I figured certain things in Lexington would just never cease to be. Buffalo and Dad’s. High on Rose. Spaulding’s Donuts. That old-school soda fountain in the drug store on Main Street that was the only place I could ever find egg salad sandwiches like my mom made. And Louie. At least Spaulding’s Donuts is still in operation, because everything else is gone. I’m not sure why this newfound knowledge of Louie’s passing is causing me such pause; he was basically just an acquaintance, after all.
I remember, sort of, when we first met. It was at the training track that was then known as Victory Haven, and we had just moved a in a string of horses for a new owner. I’m pretty sure he came as a standard fixture with the barn we moved into. Louie. Just Louie…no last name needed as everyone on the track in Lexington knew to whom you were referring when you uttered that name.
I can describe Louie in one word…loud. Make that LOUD! Oh. My. Word. I am not fond of excessive noise levels in any form, be it sirens, radios or screaming children. So 6 a.m. and Louie were a vexing combination for me.
Somehow he became one of our employees. I say ‘somehow’ because I really don’t remember us hiring him. One day he just snapped a shank on a hot horse and began (unsolicited, I’m pretty sure) to cool it out. So when payday rolled around, he expected compensation, probably in the form of cash. But I expected a last name, because checks are how I roll, because I like tax deductions. So the mysterious Louie lost a little of his mystery, because now he was officially Louis Frazier.
In addition to putting himself on our payroll, he ensconced himself in one of our tack rooms and became the self-appointed night watchman that we didn’t know we needed.
When Louie was in the barn, there was never any doubt about his exact location, as a constant flow of almost un-intelligible verbiage was spewing forth at high volume. And interspersed at regular intervals were the one of three phrases—“Tip sheets!” “Racing Forms!”—and my personal favorite—“I don’t play no games!” To this day I use that phrase frequently in my own conversations, mostly with my family who knows exactly where it was coined.
A casual observer of Louie likely would have thought him to be under the influence, but in fact I never saw him do drugs or drink alcohol of any sort. He was just one of those ‘out there’ kinda souls who likely could never have held down a job in the ‘real world’ but who fit in just fine on the racetrack. I have come to think that perhaps his repetitive phrases were the result of suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome, but he sure didn’t let that slow him down.
Louie was pretty good with the horses. And as my husband came to realize, Louie might have played up the crazy so no one would ever guess that he paid pretty close attention to what was going on with each and every horse in any barn he set foot in.
The day that Jerry discovered Louie had taken it upon himself to feed our horses whatever he deemed fit is a memory that just won’t fade. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen my husband quite that mad, and an all-out yelling match heading quickly toward the physical ensued. Ackel Hebert, a Cajun trainer from Louisiana rode around the corner on his stable pony to see what all the fuss was. I explained to him as I headed off to intervene, but Ackel stopped me. “Let Jerry handle it,” Ackel advised. “Louie needs to know what he did isn’t ok.” And just like that it was over, with Louie stomping away and out of the barn. And the next morning there he was, back to
work with lead shank in hand, acting as if nothing had happened. And on we went.
It was hard to consider Louie homeless when he actually had many, many homes. When he tired of tack rooms at Victory Haven, rumor had it he would climb the fence onto the back of Fasig-Tipton property and hole up in a tack room in one of the sales barns there. Occasionally he made his way to stay in a house further out Russell Cave Road. And if he had any family anywhere he wasn’t saying.
Even after we left the track, I would see Louie making his way around New Circle Road. If I was going his way (and sometimes even if I was not) I would pull over and give him a ride. If he saw me before I saw him, he would throw up his hand and holler at the top of his lungs “TIP SHEETS!” no doubt startling many a motorist driving with their windows down. Victory Haven closed down for a bit, and Louie’s home-away-from home became the McDonald’s at Russell Cave and New Circle. We didn’t go there much, but by jiggies whenever we did, there was Louie, always with a loud greeting and inquiring after “that beautiful daughter of yours. I’m gonna marry her some day!” (Ok. That’s just creepy.)
So even though I know he’s gone, I still find myself searching the faces of the actual homeless or the pan-handlers-by-trade on and near the corner of New Circle and Russell Cave, hoping to hear “Tip sheets” coming in on the breeze through my open window.