On a Horse and a Prayer

Unreal prays, then bets it all on our namesake equine. Then, we get schooled in vocab by a fifteen-year-old.

Mar 14, 2007 at 4:00 am
Though not on the fast track to canonization ourself, Unreal was delighted to find the Patron Saints Index (www.catholic-forum.com/SAINTS/patron00.htm) and learn that there are saints for damn near everything. There's Lydwina of Schiedam, patron saint of roller skating; and Julian the Hospitaller, who protects circus workers. In a city where residents regularly bury statues of St. Joseph in hopes of getting a good real estate deal, Unreal offers the Boston of the Midwest a quiz:

Match the holy man or woman with his or her bar-related specialty.

1) It's three deep at Seamus McDaniel's, you've tried giving the bartender the friendly eyes, the sexy eyes and flashed the biggest bill in your wallet (a five), all to no avail. Who do you pray to?

2) From the giant-Schnucks-shopping-cart float, a tarted-up leprechaun with bad aim fires a Blow Pop directly into your eye. Who do you pray to?

3) Late in the evening, you strike up a conversation with a good-looking stranger. That is, you think they're a good-looking stranger. But having been drinking for nine hours straight, you're down to one functioning eye and your friends are pulling you away. Who do you pray to?

4) You've paid your tab, the questionable stranger is in tow and you're fighting your way to the door. You reach for your keys and...damn! Who do you pray to?

5) The following morning you vow to never drink again. Who do you pray to?

A) St. Drogo

B) St. Madron

C) St. Zita

D) St. Amand

E) St. Bibiana

Russert Can (And Will) Say That Again

For a guy who's so popular, Tim Russert sure has a lot of enemies. Even before his roundly criticized showing at Lewis "Scooter" Libby's perjury trial, the Meet the Press frontman couldn't seem to get a break.

His most recent snub came after Washington University announced that Russert would receive his 44th honorary doctorate when he comes to town as this year's commencement speaker. Instead of congratulating the administration on its topical choice, the editors of the school newspaper Student Life fired off an angry editorial decrying Russert as yet another sorry example of what they termed a recent trend of speakers culled from the herds of "uninspiring" pundits and politicians. (Recent commencement speakers have included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former British Prime Minister John Major.) Even worse, the editors pointed out, Russert gives the same commencement speech year after year to class after class.

'Tis true. His recycling program came to light after he deliveed the commencement address to the class of 2005 at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. In an article titled, "Gimme a new idea, Tim; Talk to graduates déjà vu all over again," Telegram & Gazette reporter Clive McFarlane compared Russert's address to earlier speeches. Among the boilerplate phrases: · "It is not often you have the chance to meet and talk with people who share the same background and values, so let me skip the temptation of lecturing to you. Instead let me take a few minutes to have a conversation with you."

· "...This is the second most humbling day in my life. The first was in 1985. I was granted an extraordinary opportunity, a private audience with the Holy Father."

· "...The best commencement speech I ever heard was all of sixteen words: 'No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down to lift up another person.'"

Russert's penchant for canned pearls of wisdom prompted members of the 2005 class at Harvard University to play a game of "Tim Russert Bingo." Every time Russert used one of his off-the-rack maxims, students marked off a corresponding box on their bingo card. When they hit five in a row, they called out "Bingo!"

Unreal's advice to Wash. U.'s class of 2007: Get your bingo cards ready (and use plenty of sunscreen). That, or skip graduation and head over to Webster University, which snagged U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

River Front Times Breaks His Maiden

Two years ago Unreal asked Fairmount Park horseracing tycoon Lou O'Brien how much he'd charge to rename a horse after our source of income. Replied O'Brien: "$1 million."

We talked him down to $100 — coincidentally, the price the Jockey Club charges to process a name change. For the swap O'Brien chose a two-year-old colt named Pollys Jaybird.

And the rest, Unreal likes to declaim at cocktail parties, is history.

Actually, most of the rest, Unreal would readily admit under oath, is futility.

First O'Brien and his trainer, Ralph Martinez, had our colt gelded. Early in Fairmount's 2006 meet, he entered River Front Times in a maiden race (i.e. against other foes that have yet to win a race). With his jockey sporting the proud green shamrock of O'Brien's stable, River Front Times finished second.

Over eleven subsequent starts, River Front Times tantalized at times but failed to bring home the bacon. Last Tuesday, when Fairmount ushered in its 2007 season, the four-year-old son of Petionville's record stood at twelve starts, with five second-place finishes but zero wins.

Nevertheless, when Unreal sees that our pony's entered in the fifth race on opening day, the portent is too powerful to ignore.

As the horses parade around the paddock, our heart commences to pitter-pat. But we're unfazed when track handicapper Jay Randolph ranks RFT fourth in the eight-horse field. (In fact, we regard this as a good omen. Randolph must be 973 years old. What the hell does he know?)

At the start of the five-and-a-half-furlong sprint, RFT breaks inward under jockey Camilo Pitty and bumps his neighbor, Dancing Ray. But he quickly recovers to contest for the lead along the backstretch, then takes over by a slim margin at the top of the stretch and holds off two rivals to win by a neck.

Later we call O'Brien to bask in his reflected glory. "The problem with that colt last year, he started like gangbusters but then it was like a teenage kid. He hit a period of dumbness," the owner imparts. "He'd be out there clowning around, looking at the people. Sometimes it takes four or five years for a horse to figure out what he's doing out there."

O'Brien watched the race from home, via satellite. He doesn't get out to Fairmount much; at age 70 he no longer trusts his eyes behind the wheel — and besides, being the track's perennial winningest owner brings out, as he puts it, "all the mooches and the sponges." Too many aggravating interruptions for a man who remains a horseracing purist.

"I love the sport," says O'Brien. "I still get pumped."

Unreal too.

Meaning Machine

Last year St. Louis participated in the inaugural National Vocabulary Championship. The local winner, Noah Berman, took away a $5,000 deposit to a college savings plan and a trip to the finals, which took place last week in New York City.

Berman, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Metro High School, didn't win the grand prize of a $40,000 savings-plan deposit, but he was gracious enough to speak with Unreal upon his return.

Unreal: So you're a voracious reader. What kind of stuff do you like?

Noah Berman: Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett. I tend to read satirical, funny stuff.

If you had to use only one word to describe New York, what would it be?

I don't know... Speechless? Ineffable?

What does that mean?

That it was impossible to describe.

Do you remember any really unusual words that came up in the competition?

The whole thing was kind of a blur. But I remember one question where they gave us a bunch of words and we had to pick out the only word that was not based on the name of a person. Dunce is apparently actually somebody's last name.

There was a Mr. Dunce? How on earth do they know that?

Yeah, I know.

All right, here's a question for you: How many words are in the English language?


Actually, over 500,000! But most people only know about 15,000.

Vocabulary's not really that important anymore. People can get a lot done with very few words.


1) D (patron saint of bar staffs)

2) B (patron saint of pain relief)

3) A (patron saint of insanity and unattractive people)

4) C (patron saint against lost keys)

5) E (patron saint of hangovers)