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"Do you feel you were taken advantage of?" someone asked.
"Everyone has been taken advantage of by someone at some time in his life," Carlos answered. "But I don't want to name any names." At that point Gault stepped quickly forward and added, "That's right, he doesn't want to name names. That's not nice." Then he told Carlos he thought that was enough and that he should make a closing statement. Carlos said thank you, he was happy to have been able to run so well in the East and he jogged off. His little speech was, in effect, a postscript to a remark he had made earlier in the day. To avoid controversy, he told a reporter, "I don't have any more comments to make to nobody."
John Carlos is, then, an enigma, certainly to those around him, perhaps even to himself. "I am sort of unpredictable," he once said. "But I think that's good." He hides behind his antics, looking for attention, for an audience. "He is like a rattle," one man close to the San Jose track team said. "He is a constant noise. I don't even listen. The noise goes on from morning to night. You turn it off and on."
"Everything's a stage for John," says his teammate, Sam Davis. "He even uses the track as a stage. And in order to win that Emmy, he has to be smooth. So he keeps practicing."
The show goes on everywhere. At meets he wears a fluorescent yellow track suit with "Johnny Carlos" in red block letters across the back. The Coke he drinks is often mixed with Scotch. He signs autographs in the stands until minutes before his race, and when he finally gets to the starting line, his seeming unconcern, his smile, perhaps even a pat on the back, will snap most runners like violin strings. "He'll never let anyone get the high side on him," a friend says. "Not you, not any runner, not any cat on the street. Carlos talks to keep that high side off himself."
Everyone has his favorite Carlos story. There was the night in D�sseldorf when he drank with a local reporter until 3 a.m., then bet him two fifths of Scotch that he would beat Willie Turner in the 200 meters later that day. Carlos did, of course, and he collected his bet in the infield. (Carlos laughs when reminded of this. "Well, my father used to tell me," he says, " 'You can drink all you want as long as you can still go home and hang up your clothes instead of throwing them over a chair.' And I haven't ever gotten that drunk yet.")
Then there was the night after the 1968 San Jose Invitational when Carlos served an unidentified whiskey that was so strong his teammates gagged when they tried it. "If you had ever been in Harlem," he told them, "you would appreciate it. You would know it's good stuff. If you lived where I lived, you would have grown up on it."
There was Lake Tahoe, when he went to the starting line for the finals of the 200 carrying a tape recorder. He danced in his lane to African music while waiting for the start, saying after he won that the sounds helped loosen him up. And there was the verbal battle between him and O.J. Simpson when it appeared they would run against each other in the 440-yard relay at last year's Coliseum-Compton Invitational. "Listen here, O.J.," Carlos roared, "when we get to that third leg and I get the baton, I'm just going to run right up your butt and come out your eyes." No one laughed louder than Simpson.
All of this is part of Carlos' hustle, his need to be noticed. He even works out in the morning, some say, so he can come to practice in the afternoon, do nothing but talk, then brag, "Look, man, I don't even practice and I'm winning races." And he has threatened not to run so many times that his teammates have got to kidding him whenever the question comes up. "Yeah," they say, "let's boycott."
"Is John ever serious?" Tommie Smith muses. "John's always serious. He's serious when he's out there talking. That's John. That's his way. See, being serious doesn't necessarily mean going out, sitting down and being quiet. John's way is talking. If you ever see him sitting and quiet you know he's sick."