Sunday, October 19, 2003

Gary and Larry and Chris and Merv

Gary "Back For the Breeders' Cup, Baby" Stevens was on The Evil Network last night. He was helping to preview the BC on Larry King Live, The Show That No One Actually Watches Anymore Yet Still Manages To Book People Due To Ted Turner's Pact With Satan. Sitting in with him was fellow jockey Chris McCarron-- now retired, general manager of Santa Anita, and race designer of Seabiscuit-- and that one name everyone on planet Earth immediately associates with Thoroughbreds the second they hear the call to post: Merv Griffin.

Merv totally dressed for the occasion. Gary and Chris looked fantastic, in the sense that they seemed to have made an attempt to clean up a bit before appearing on national television with The Empty Suspenders. Merv looked like he just rolled out of a bale of hay or a murdering-hitchhiker spree gone awry or possibly both. He had on this plaid shirt and a baby-barf green jacket, and as he sat there next to Chris and Gary in their suitcoats you could practically hear America furrowing its brow, all: "And to think-- he gave the world Wheel of Fortune."

Larry, for some reason, was wearing lipstick.

Merv is a big-time horse owner, and is the “celebrity host” for the Breeders' Cup this year, and is totally BF’s with Larry, all of which for some reason permits him to appear on camera with and even in the same solar system as the likes of Chris and Gary.

You have to love Merv, a one-man production of Non-Sequitur Theatre. At one point everyone was discussing the retirement of Laffit Pincay (more on this later) and Merv quite logically turned to the jockeys and said, “Do you keep track of how much you’ve won?” Gary snorted—he snorted—and McCarron was giving him this total Look of Death. Seriously, why didn’t he just say, “So, how many bowel movements do you have a day?” You just don’t ask these things. And Chris smothered what I would certainly experience--a sharp, furious homicidal moment-- and said jovially, “Well, my wife does,” which left poor Gary alone with Merv and Larry, both of whom need to be shot out of the International Space Station at top speed, and Larry turned to Gary and gave him the Index Finger Point of Inquisition and was all, “You're in the range of what! Purses!” and Gary first tried to hedge politely and then gave up and said, “Right around two hundred million.” Chris admitted to two hundred sixty-something million, and Merv, stunned, hurt, and mumbling, said, “See, your wife doesn’t know. You know.” And Chris simply couldn’t summon the strength for yet another well-deserved Look of Death and laughed politely instead, silently resolving to ride some limping claimer over a cliff into a valley of very sharp knives rather than spend one more nanosecond in the company of this, his Celebrity Host.

(Seriously? Chris? In this, the Year of Seabiscuit, we couldn’t do any better than Merv? Was Gary Busey not available?)

I have just downloaded the Official Transcript, and here's a sample of the dazzling wordplay the magical combination of Larry and Merv showered down upon us last night (bear in mind, I am not making any of this up):

GRIFFIN: I can make a statement here that none of these guys can make. I saw Seabiscuit ride. (And what was Seabiscuit riding, Merv? A trolley? Space Mountain?)

MCCARRON: Wow, did you really?

KING: Really.

MCCARRON: You're not that old, are you?

GRIFFIN: Pardon?


GRIFFIN: Larry told me to say that.

No, it gets better. We heard the words "impregnates" AND "concieved" within a two-second interval:

KING: Seabiscuit rode over 50 times, I think.

MCCARRON: (cannot take it anymore) Ran, yeah.

GRIFFIN: See, that doesn't happen anymore. When a horse becomes a big hit, then the owner says, "Well, I'll syndicate him and give him a nice life," and he goes, you know, and impregnates mares for the rest of his life. (Please, God, let him be talking about the horse and not the owner.)

KING: Brilliantly conceived movie.

GRIFFIN: I don't know if that's great for racing, though.

MCCARRON: What is?

GRIFFIN: When they win a couple of races.

MCCARRON: Oh, not it's not good for racing. It's hard to get a story going, you know.

STEVENS: (prays for an immediate and cataclysmic earthquake)

My GOD, it was great television. By the way, if Merv Griffin uses the phrase "impregnates mares" ever, ever again, please let me know so I can climb a clock tower with a set of lawn darts.

