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Inspired By Saratoga

In which Metroland writers wax creative with sudden-fiction riffs on Spa City images

Photos by John Rodat


M. stops, takes a deep sip of cafe au lait (dark roast, extra foam) and considers the neon sign in the store window.

“Art,” it beckons. Three block letters surrounded by a not-quite-perfect oval pierced diagonally by a paintbrush, all tubular and glowing.

Maybe, M. thinks, it’s time to paint again.

M. might have continued to Caroline Street to browse antiques or rare books, or to Putnam Market to plot a romantic lunch (for two?) of wine, baguette and artisan cheese. Or to Borders, cursing the corporate body-snatching of Broadway before taking up headphones and sampling an entire White Stripes album.

But W. appears suddenly among the throng of shoppers across the street, disappearing again into Uncommon Grounds.

The au lait, half-full and still warm, sails into a trash bin. Traffic signals and bleating cars are ignored, evaded. M. slips into the line at the counter, trying not to look breathless as W., at the cream-sugar-cinnamon station, stirs raw sugar into a double espresso.

M. orders a cafe au lait (dark roast, extra foam), then wheels around to face W., mock-startled.

“Oh, look who it is,” mutters W. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Fancy,” M. replies.

“Let me guess—a sudden, irresistible craving for a cafe au lait.”

“You must be psychic.”

“More than you know.”

“I’ve decided to paint you.”

“Oh, and then you can have me forever.”

“Will you sit?”

“Why don’t you paint horses? I hear this town is fairly crawling with them.”

“I didn’t come to Saratoga to paint horses.”

“And I didn’t come to Saratoga to poke old sores.”

Uncomfortable silence, nervous sips of coffee. W. looks away.

“You can sit for me or not sit for me, but I’m going to paint you.”

“Knock yourself out.”

M. waits for eye contact that doesn’t come.

“I’m going to buy brushes and paint now. Bye.”

M. swings open the door. Voices on the street mingle with those inside ordering bagels and coffee. Art beckons. As M. steps out, a voice from behind rises above the others. It might be saying, “Paint my good side.” M. isn’t sure.

—Stephen Leon

Bullfinch’s Saratoga

It’s been said that in Saratoga’s distant, savage past, stone shrines dedicated to Racino, the god of long shots, dotted the land. Each year, pale travelers donned large, floppy hats and journeyed to the shrines in the hope of gaining Racino’s blessing. Upon arrival, they would offer up bits of colored cloth in exchange for the god’s favor. It was an honorable time—a time when short men rode mighty stallions and ruled the land with tiny, iron fists.

In the years that followed, there was a Great Sprawl, and many of the shrines were destroyed. Some say the destruction was wrought by the ravages of time, others blame a growing desire for more convenient parking. All that is certain is that the dark ages followed in its wake, a period filled with hordes of corporate barbarians clothed in the skin of third-world children and high-end athletic apparel. These savage conquerors roamed the land, crushing all who refused a life of conformity beneath their fashionable leather soles. The people grew afraid, and Racino soon faded from their thoughts.

But Racino was one of the old gods—bereft of mercy and lacking the touchy-feely attitude that tends to make other gods more appealing. Racino demanded tribute, and caused the sky to open up with rain for 40 days and 40 nights. And only after the land was flooded and all of the races postponed did Racino call upon the heavens to cease their watery devastation.

It was then that the people remembered their god, and they dropped to one knee and repented, begging for Racino’s forgiveness. And some say that this water, having filtered through the soil long ago, still runs beneath Saratoga—a permanent reminder of Racino’s wrath and the importance of betting on a long shot.

—Rick Marshall

Hot on the Trail

There were other signs leading up to this point. I followed them vigilantly, careful to not miss even one.

