it's a lovely day for a road trip, even in a beat-up '86 Oldsmobile like the one Aaron Pryor drives.
Something about the engine isn't right. It stalls every few minutes, just up and stops. And that isn't the only problem. Somebody threw a brick through the back window, and now the cold air comes in, making a racket. Also, the car is littered with trash. A half-eaten chicken potpie lies on the floor in front, and a forest of cigarette butts crowds the ashtray.
"Phenomical," Pryor seems to be saying, but you really have to concentrate to hear him, since there's so much noise from the wind. "I've had a phenomical...just a phenomical life."
Pryor means phenomenal, of course, but phenomical should be a word, if only to describe what he's been through. A little more than 10 years ago he was a world champion boxer, king of his junior welterweight (140-pound) division. But since then he has lost everything. He lost millions of dollars. He lost a mansion and a few other homes. He lost friends and family, including a couple of wives. He lost who can count how many cars. He lost his trophies and his title belt. He lost what might be called a reputation. Worse yet, he almost lost his life. And there is the wonder, the most phenomical thing of all: that Aaron Pryor is still alive today.
"My memory...," he is saying, having to raise his voice to be heard, "it's shy sometimes. It doesn't like to look back."
Pryor is driving south from Cincinnati, his hometown, to the city of Erlanger in northern Kentucky, where he and one of the young professional fighters he trains are scheduled to attend a press conference. Pryor's companion today is a super middleweight named Ravea Springs, and in a few days Springs will be fighting at a place called Peel's Palace, which most people in the area know as a rent-a-hall for wedding receptions and high school proms. Springs is wearing sweats, but Pryor is all done up in a double-breasted suit, a fancy necktie and nice shiny shoes. The way he looks, he should be in a limo or a big European sedan, anything but an ancient clunker like this one.
Pryor got dressed up this morning because, as a former champ, he has a certain image to maintain, and also because he hopes to impress the reporters who might be curious to learn about his phenomical return from the dead.
Only two years ago, in 1992, Pryor was a homeless crack-cocaine addict living on the streets of Cincinnati. He was so depressed and filled with self-loathing that he considered killing himself. He held a gun to his head. He raised a knife over his belly, praying for the courage to thrust it in. Pryor would go days without food or sleep. If you'd taken a city bus through certain areas of Cincinnati, you might have seen him there, standing on a street corner with his hand out. And if you'd visited certain crack houses, you might have spotted him lying on the floor with his face in the grime. His skin was a deathly color. And it wasn't out of the ordinary to find him staring at the sky, carrying on his own private conversation with God. Pryor weighed about 100 pounds then, but this is only an estimate, since he didn't care enough about himself ever to step on a scale.
Today he's back to his old self, or at least to a close approximation of the original. He's living proof, as he will tell you, that the Lord answers prayers, works miracles and does what no 12-step recovery program comes close to doing.
In fact, Pryor has been feeling so good about himself that he's considering a return to the ring. Although he is now 39 years old, about half blind in his left eye and nearly 40 pounds heavier than he was in his heyday, Pryor says he has been getting feelers from Roberto Durán's camp about a fight. It would be a slow dance by a pair of washed-up old men, but the notion excites Pryor. Durán's people have talked to Pryor's people—well, they've talked to Pryor since he really doesn't have any people but himself these days.