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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
[ I ]
America?" The German is perplexed. That the world-renowned Friars Club
celebrates the world-class achievements of a world-famous American--in this
case Don King--by repeatedly telling him that the world would be better off
without him is a tricky idea to master in any language. What a world.
He is a sportswriter from Bild--arguably the best-selling newspaper in the Western world, thanks, inarguably, to full-page nude-photo essays with headlines like ICH BIN DIE MISS PLAYBOY!--and having flown 3,800 miles from Hamburg to New York City to write about Don King, der gro�e Boxveranstalter (super fight promoter), and finding himself among 1,200 howling Amerikaner, and sitting below the immense cut-glass daggers of the icicle chandeliers and the 10,000 yards of bloodred velvet draped above them all in the titanic ballroom of the New York Hilton, on the occasion of the Friars Club Roast of Herr King, and having asked, "This is America?" he bends a pen to his notebook, raises his eyebrows high in a gesture of abject innocence, stares at his American colleagues and waits for an answer.
His American tablemates squint briefly at him across that arctic expanse of starch-stiff linen. At last one shrugs. "Sure, Georg," he says with a tired smile of uncertain sincerity, slowly twirling his index finger to indicate the room and everyone and everything in it. "This is America."
The German nods and, as the drawbridge brows swing down, begins to scribble.
In the most basic way, this is correct. We are on the island fortress of Manhattan after all, and are therefore tethered to greater America, even if only tenuously. And we are on the Avenue of the Americas, in a huge ugly room, shoehorned wall-to-wall with decidedly American types--stand-up comics and beat-down boxers, nightclub wiseguys and their inflatable molls, politicians and press agents and cabaret singers, sportsmen and showmen, cutmen and cornermen and chorus girls--familiar to everyone everywhere who has ever seen an American movie of the 1930s.
From the dais to the back row the grand hall is a lively diorama of clich�d young movers and palsied old shakers, of the great and the ingrate, of has-beens and might-bes, of nugget cufflinks and Prada knockoffs, of dandruff and adultery, of cauliflower ears and mammaplasty scars, of hand-painted leopard-skin neckties and tans from a can, of hair delivered precut from a warehouse in New Jersey and gray-market cologne so potent you could clip it to your key ring and use it to take down a mugger. There's Botox in Spandex and Viagra in vicu�a seated shank to bony shank, and everywhere the crippling weight of gangster bling--gangblang--even by the wet and diamond-studded mouthful. Deep cleavage, sure, and deeper cynicism and, even unfired, there are cigars being waved around that could bring down the walls of a city.
Harder to explain, perhaps impossible, is that these nearly fictive citizens of our national imagination have gathered today in the grand American show-business tradition of pretending to honor a man by pretending to love him by pretending to hate him. Are there words enough in any tongue to explain that they've come not to praise Don King, but to bury him--beneath a ceremonial mound of their obscene and ornate scorn?
It's much easier, really, and more correct, just to point at the honoree himself, to point at Don King and say, "This is America."
[ II ]