The following is intended for the younger members of this audience (if there are any) who might be wondering how to break into the Thoroughbred industry. I offer no particular tips. I merely recount how it happened to me (or how I made it happen, if you prefer).
I graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1977 with a perfectly worthless honors degree in English (and a background in statistics and psychology, not to mention Dylanology, dereliction, and a passion for the ponies). It was a perfectly worthless degree if you did not want to go on to grad school nor to teach. I did not want to go on to grad school nor to teach. I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to be a novelist.
Suffice it to say that I did not succeed in that endeavor. Over the four years after Kenyon I did write quite a bit (in between trying to make a living). I wrote about a thousand pages. I finished some manuscripts. I did not push very hard at trying to get them published, however. I think I knew in my gut that what I had written was simply not good enough.
I stuck around Gambier, Ohio, for the summer of 1977 and made some money painting. No, I am not talking about Renoir painting. I am talking about house painting. That’s what I had done for the previous two summers (painted in Gambier). Hey, go with whatever “skills” you have.
In the fall of 1977 I took off with two college buddies of mine for an extended tour around the country in a leased van: Colorado, Moscow, Idaho; Seattle; Port Angeles; down the coast to San Francisco; farther down the coast to Santa Anita (I passed on Disneyland); farther down the coast to San Diego; back through Grand Canyon; Texas; a side trip into Mexico (the details of which I will omit); back home to Gambier; Ann Arbor; money was almost exhausted; back “home” to Cincinnati.
I landed back “home” in Cincinnati in late November of 1977. I tried painting again for a couple of weeks in December at a local nursing home. The amount of “fun” you have at work is at least somewhat proportional to how much you like your fellow slaves. That particular gig did not work out for me.
In February of 1978 I landed a part-time job at Berserk (not the actual name) Marketing Research. I made a lot of obscene phone calls to the nation (my definition of marketing research). The only good thing about this job was that the fellow slaves were about 90% female and sufficiently young to boot. NO, I did NOT take advantage of this demographic, but it sure did distract me from the fundamental misery of the nature of this employment.
Around November of 1978 I landed a full-time job at Berserk as a proofreader. This was somewhat more up my alley, and I did learn that I did NOT know every single word in the language and that consulting a dictionary was usually a good idea. Alas, I lasted only about four months at this job. I could not stand the manager of that department (word processing) and told her so in no uncertain terms one day after she did a particularly stupid thing. Actually, I told her to “Go to hell.” Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
In the meantime I had moved out of my parents’ house about a month before (in February of 1979). I had my own place and my own rent to pay and no job and not much in the way of savings. I got a little depressed over that.
Fortunately, I found a another full-time job in April of 1979, this one as a proofreader at a typesetting company in downtown Cincinnati. It was a very small company. About a dozen slaves in total. I became acquainted with both Linotype and “cold type” (the latter of which was relatively new at the time and the former of which was going the way of the dinosaur).
Inevitably, I received instruction in the fine art of typesetting, at least as it pertained to “cold type.” I became a typesetter as well as a proofreader. I learned another “skill.” I gained additional knowledge. Knowledge is sorrow. “Fountain of sorrow/Fountain of light/You’ve known that hollow sound/Of your own steps in flight. . . . ”
But learning another skill (even if it entails the fountain of sorrow) is always a good thing in the job marketplace. It enables you to junk that old job and move on to a better job.
I was making about $3.50 an hour when I junked my old job less than a year later, around February of 1980. I started my new job at $6.00 an hour. I thought I was living high off the hog, like I had joined the middle class or something.
My new job was with another typesetting company, this one called Typoset. I kid you not!!! Not exactly a name I would have chosen for a typesetting company. (Typoset is our name/Making typos is our game.) I functioned as both a proofreader and a typesetter there. In the former capacity I tried to PREVENT those dreaded typos from occurring (and did a pretty damn good job, everyone seemed to agree). I also learned a lot more about the arcane details of the latter. (And I met even more young females, one in particular, who distracted me in a variety of ways that in the end were more innocent than not, at least as far as I was concerned.)
