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14 Aethlon XXXII:2 / Spring 2015 / Summer 2015


The Greatest Compliment Ever


I was drinking on the street when I saw Wayne, my brother’s
roommate at law school, and then we were outside the Shark Bar,
two white guys on the Upper West Side and inside the bar no white guys
and we said Let’s go in, let’s get a drink, and I don’t know if he
was drunk, my brother’s roommate, but I was all-prepped
for a night out which meant I’d started at home, heavy-handed pours
of vodka and Kahlua to keep me coffee-alert and milk
to keep my stomach strong and not hungry so I could
drink without stopping and shots straight from the bottle before,
right before, I left my apartment for the streets happy
Saturday buzzed and we went into the Shark Bar,
me and Wayne, my brother’s law school roommate, and ordered drinks
and the word, I’m not sure where I heard it, but the word from voices
all around like movie extras was Mike Tyson was here,
and it was after Desiree accused him of rape but before his trial,
a kind of middle-ground purgatory between free and prison,
and I’d seen Tyson fight once, live, he broke a white man’s nose
and knocked him down for good when he, Mike Tyson, was coming up,
undefeated, a kid-phenom, and then I saw him later on the street
and shook his hand and told him he would be champ, which came
true, and I was drunk that night and clairvoyant and that night
inside the Palladium, I went out all the time, drank and slept with
women all the time, undefeated, racking up numbers and numbers
greater than any old-school fighter but in women not busted faces,
I saw Mike Tyson dancing and we stared at each other
and I was fearless and he was fearless then too,
but back to the Shark Bar, the voices, the word he was here, and here he was
in front of me with a hot girl on each arm and I touched his shoulder when he
walked by and he turned and here he was, Iron Mike, thick-necked and eyes
to eyes with me and he said You scared me, man and here it was, everything,
four words and everything I wanted to hear drunk or sober, I had scared
Mike Tyson, and I was the man and said what I was thinking I scared you,
that’s great, I’m going out tonight, I’m going to kick everyone’s ass, I’m
that fearsome and I told Mike Tyson he’d be okay, he’d get off, they
wouldn’t put him in jail but I wasn’t clairvoyant that night but
I remembered and still remember his four words You scared me, man
and I was drunk and strong and strong beyond alcohol muscles
from working hard at Trinity Gym, hitting the bags and sometimes
sparring and always running even when hung over, penance for too much,
and that night I could have knocked anyone out except Mike Tyson
and I think about scared and fear and mortality and Mike Tyson, undefeated,
then defeated and that Tokyo night he looked dazed and beat and scared
too because this was new to him, he was down, looking down
for his mouthpiece, a drunk on a sidewalk looking down for that thing
that tethers him to the world, and for Mike it was his mouthpiece, trying
to put his mouthpiece in his mouth with his gloved hand, the thumb part
too thick, impossibly thick to maneuver, and he was counted out, and then
I knew, always knew but knew again, solidified-knowing, they all fear, we all
fear, even the fearless, which Tyson wasn’t, Cus D’Amato
taught him to control his fear, to use it, and he did until he didn’t, but
there are some who seem fearless like Joe Louis, but
in the Irving Penn photo he’s an old man with scared eyes and death
closer to him than any time in the ring, and even the ones who were
fearless, even recklessly, like Tapia, they were scared too, scared
to live, and the list of boxing suicides, a list that includes greats like
Johnny Tapia and Alexis Arguello and Randy Turpin and Edwin Valero
who would have been great, look at their eyes, look closely, see
the greatness but the fear too and they were prize fighters, professionals
with death next to them every time they fought, and I wasn’t
scared that night, I scared him, Mike Tyson, that’s what he said,
the greatest compliment ever, and it took me through days, drunk
and sober days, but that’s a lie too.

-Adam Berlin