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'I want to know about their hats."

"Well, yeah," the male voice trails off, rolls down the hill and slides into a dark, smelly bog. Silence. Now comes a wheezing-out breath, followed by, "There are plenty of hats."

Dennis has called me on his give-away cell phone to announce that he is at the Kentucky Derby. Dennis is a realtor in Santee and, as far as I know, in his 47 years of life, has never attended a race at Del Mar or any other track. He does not follow horses in horse media, nor squander money from the cozy of his living room by way of credit card, telephone, or subscription to TVG.

But, Dennis has had a vision of attending the Kentucky Derby since before he could read. One does not want to know more, although I will say his desire has been percolating for so long, has been so constant, that his wife did not raise end-of-marriage issues when he announced this was going to be the year.

I ask, a little louder this time, "What do they look like? The hats."

Dennis is thinking. More thinking. "They're big. Big brims. A lot of the hats have big brims. Made out of straw, sort of, but a better thread count. And different colors."

This isn't working. "What's the queen wearing?"


"The old woman surrounded by every kind of cop they make." Silence. "The Queen of Great Britain and Defender of the Faith. That queen."

"I didn't know she was here." Silence. "Why on earth is she at the derby?"

I groan. "You're right, forget her. Have you seen O.J.?"


Did you watch the Masters this year? I had it on as I went about the weekend, in and out of the living room, back and forth from my desk, where I was preparing to pay my yearly protection money to the federal government. I remember thinking, This is the worst I've seen Tiger play. He looked awful, at least when I was watching. Seemed like every time I looked in he was blowing putts, finding sand traps, burrowing into the rough. He finished Thursday and Saturday by scoring bogies on his last two holes and shot par on Sunday, the money day. From the little I saw, it was an ugly four days of golf.

He finished tied for second.

Woods is having another Woods year. He's played six tournaments and won three. He won the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte on Sunday at 13 under par, the lowest score in the event's five-year history. Good enough for $1 million and change, good enough to make him number one in the FedEx Cup standings, number one in the World Golf Ranking, and the PGA Tour money leader. Not bad, considering he's played in 6 tournaments while his competitors have played 12, which, when you think about it, is a dead-on metaphor about where he stands in relation to the rest of golf world.

Someone else who lives in his own metaphor is Roger Clemens. The man has invented a new baseball season. It's called, June, July, August, and September. Clemens will get $19 million for four months' work with the Yankees and will be allowed to go home to Houston on days he isn't pitching. The man is a minimalist. Show up, pitch, go home. No truck with media, teammates, fans, or owner. He'll wave the Yankee pennant from his couch.

I can't remember the first time I saw alcohol in a locker room. I know it was during the early '80s. It must have been at the Padres or the 49ers or the L.A. Raiders. But, I do remember what I thought: Now, this is more like it.

Time passes. Nowadays, company grog is rare, but rarer still (and unlamented by the public, I might add) is the end of free meals for the working press. Shocking, how well they used to feed us.

This is the long way around to St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Josh Hancock's stupid death (he ran into a parked tow truck). In terms of driving drunk, doing 68 mph in a 55 mph zone is not above average, although he made up for that by not wearing a seat belt, having twice the legal alcohol limit in his blood, possessing marijuana, and talking on his cell phone whilst ramming a big truck.

What you probably haven't read is that Hancock got drunk the old-fashioned way, at a local bar, Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood. He was offered a cab ride home and turned it down.

Finally, starting next month you can reach Paris Hilton at Century Regional Detention Facility, 11705 South Alameda Street, Lynwood, CA 90262. Check the Inmate Information Center Web page at http://app4.lasd.org/iic/ajis_search.cfm for particulars.

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