"Ethel, you're kidding," the other woman said.
The two women looked at each other. They both wanted to touch him. Ethel stood up first. "I'm going to," she said. "Watch me and see if I don't."
"Listen, get an autograph for the kids," her husband said. "Be sure and don't call him Clay."
Ethel laid down a place mat and a felt-tipped pen in front of Ali and asked for his autograph. He nodded and started signing. Ethel bent close. Her hair brushed his ear. "I'm going to touch you now," she said.
Ali looked up, vaguely alarmed. Ethel poked a long finger into his ribs and then did it again. Ali kept looking at her. Ethel snatched up the place mat and stepped back.
"Mo-hammid, you behave yourself!" she said loud enough for the whole room to hear. She went back to her seat, giggling like a broken pipe, and showed the place mat to her friends.
"Should of got him to write 'To Buzz and Scooter' on it," her husband said.
Ali stared down into his cup of tea. "Sure is some strange things in this world," he said.
It is peculiar what people can think up to stick on the edge of a beautiful blue lake in a pine forest in the snowy mountains. Wig shops, for one thing. Houses that look like cuckoo clocks. Camps of condominium apartments. Honey wagons. Motels. Gambling casinos full of chrome-plated slot machines. Forty-one-pound mismatches.
Part of the Tahoe shore is parkland where the clean snow shone in the sun last week, and even from the porch of a pizzeria on the north bank or a taco hut on the south one could look across the water and see the mountains rising above all of it. One could imagine a conversation among the people who started building around Tahoe.