There was a sweet-smelling flower bed consisting of nothing but roses, and there was a pair of sneakers casually tossed over a power line that crossed Caroline Street. There was a pet shop with a chinchilla in the window, and there was a street vendor wearing a bowler hat. He acknowledged me as I strolled by, and I smiled, but put my phone to my ear, and pretended to initiate a call so as to avoid obligatory pleasantries, which would only have served to exhaust me.

I passed one of the ubiquitous horse sculptures, and then the gorgeous blouse clearly marked $500 hanging softly on a mannequin in a storefront. As I wandered, I passed other signs, too, ones I didn’t necessarily have to follow to find my reward: The kissing couple on the stoop, the rainbow just visible if you looked past the buildings that cascade down the hills past Broadway. I skirted the cluster of children eating ice cream and nodded to the parents watching them admiringly from a nearby street bench. I wasn’t in a rush, but I was getting sleepy, and I was looking forward to the end of my treasure hunt.

I glimpsed the bookstore with the sweet window display, and heard wafting choruses of the same song that I had heard hours earlier, coming from the guy strumming his guitar in a doorway. I kept walking, kept following the signs. . . . I felt I was getting closer. The familiarity of my surroundings set in as quickly as the dusk. All these precious little clues, leading up to the arrow under this little guy, showing me the way back to . . . my car.

It’s a good thing I had written all this down, or else I’d be stranded in Saratoga, and as much as I like the place, that would suck.

—Kathryn Lurie

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Joseph poked at the ridged dial of the Walkman’s volume control, drowning out the high whine of the Weed Whacker with a swell of synthesizer.

“I never meant to be so bad to you, one thing I said that I would never do,” he sang in a cracked and tuneless mutter, the bobbing Kool beating out a spastic rhythm in the corner of his mouth.

He worked his way down the long driveway’s edge, clipping the expansive but tidy yard’s comparatively ragged edge into compliance. He smoothly switched between his contributions to the lead vocals and long drag-and-release work on the menthol, interrupting the performance only to chastise the stray, unruly green tuft with vicariously lawn-proud zeal: “Get in line, bitch, or I’m coming back with tweezers.”

At the end of the driveway closest to the multistory garage—a structure itself grander than any he had ever called home—in the shade of a gleaming endomorphic Lincoln Navigator, Joseph snapped the trimmer off and eyeballed the long tight line of green out toward the road. He pulled a bandana from the front pocket of his cut-off jean shorts and snapped it briskly out of its wad, sending flying a single nickel and a tiny corner of singed rolling paper. He watched himself mop his forehead and neck in the SUV’s glossy distortion. He hated the way the truck’s waxed curves stretched his already thin frame into a freakishly elongated caricature, and quickly turned away to patrol and proofread his work.

At the roadside edge, Joseph approached his own truck—a dull blue 1988 Ford F250—on which he stubbed out the cigarette. He pitched the filter into the bed of the truck, in with the rakes and the clippers, removed the hard-pack from his damp T-shirt’s sleeve and sparked up another. He sat on the bumper, gazing down the mansion-thick stretch of North Broadway. Blue-and-white For Sale signs sprouted before a half-dozen of the homes, in seeming alternation with the lawn ornaments.

“One day, I’m gonna get me one those,” Joseph said out loud, decisively, to no one in particular. “Those jockeys are cool.”

—John Rodat

Behold a Mirrored Horse

‘Hey kid, no climbing on me.” It always freaks ’em out when I say something. I only talk to kids—to keep the annoying little rats off me—and to wealthy drunks in the depths of delirium tremens. Saratoga is lousy with both in the summer. For the alkies, I do my Mr. Ed voice: “Heyyyy, Wilbur!” It brightens my day.

What? Yeah, I know I sound more like Johnny Cash than Mr. Ed. Bite me. My Francis the Talking Mule imitation is actually better, but no one remembers him—and, well, he was a jackass.

I am not bitter. But you see, I wasn’t always a horse. In my original incarnation, I was the largest, most glittery mirror ball in the history of the Acme Novelty Glass Amusements Company of Newark, N.J. It was 1979, and I was designed to be the glamorous focal point of a warehouse-sized disco in Trenton.

