"I said,'Get him!' "
So Rosen got Savage, elbowing him in the chops and knocking him out. Rosen needed a police escort to get out of the gym. "Nothing to be proud of," he says, "but I didn't understand how to play."
Writing, he thought he understood. "I wanted to be an artist, a professional genius," he says. "Very pretentious." He fit his career as a scribe around a myriad of other pursuits: He was a semipro in the defunct Eastern Basketball League, a Nautilus instructor, an English professor at Hofstra, a pitching prospect for the New York Yankees and, meanwhile, a free-lancer for magazines as diverse as Crawdaddy and Sport.
Sportswriters, he never had much use for. He calls them Media Muppets and says they can't see past the stat sheets. "Most media people swear that nothing is as safe as a percentage," he wrote in Basketball Jones, "and nothing is as objective as a number."
Rosen's vivid, vigorous candor is reflected in his prose. For instance, while he's a pretty good storyteller and has an eye for the ironic, he finds writing magazine profiles like this one downright disingenuous. "You spend two days with a person, representing their life, their being," he says. "It's all fiction. You can be married to someone for 20 years and not know them." Rewriting, he says, only compounds the deception. "Every time you do another draft, you get farther away from reality."
Teaching English lit was as far from reality as Rosen ever hopes to get. "The experience disenchanted me," he says. "I was told I related to my students too much." After leaving Hofstra in 1970 he pursued a Ph.D. in medieval studies at nearby St. John's, and nearly got it. But while revising his dissertation—Pseudo-Dionysius and the Allegory in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales—he decided once and for all that he didn't want to grow up to be an uppity academic with ashes in his mouth and bloodspots in his weary eyes. He and his wife, Susan, packed up their Deadabilia and trucked to Woodstock.
"Charley wore a dashiki and love beads," says Susan.
"But I never had a lava lamp," says Charley.
"You did attach a light box to our stereo."