Monday, February 14, 2011
NOT A NEW SUBJECT (NO.8). Yesterday my (step)daughter came to visit us and I'd been saving something for her. Maybe a couple of things. She hadn't seen Raebert in a while, but she was devoted to Psmith so I didn't think it would be a shock to see the new boy a year old. I was wrong. "I don't believe it," she said. "He's already bigger than Psmith."
Mrs. CP threw me a 'told you so' look. She's been saying that for weeks. Okay. I hadn't noticed. Sure he's big. Psmith was too. I didn't know Raebert was gigantic. When you see someone every day, you don't perceive these things right away. Sue me.
What I'd been saving for her was the movie Secretariat. Not that she's a sports fan, or a horse-racing fan. She's at that critical age, a couple years after college graduation, when the realities of the job, working for a living, and the constant tradeoffs and compromises life insists you make on behalf of everyone else are beginning to dent your youthful dreams. Maybe ambition is necessarily deterred by a process of slow retreat from the very best you could hope for. Maybe you have to settle. I don't want that for her.
We had brunch and then I racked up Secretariat. The movie was just beginning and then Raebert returned from his midday outing and started showing off for her. She laughed. "We start a movie about a horse, and a horse walks in... Ha!"
I didn't want him to be a distraction. Secretariat is my favorite movie since Last of the Mohicans. Mostly because the story it tells is true and I remember it as it happened. It's not a documentary, but the facts are on record. The people who were privileged to be alive and sentient back in 1973 witnessed something inconceivable, impossible, permanently unforgettable. Beyond all fiction, beyond imagining. Secretariat's performance in the Belmont Stakes is one of the greatest achievements I have ever been favored to see as it happened in real time. For me it's right up there with seeing men walk on the moon.
And the movie does justice to the reality. More importantly, the movie is a record of another only slightly less implausible reality -- the woman, yeah, the housewife, who owned Secretariat and refused to sell him or take any other easy way out because she believed in him and wanted to see him run.
Those of you who follow InstaPunk know that I don't watch many movies more than once. We got this thing a couple weeks ago -- Mrs. CP in her infinite wisdom bought the DVD the instant it became available, which she never does -- and I've seen it four times so far.
I didn't know if the daughter completely got it. But then, as she was leaving, Mrs. CP asked her what she thought, and she said, "It's a heart story."
Which is the absolute spiritual and anatomical truth of it. When Secretariat died in 1989, it was discovered during the post-mortem that his heart was twice the size of any other horse's ever.
My Valentine's Day gift to you all. See the movie, and by all means buy the DVD. The Special Features section includes all three of the Triple Crown races that made Secretariat the greatest racehorse who ever lived. They're even more glorious than the movie treatment. I am still reduced nearly to tears by the racetrack announcer describing Secretariat in the back stretch at Belmont as "a tremendous machine," still accelerating away from every other horse long after the race was definitely won.
The final gap between Secretariat and Sham was 31 lengths. (And Secretariat himself makes the actor horses who played him look small and insignificant.) People who were closest to him use words like "surreal," and "supernatural" to describe what happened that day at the Belmont Stakes. They all insist that he knew exactly what he was doing the whole time. After all, Secretariat had made a whole career out of starting last and then passing every other horse from the outside for the fun of passing them by running farther than they did to victory. It was only at the Belmont that he ran to the lead from the gate. Like maybe he knew he'd been criticized as just a "speed horse" and wanted to set the record straight.
Sigh. Why I keep watching life unfold like a wrinkled masterpiece....
The only sad note concerns the racehorse Sham, who finished second to Secretariat in all three Triple Crown races. He also broke the record for fastest Kentucky Derby and fastest Preakness, right behind Secretariat. If there had been no "perfect horse," no "horse designed by God," Sham would have been a gloried Triple Crown winner.
Another reminder to all of us. Sometimes God forgets himself enough to just plain show off.
But sometimes the finger of God does reach into our lives and touch us all. Why we must keep paying attention. You go, girl.
And Raebert, YOU lie down. I'm not going to tell you again.
Brizoni (bless his heart, irony intended) weighed in with the actual call and aftermath.
uh. Never before. Never again.