stares at the ceiling. There is silence on the phone. A million things he wants
to tell his little girl right now, but he has yet to say even one of them. No,
he couldn't say any of this to her; God, she's so young, he can still smell the
baby on her when they press their cheeks. But, Daddy, she'd surely say. No,
honey, don't "but Daddy" me now or I'm gonna have to tell you
everything—about how to make people happy and keep them confused, how to change
colors like a lizard in the sand, how a man with a bird's chest and octopus
arms can enter a ring against a raw block of muscle and rage and find a way
to...no, stop right there, ain't no way I can let myself say it. (There's
something odd goin' on inside me, something strange about this fight. Why am I
excited about it, why is part of me lookin' forward to it? That's not right,
I've got to stop, that's not me....)
sometimes you have to be exactly what people expect you to be, and sometimes
you got to be what they never dreamed you'd be at all. I started to learn the
way of the chameleon when I was tiny as you, back in St. Louis in the project
they dynamited to dust years ago so no one would have to look at it or think
about it no more. Used to be these breezeways alongside the buildings, where
everyone hung out, and each and every one of them a different world. One
breezeway for young people, one for old, one for killers, one for junkies, one
for people nice as pie. To survive you had to be somebody different each one
you walked into, you had to be able to change. This world's like that, Shelly;
stay like water, girl, know how to change shape wherever you get poured.
Ever tell you
about the time I was ridin' alone on East River Drive in Philly back in '82?
This song came on the radio, the singer expressin' to his lady how grateful he
was for all she'd done for him. I took it as somethin' spiritual, started
thinkin' how grateful I should be to God for all He'd done for me, and how I
never expressed it enough, and it just stabbed me, and I started cryin' right
there at the wheel, I mean loud, the kind of cryin' that makes it hard to see
and breathe. All at once I thought, Somethin' terrible could happen to me right
this very minute, and I'd deserve it, I've been so ungrateful to God. So I
pulled to the side of the road, opened the door, got out and bent over to
collect myself and spit all the phlegm out of my throat, and suddenly I look up
and there's four police cars and a paddy wagon pullin' over. Oh, Laaawd. As if
God was sayin', You think you deserve it, boy? Then you got it; I'll mess up
all your Sundays if you want it.
name?" one cop says.
"Uh, no sir.
Not with me."
"All right, up
against the car, spread your arms. You look funny, what's wrong with you? You
doin' drugs? I hear all you boxers do drugs."
"No, sir, no