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TYSON THE TIMID, TYSON THE TERRIBLE
Gary Smith
March 21, 1988
WHAT CONSUMES THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, WHAT MAKES MIKE TYSON AS IMPOSING AS ANY FIGHTER IN BOXING HISTORY? HIS OWN FEAR, PERHAPS
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March 21, 1988

Tyson The Timid, Tyson The Terrible

WHAT CONSUMES THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, WHAT MAKES MIKE TYSON AS IMPOSING AS ANY FIGHTER IN BOXING HISTORY? HIS OWN FEAR, PERHAPS

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When Lorna's youngest son lifts his eyes to the sky, he sees birds, not justice. In his mind's eye he's looking down from inside one of their little heads, winging his way free of all the rubble, fear and death. Birds are freedom. If there is justice in the sky, a man can accept limits on his freedom. If there isn't....

He keeps his pigeons on the roof of an abandoned building, depending on its ghosts and rats to fend off intruders. When his birds are sick or newly hatched, he stays all night on the roof, listening to the sirens scream, the pigeons coo. When it is cold, he brings them inside the apartment. My babies, he murmurs as he strokes them.

Just now, Killer smelled them. It's cold, and Mike has moved them inside the vacated apartment next door. Killer is the Tysons' Labrador retriever. He noses open the lids on their boxes, crushes 25 pigeons, one by one, between his jaws, and arranges them in a pile. He has no desire to eat them; no, he does it simply because he can. Mike walks in, screams out in grief, runs sobbing to his room. He hates that dog; why can't he be more like him?

Please put it down. A teenager, five years older and bigger, has one of Mike's babies, shakes it in Mike's face. For no reason other than Mike's weakness—no reason different than the dog's—the teenager's hands jerk, the pigeon's head is gone. Blood pumps out and the bird still walks; its feet don't know it's dead.

All at once Mike's hands and feet are kicking and gouging and punching—he's fighting back, he's making the teenager bleed. He is justice! Instincts haven't made him fight. Outraged innocence has.

For the first time, when the beating of the teenager is done, Mike feels peace. Once a man stops running, once he allows the frenzy and chaos out there to come inside him, he and the world are in harmony. It seems so simple; how has it eluded him?

"It became fun for him to beat up kids," says his sister, Denise. "Everyone was afraid of him. His name stopped being 'Mike.' It became 'Mike Tyson.' Boys would come to the door and say, 'Mrs. Tyson, is Mike Tyson home?' He was very mean. And he was the sweetest, most compassionate boy you ever saw. My mother lived in fear that he would do one of two things: Kill someone, or get killed.

"He became the best pickpocket in Brownsville. He'd shake your hand, and your watch, ring and wallet would be gone. Little kids, adults, anybody. He was good. Real good. Very, very good. We all dressed up as witches and ghosts for Halloween. Mike dressed up as a thief."

What a discovery! Anything the world inflicted on you, you could inflict on the world. If, if you could bring yourself to do it.

There, on the couch, his older brother slumbers. Mike takes a razor blade and makes an incision on his arm so fine that Rodney doesn't stir. "Nurse," he whispers to his sister, "alcohol." He pours it on the cut and dances away as Rodney jumps up howling.

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