She had to be a regular girl just really short. His friends thought he was crazy but once Rudy got somethin’ in his head there’s no getting it out. I remember one time when he decided to ride a horse backwards, said it would cut down on wind resistance. So there he was in the starting gate for the third race sittin’ ass-forward on a horse lookin’ like a damn fool. I mean, nobody could believe he’d-“
“Uh, George,” Henry said. “What about the woman?”
“Oh, yeah, right. So he and his buddies started lookin’ all around town for the right girl. Bars, restaurants, movie theaters, you name it, they checked it. After about a month of searchin’ without finding the right one, Rudy was just about ready to give up. But one night they were sittin’ in a bar — a place that didn’t look too different from this one — when he spots a girl walkin’ in. From what I was told she was a real looker but tiny. So Rudy has one of his friends go up and talk to her. It turns out she’s engaged and meeting her fianc
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Portland Fiction Project
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