Read an Excerpt
This was the day after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear. You remember that. It was a moment in history - not like Kennedy or the planes flying into the World Trade Center not up at that level. This was something lower, more like Ben Johnson, back when his eyes were that thick, yellow colour and he tested positive in Seoul after breaking the world-record in the hundred. You might not know exactly where you were standing or exactly what you were doing when you first heard about Tyson or about Ben, but when the news came down, I bet it stuck with you. When Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear, that cut right through the everyday clutter. All the papers and the television news shows ran the same pictures of Tyson standing there in his black trunks with the blood in his mouth. It seemed like everything else that happened that day had to be related back to this, back to Mike and what he had done. You have to remember, this was before Tyson got the tattoo on his face and the rematch with Holyfield was supposed to be his big comeback, a chance to go straight and be legitimate again. Nobody thinks that now. Now, the only thing you see when you look back to that day is Mike moving in for the kill, the way his cheek brushes up almost intimately against Evander’s face before he breaks down completely and gives in to his rawest impulse. Then the tendons in his neck bulge out and his teeth come grinding down.
Burner and I were stuck in another hotel room, watching the sports highlights churn it around and around, the same thirty-second clip of the fight. It was like watching the dryer roll clothes. Cameras showed it from different angles and at different speeds and there were lots of close-ups of Evander’s mangled head and the chunk of flesh lying there in the middle of the ring. Commentators took turns explaining what was happening and what it all meant.
The cleaning lady had already come and gone and now we had two perfectly made double beds, a fresh set of towels and seven empty hours before it would be time for us to go. We just sat there, side by side, beds three feet apart, perched on top of our tight blankets like a pair of castaways on matching rafts drifting in the same current. Mike kept coming at us through the screen. You know how it gets. If you look at the same pictures long enough even the worst things start to feel too familiar, even boring. I turned the TV off but the left-over buzz hanging in the air still hurt my eyes.
“Enough?” I asked, though I knew there’d be no response.
Burner didn’t say anything. His eyes were kind of glossed over and he just sat there staring straight into the same dark place where the picture used to be. He’d been fading in and out for the last few hours.
If I have learned one thing through all this, it’s that you have to let people do what they’re going to do. Everybody gets ready in their own way. Some guys play their music loud, some say their prayers and some can’t keep anything down and are always running to the toilet. Burner wasn’t like that. He preferred to keep things quiet in the morning, to just sit around and watch mindless TV so he could wander off in his mind and come back anytime he liked. One minute, he could be sitting there, running his mouth off about nothing, and then for no reason, he’d zone out and go way down into himself and stay there perfectly silent for long stretches, staring off to the side like he was trying to remember the name of someone he should really know.
It didn’t bother me. Over the years, Burner and I had been in plenty of hotel rooms together and by now we had our act down. I didn’t mind the way he folded his clothes into perfect squares and put them into the hotel dresser drawers even when we were staying a single night, and I don’t think he cared about the way I dumped my bag into a pile in the corner and pulled out the things I needed. You have to let people do what they do. When you get right down to it, even the craziest ritual and the wildest superstition are based on somebody’s version of real solid logic.