[ 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.
The German is tall and slender, in his late 20s, lank blond hair capping the
milk bottle of a long, pale face. The expression on that face is one of earnest
curiosity. Across the white hotel tablecloth and the white hotel plates and the
florets of white hotel butter and the white-noise clatter of dull hotel cutlery
he emphasizes neither "This" for sarcastic effect, nor
" America" to indicate scorn.
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.
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.
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 ]