Unfortunately, this was the twilight of the disco era, which meant I never got to stay in one club very long. In those days, discos closed as fast as they opened. I was shunted from joint to joint up through the Poconos and into New York state, wherever there were enough gay men, semi-hot women and—of course—cocaine to keep the DJ spinnin’ the Bee Gees for a couple of months.

How did I get to be a horse? Well, I had the misfortune to roll off the back of a pickup truck onto the Northway 10 years ago, on my way to Quebec. An artist salvaged the pieces, and . . . in case you haven’t noticed, they got this thing for horses around here. Damned if I know why.

Is it a good life? Sure. I’d take the trashy babes and cokeheads over kids any day, however.

“Hey little girl: I said, get the hell outta here!”

—Shawn Stone



Aug. 26-Sept. 1

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Saratoga Springs, tickets: 476-1000). Mon: Norah Jones and the Handsome Band.


Aug. 26-Sept. 1

The Alley Bar (Long Alley Road, Saratoga, 587-9766). Sun: karaoke with Wayne from King Entertainment. Tue: karaoke with Mark the Shark.

Bailey’s (Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060). Thu: Bluz House Rockers. Fri: Richie Ortiz. Sat: Acoustic Circus. Sun: Sirsy Duo.

Brindisi’s Restaurant (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262). Fri: the Accents. Sat: the Heaters. Sun-Mon: Al Bruno.

Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu: open mic (7 PM). Fri: Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman. Sat: Guy Davis. Sun: Tribute to Bill Withers.

Club Caroline (13 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0155). Thu: Bipolar. Fri: karaoke with DJ Chris. Sat: Goodfoot. Sun: karaoke with DJ Chris. Tue: karaoke with DJ Chris. Wed: Fresh Water Motion.

The Club House (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.

E. O’Dwyer’s (15 Spring St., Saratoga Springs, 583-6476). Fri: Square Pegs.

Gaffney’s (16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-7359). Sat: Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers.

Gideon Putnam Hotel (Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, 584-3000). Sun: the classics with Wayne and Joey.

High Rock Steakhouse at the Prime Hotel (534 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-4000). Wed: Geo and the Comrades. Fri-Sat: Groove Syndicate.

Horeshoe Inn (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909). Thu: TS Ensemble. Fri: Burners UK. Sat: Blue Hand Luke. Sun: the Heaters. Mon: Jeff Walton.

The Luna Lounge (17 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-6955). Fri: the Heaters.

9 Maple Avenue (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB). Fri: Keith Pray Band. Sat: Jon LeRoy Trio.

One Caroline Street (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026). Thu: Joe Gitto (6 PM); Mike Flanagan Group (9 PM). Fri: Azzaam Hameed (6 PM); Chuck D’Aloia (9 PM). Sat: Mike Dimin (6 PM); Brian Patenaude Duo (9 PM). Sun: John Park Duo (7 PM). Mon: Forrest Jenkins (8 PM).

Panza’s Restaurant (Route 9P, Saratoga Lake, 584-6882). Fri: Peg Delaney. Sat: Beth LeRoy, Rick Eckberg.

The Parting Glass (40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916). Fri: Vehicle. Sat: 2096 the Band.

Saratoga Gaming and Raceway (342 Jefferson Street, Saratoga Springs, 584-2110). Sat: Doc Scanlon’s Rhythm Boys.

Saratoga Springs Brew Pub (14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-3209). Thu: Kevin Mullaney and Electric Life.

Siro’s (168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030). All shows at 6 PM. Fri: Cryin’ Out Loud. Sat: Burners UK. Sun: Groove Syndicate. Mon: Bourbon Renewal. Wed: Alan Payette Band.



Dysfunctional Divas, Saratoga Arts Council Theatre, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan and Laura Roth star in a cabaret spoofing divas old and new. Through 8/28. $25. 793-8442.

