Thursday, May 7, 2009

Highway patrolman

I was a block away from work when I stumbled upon the face-off. A man waving two butcher knives above his head seemed unfazed by the fifteen policemen with pistols poised in his direction. He stomped toward the cops until one doused him with pepper spray. Without a flinch, the man switched course, almost reaching 11th Ave before he paused to study a horse drawn carriage en route to Central Park. I really thought they were going to shoot him. I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m wearing this stupid hat right now. It’s an affront to this man’s dignity to die in front of a girl dressed like goth Princess Toadstool. A face-off on today of all days. I never wear hats.

But they didn’t shoot him. They tazed him bro, and he fell with a thud like someone dropped a bag of sand. Later I heard he was a resident of the halfway house nearby and had stopped taking his meds. It scares me that the only thing keeping some of us from slipping from the ledge of sanity can be some pill as big as a fingernail.
I’ve narrowed down my most looming fears to two: getting fat and going crazy. The first is residual from early life chubbiness. I’m pretty sure that after enough decades I’ll pee that fear right out of my system. But sometimes I think that if I had to bet on one person I know to bring a gun to work, I put my money on me. (Please don't turn me in to the feds, I'm using hyperbole to make a point.) I come from a long line of crazies who were stricken out of nowhere and for no good reason. Like when you go to bed feeling fine and wake up ready to puke your guts out. I worry that will happen to me. I worry about it often. I think I read “Lisa Bright and Dark” too early in life.

I remember going on a whitewater rafting trip as a child. After dragging the boat onto the sandy bank for lunch, our guides rounded up a group for river diving. At 8, with my swollen stomach and purple bathing suit, I peered over the edge of the rocks we'd climbed, thirty feet above the inky river, listening to a young husband try and coax his wife into jumping. “Look, that little girl isn’t scared to do it,” the man explained and nudged his chin in my direction.

In the end, the wife couldn’t be convinced. But with the river guides cheering behind me, I stepped off the ledge, listened to the world around me rush, then crack then get very quiet. I held my breath as long as I could underwater, wanting privacy to savor the satisfaction of my own courage.

Fear of craziness only makes me crazier still. Better to be brave, since I know I can be.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Brilliant Disguise

I remember vividly the “Mike Tyson’s Punchout” game that made its home to the left of the salad bar at the local Pizza Hut growing up. As my brother poured quarters into its little red coin slot, I watched from the table through a fog of ranch dressing. If only I’d known then what I know now the video game’s namesake, maybe I would have spent more time battling alongside my brother and less eating my way through an entire meat lovers pizza.

I was a fat little kid, that’s beside the point. So was Mike Tyson! He says so himself in James Toback’s new “Tyson” documentary, which has helped me refine in another small way why I have become so obsessed with boxing of late. I used to think I couldn’t really tell what distinguishes an incredible fighter from a good one, but watching footage of Tyson before he was Iron Mike, back when he was just starting out with Cus D’Amato, back when he was dealing eight second knock-outs in the Junior Olympics, you realize what a fierce creature he once was. I say “creature” because he was too fast to be human. Watching him shadow box around the ring as a young man makes you wonder if someone accidently knocked film reel into high speed. I’m just so moved by it. It’s the most naked kind of grace, not like dancing or gymnastics or ice skating. It’s grace without the presentation, which to me is the most enviable kind of beauty.

The movie walked me through Tyson’s failed marriage to Robin Givens, his rape conviction, his relationship with Don King, and the only thing I really knew about him before the movie, his taste for ear. But seeing him so calm and candid, angry without all the “I’ll fuck you til you love me faggot” abandon, made me able to recognize the guy behind the caricature. Even with the lisp he wasn’t a caricature. People are just really complex.

On an unrelated note, now that Souter is stepping down from the Supreme Court, I’d like you all to join me in lobbying for the appointment of my dad, Norman Dean Haglund. Judge Haglund could really teach those old bags a thing or two.