There was a little bonus for me and everyone else salivating over the DVD release of Seabiscuit: One of the commercial bumpers consisted of a few seconds of Gary getting out of that, like, pimp roller, outfitted in the enormous hat that deserved its own mention in the credits and those clothes that made him look like he just fell out of an episode of Queer Eye For the Straight Jockey and that slightly self-conscious smile that says, “I have never looked so faaaaaabulous.” And then there were a few seconds of him giving an interview wearing the highly respectable brown hat he stole out of Sinatra’s closet. So wardrobe was one-for-two in the little clip package. But of course Larry had to destroy it all by coming out of the break and saying to Gary, “How do you like being a staaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh?”

Let's all have a big hand for Gary for suppressing what must have been an overwhelming urge to holler “STOP TALKING! STOP TALKING STOP TALKING STOP TALKING YOU ANNOYING, GRATINGLY ACCENTED, SUSPENDER-WEARING FREAK.”

Larry then looked directly at Gary Stevens and decided that the best use of his national TV time with a Hall of Fame jockey who had just delivered a blowout performance in the greatest racing film ever made was to ask him whether or not the weather was nice in California.

See, this is why I got out of journalism. I cannot hope to compete with brass-knuckle interviewing tactics like that.

Anyway. Pincay. He was this truly amazing jockey who was forced into retirement by successive injuries (“Two percent body fat! Two percent body fat on Pincay!” Chris said with deep and quiet reverence) and Gary mentioned that he and Pincay live near one another (which totally made me happy, to imagine this lovely jockey subdivision right next to Del Mar with lawn jockeys on every porch and Equicizers in every driveway) and he said, “I saw him walking yesterday. He had his shirt off—“

Waaaaaaaaaait, wait wait wait wait wait. Wait a minute.

1) Where was Laffit going, without his shirt? Was he just, like, wandering around?

2) Did Gary have his shirt off?

3) If so, why was a photographer from Vanity Fair not summoned?

4) Is this normal behavior in the Happy Jockey Subdivision?

I need to know these things.

Okay, Gary, move along:

“—and, I mean, what a specimen. He looked like he hadn’t missed a single day of riding.”

Is this what I need to do to succeed in the racing world? Because I’m there, baby. I’m there walking around outside Gary Stevens' house with no shirt on, if this is what it takes. Laffit can join me if he so desires.

There was also a point in the program at which Chris accidentally let it slip that they had taped the show, so it was not in fact Larry King Live but Larry King, Two Jockeys, and The Man Responsible For Pat Sajak Discuss the Breeders' Cup At Some Point In the Very Recent Past. And so Gary turned to Chris and smacked him upside the head, which was all kinds of awesome. You don’t smack just anyone. You need to be in That Place. But you could see a sense of wistfulness flash over McCarron’s face: “O, that we could fully bitch-slap the rest of this illustrious panel, my friend.”

At one point, Merv completely derailed an actually pertinent discussion about the Breeders' Cup by whirling on Chris and saying, in highly accusatory tones, “Is the story about Ferdinand true?”

Now, as a racing fan, I knew what the hell he was talking about, namely, Ferdinand, longshot winner of the ’86 Kentucky Derby. It is rumored that he had been shipped to Japan and sent to a meatpacking plant there. And yet even knowing this, I got conversational whiplash so fast that I displaced two vertebrae and maybe a hip. So I can’t even imagine what the average normal person was thinking: “Hey, they're actually having a coherent convers--WHAT?! Ferdi—WHAT?” But Chris, who had been in the middle of a sentence with a subject and a verb and an adjective and everything, something Merv had not yet accomplished, said, basically, “WHAT?!” before collecting himself with an “I'm not a hundred percent sure,” and you could see him thinking, “Well, Merv, let me just reach into my ASSCRACK for my eight volumes of The Complete History of Ferdinand" and Gary, perhaps after subtly reaching for his poison blow-dart, nodded. “Yes,” he said solemnly, and Merv was all distraught and even Larry was kind of speechless.

Also, Larry kept pronouncing “Santa Anita” as “Santer Anita.” Clearly he also needs to die.

The whole segment was only twenty minutes long, but it had everything: Violence, death, nudity, comedy, bad accents. That's life, baby. Life.

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