Stoopers

Unreal stands up for stooping and encounters a local blogger who only has eyes for the Tampon Fairy. Plus, in a shocking move not seen since the Mesozoic era, the Mississippi River leaves St. Louis!

There's a special place in Unreal's heart for the stoopers, those perennially optimistic racetrack denizens of dubious hygiene who canvass the betting commons after the crowd is gone, sifting through the litter in hopes of finding a winning parimutuel ticket that's been mistakenly discarded. We've never seen a stooper hit it big, but like the man said, you can't win if you don't play.

As fond as we are of Fairmount Park, we never really gave stooping a second thought until recently, when we learned that some $4.5 million in parimutuel winnings go unclaimed each year in Illinois alone. And according to Illinois Racing Board parimutuels director Bob Lang, typically only about $150,000 of that $4.5 million is ultimately redeemed (presumably by stoopers).

According to state law, a parimutuel slip expires on December 31 of the year that follows the year the wager was made. If a ticket isn't cashed by then, the proceeds, known in track parlance as "outs," revert to the state.

Or, to be more precise, they revert to the designated "host track," per a simulcast agreement forged between Fairmount and its two upstate brethren, Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course, in 1995.

And guess what? Like a hapless stooper, Fairmount never gets to be the host track.

But that may soon change. Collinsville state representative Jay Hoffman is sponsoring legislation that would have Fairmount's "outs" -- a figure local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Lanny Brooks puts at $400,000 annually -- remain at Fairmount, where they'll help defray operating expenses and bolster purses. The legislation cleared the House unanimously and will likely soon reach the desk of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who has expressed support for the measure.

None of which will deter the stoopers.

Not surprisingly, Fairmount vice president Joe Ruppert takes a dim view of the practice.

"The biggest stoopers are usually our employees," says Ruppert. "If we catch an employee stooping, they're warned. The laborers, when they clean up at night, get all the tickets and throw them out."

Or do they? Only the stoopers know.

The Eyes of Levi Lancaster

As advertising becomes increasingly stealthy, Levi Lancaster simply asks that you look deep into his eyes.

With a little help from eBay, Lancaster hopes to lure a deep-pocketed corporation to affix its logo or slogan to a pair of contact lenses, which he will wear for a year. The 23-year-old Madison, Illinois, resident, who lives with his mother and spends his time buying stuff at flea markets and selling it off online, hopes the stunt will net him $35,000.

Having ascertained that Lancaster is indeed auctioning off his eyespace, Unreal gave the dude a call.

Unreal: Your original ad featured a 25-pound ball and chain and expressed the dream of getting intoThe Guinness Book of World Records. Why the switch?

Levi Lancaster: I probably will run that idea again at a later date. There was a problem with my listing. I originally said I'd auction it off for one year, when I intended to do it for five. I figure if you're going to break a record, make it hard to beat.

Your pitch depicts a grocery cashier who freaks out when you make eye contact. If she broke your eggs, would you tell her not to sweat it or throw a conniption fit?

I would tell her not to sweat it.

If your advertiser wants you and your eyes to travel far beyond the metro east, you've requested a per diem. Does that cover bar tabs and parimutuel betting?

I wouldn't require that. I think I'd be lucky enough to get a bid on it to begin with.

If you could pick one product to be advertised on your eyes, what would it be?

A casino, because I love casinos. I go to the casinos all the time. I go to all of them.

What's your favorite game?

I like the slots myself.

Have you seenMadison, starring Jim Caviezel as an underdog hydroplane driver?

No.

Do you think Caviezel is the chaste Christian man's Tom Cruise or just another Aramaic-speaking Jesus Christ wannabe?

I'm not sure. I don't know who he is.

Speaking of Tom Cruise, between him and Katie Holmes, whom do you think will do the dumping when their August-December relationship fizzles?

Probably her. It seems like she'd have more options than he would.

When It Rains...

"Making the St. Louis riverfront a major destination for visitors is one of my highest economic development priorities," said St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay. "Many of the elements are in place: the Arch, the river itself, and a downtown that is becoming more energetic every day and night."

press release from Mayor Slay's office, May 2, 2005

The Mississippi River diverted its course yesterday, hanging a sharp left at Wood River, zigzagging its way across southwestern Illinois and returning to its original route one mile south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.

The shift leaves the city of St. Louis void of a riverfront for the first time since the Mesozoic era, some 65 million years ago.

As geologists searched for explanations, municipal leaders in St. Louis say the move could not have come at a worse time.

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