Museums & Galleries


Gallery 100, 445 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. Works on Paper, featuring works by Willie Marlow, Deborah Morris, Peter Stake, and Wendy Ide Williams. 9/1-30.

Prestwick Chase at Saratoga, 100 Saratoga Blvd., Saratoga Springs. 584-7766. Just a Spoon Full of Sugar, mixed media by Suzanne Boatenreiter. 9/1-30.

Richmor Aviation, 410 Greenfield Ave., Ballston Spa. 885-5354. Saratoga Passion, paintings by Barbara Garro. 9/1-30.

Saratoga County Arts Council, Member Exhibition Hall, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Pastel paintings by Audrey Grendahl. 9/1-30.

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 584-7860. Elusive Treescapes, ceramics by Judith Hugentobler. 9/1-30.

Saratoga Visitors Center, 297 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 587-3241. Collective Memories, water media by Darlene Petralia. 9/1-30.

The Wellness Center of Saratoga, 6 Care Lane, Saratoga Springs. 583-6821. Bella Italia, photography by Peter Barbagelata. 9/1-30.

The Wise Building, 10 Railroad Place, Saratoga Springs. 584-5300. Summer Journey, works by Mary Cleland and Debra Deming. 9/1-30.

Lectures & Learning


National Museum of Racing, Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs. Wed-Sun through 9/5, 8:30-10 AM: Exclusive Tours of the Oklahoma Training Track. Reservations strongly recommended. $10. 584-0400 ext. 120.


This Week

Children’s Museum at Saratoga, 69 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs. Tuesdays, 10 AM-noon: Tuesdays for Tots, for ages 5 and under; create projects and experience new art materials. 584-5540.

Creative Sparks, 42 Phila St., Saratoga. Every Saturday, 7-9 PM: “Kids Nite Out,” pizza and pottery. $20 per child. All workshops ages 8 and up without supervision, younger children welcome accompanied by an adult. Registration required for all workshops. 583-2030.

Farmers Markets

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.



Habitat for Humanity will hold a golf tournament and fund-raiser on 9/11 at the Saratoga Lake Golf Club, 35 Grace Moore Road, Saratoga Springs. Entry fee is $105 per golfer, which includes dinner. Sign up by August 28. Call 458-8040 or e-mail jay.jor for information.

The Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club hosts its annual Century Weekend at Saratoga Spa State Park on 9/11-12. Cyclists may ride routes from 25 to 100 miles. Advance registration is $10, $6 for MHCC members. For more information and registration form, visit

Et Cetera

Special Events

Homes for Orphaned Pets Exits (HOPE) is holding a silent auction on 8/26, beginning at 6 PM, at the Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, to raise money for veterinary care and nutritional needs of shelter animals. 428-2994.

Saratoga Race Course

Open daily through Sept. 6, except Tuesdays.

Location 267 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.

Admission $3 grandstand, $5 clubhouse; children under 12 free; seats are $6 and $7, respectively.

Parking $10 per car at the track side and $5 across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track. General parking is free.

Racing Nine or 10 races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 28, when it’s 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races The Travers Stakes (Aug. 28).

Saratoga SHOTS
By Martin Benjamin

Last week, a couple of days before the big race, Funny Cide was brought out of his stall by hotwalker Raunie Hart (pictured) to graze leisurely for awhile in what should have been a non-event. Minutes after his groom brought him out, however, a thundering sound was heard as a loose horse came roaring into his paddock, ripping back and forth and riling the famed New York-bred champion. Trainer Barclay Tagg and assistant Robin Smullen came running to the horse’s rescue, spreading their arms and getting between the invader and their gelding. It took time to get Funny Cide back into the safety of his stall. All this led trainer Tagg to exclaim, “People wonder why it is so hard to get a horse to a race, and then something like this happens.” Funny Cide recovered enough to finish second in Sunday’s big race—his first run before his huge hometown fan base at the Saratoga Racetrack.

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