The main thing that I did not like about the job at Typoset was that the majority of the clients were advertisers. “Disillusioned words like bullets bark/As human gods aim for their mark/Makes everything from toy guns that spark/To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark/It’s easy to see without lookin’ too far/That not much is really sacred.”
And not only were the majority of the customers advertisers, but the CUSTOMER WAS ALWAYS RIGHT (no matter how fundamentally illiterate and unable to spell the simplest words). As a proofreader, this particularly galled me. Customers who wanted to spell renown “reknown” and separate “seperate,” etc., and having to FIGHT them (and management as well) to get them to admit that they were WRONG (and fight them I did, successfully).
I lasted about 18 months at Typoset. I also went from $6.00 to $8.50 an hour by the time I quit. I quit around Labor Day weekend of 1981. Management had scheduled an “open house” for all of its beloved customers. I did not want to deal with that shit. A college buddy of mine was visiting at that time. He twisted my arm. I blew off the job and went to Baltimore that weekend to see a bunch of college buddies (including one SPECIAL female).
Naturally the boss at Typoset wanted to talk me out of quitting. I spoke to Earl on the phone before taking off for Baltimore. In reply to his question as to why I felt like I had to quit, I gave it to him straight between the eyes, “Because you kiss too much ass, Earl.” That shook him up pretty good, I was later informed by fellow slaves (ex-slaves) when I went back for my last visit to the place six or seven weeks later.
Had a good time in Baltimore. Saw that SPECIAL female and stayed with her about a week. Had to go back to Cincinnati eventually though. I was back to square one. I had my own place and my own rent to pay and no job. I did have a bit of savings by then though (about $6,500). I was not sufficiently depressed to throw myself off the Victory Parkway bridge spanning Kemper Road near the entrance to Eden Park (although I did think about it from time to time).
I decided that the solution to this problem was pretty simple. I had been subscribing to The Thoroughbred Record for a dozen years or more at that point. I had noted that the quality of their editorial copy had been going rapidly downhill. I decided that they could use my services as a proofreader.
So I started writing letters to the managing editor of that rag every week after I perused it, detailing everything that they were doing wrong. It was mainly sloppy shit. They could not hyphenate a word correctly to save their lives. They called Stakes Handicaps and Handicaps Stakes utterly indiscriminately. They made the usual assortment of typos and misspellings. They also made some strictly factual errors. At the end of each weekly letter I concluded: “My services as a proofreader are available.”
It took only three such letters to achieve the goal. What cinched the deal is that I found a mistake in a pedigree (and pedigrees were supposed to be SACRED, at least in my view). And it was not a minor mistake either. It was a WHOPPER. The nag in question was Belted Earl (by Damascus). Damascus was by Sword Dancer, by Sunglow. The pedigree they published had Damascus as being by Sunglow (skipping Sword Dancer). I gave them some SERIOUS SHIT about that.
My telephone rang a few days later. I went down to Lexington. I interviewed for the job. I got the job. I moved down to Lexington in late October of 1981 and started the job at $5.00 an hour (a considerable cut from the $8.50 I had been making before parting ways with Earl and company). And here I am still in Lexington, for better or worse (only now recently retired).
I will refrain from enumerating all the idiocies I encountered and had to deal with once I actually started the job and over the nearly 30 years of other jobs since. I suppose it could have been worse. I could have stayed in Cincinnati and been a typesetter and proofreader all my life. I dealt with plenty of idiocies there as well. Sometimes I DREAM that I never escaped from Cincinnati and am still working there as a typesetter and a proofreader.
As I said at the beginning, I offer no particular tips as to how to break into the Thoroughbred industry (or any other industry you particularly want to break into). I merely recount my own experience (a la Henry DAVEY Thoreau). It helps if you have a particular skill (mainly as a proofreader in my case). I always had a pretty fair knowledge of the history of the sport, and it turns out that my knowledge of pedigrees was even better than fair. After all is said and done, however, knowledge is still sorrow, and not much is really sacred. “But it’s all right, Ma/It’s life and life only.”