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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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Just now he rang up Robin. He's sprawled out with the phone cradled against his ear, ready to hear her voice and the smile in it, but all the phone does is ring and ring and ring. Where is she? God, he doesn't need this: Robin, pick up the phone. Just now he heard it on the news, about the girl pinned down by six men in the woods, raped, sodomized, found trembling four days later in a trash bag with NIGGER and KKK scrawled in charcoal across her flesh. This world is sick, this world is evil; Robin, pick up the phone! Of course, this is silly, she lives 2,800 miles away, she's just not home, but this world is sick, this world is evil; God, I don't need this, Robin, please pick up the phone....

The first to be hanged was Mike Tyson's friend. The little boy screamed and kicked, but he was nothing against the anger of the men. They knotted the rope around his neck and heaved him over the edge of the tenement fire escape; the rope played out, then jerked. Urine flooded the little boy's pants.

In a moment they would reel the body in, slip the noose over the other boy's head—Mike Tyson's head—and throw him over, too. His body froze, his mouth hung slack and mute. A neighbor noticed, shouted a threat. The boys' captors panicked and fled. Barely, he avoided death; death for trying to steal a man's pigeons.

In the winter, when the earth has grown hard and the food scarce, the hawk flies circles in the sky. Its black eyes angle back and forth, from the big white house in the country where the heavyweight champion lives to the small brown one behind it where he keeps his pigeons.

For weeks now the two have been marking each other. When the man lets the pigeons fly free, the hawk drops from the sky, seizes one by the shoulders and wings off to devour it. The man mourns and plots his revenge.

Now only two of his hundred pigeons remain. The hawk must not die one death, but 98 deaths; how else will evil be balanced, how else can life make sense?

The heavyweight champion is well versed in cruelty, knows its nuances in a way that only one who has suffered it can. He lies in bed and pictures how he will catch the hawk, file its beak and claws to nubs, clip its wings, send it hobbling off to know the same helplessness and humiliation as the pigeon. And slowly, slowly die.

One morning he comes out to check his birds. For a moment their eyes meet, the hawk with its talons caught in the wire mesh of the pigeon coop, the man rigid with surprise. He reaches out, grabs its neck, tears its leg free; at last he can mutilate it, cripple it, teach it justice.

Suddenly his hands part; the hawk bursts into the sky.

Last night he broke Larry Holmes. Left him twitching on the floor, the ring doctor rushing in to secure Holmes's tongue before Holmes could swallow it. That was nice; that was justice. The only thing nicer would have been for Holmes to end up sitting on the canvas, staring up at Mike Tyson, able to stand, but deciding not to, his will broken instead of his body. But this was quite acceptable.

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