Classic American story: I was out of money and people I could ask for money. Then I got what the Greeks, or even the Greek Americans, call a eureka moment.
I would write a book for children about the great middleweight Marvelous Marvin Hagler. My father had been a sportswriter before he started forgetting things, like the fact he had been a sportswriter, so the idea did not seem crazy. Probably it’s like when your father is president. You think: if that fuck could do it.
Why Marvelous Marvin Hagler? He was one of the best of his time, my time, really, the time I was a boy. His marvels meant something to me. Why for children? Children were people you could reach. You could really reach out and reach them. Plus, low word count. That meant I’d get the money faster. I was experimenting with unemployment. I was no longer experimenting with drugs. I was more in what you’d call an implementation phase.
Thing was, I remembered certain facts about Hagler from my father’s boxing magazines, the ones my stepmother always groused about, stacks of them littered about their house in Griggstown. For instance, Hagler was tough and bald, perhaps the toughest, baldest fighter ever. Maybe I could begin with that piece of the puzzle and see what developed. Maybe my friends could help, though I’d never heard them talk boxing, and most of them were hopeless fiends, only good for a few hours. I was hopeless, too, but prided myself on being good for more than a few hours. I still had what my mother used to refer to as a sunny disposition.
One night some of us gathered at our apartment. My roommate, Gary, brought his buddy John over. John’s cousin tagged along. This guy went to divinity school and he told us about his fellow students, the gay guys battling Leviticus, the few genius sorts who approached faith as a physics equation, the quivery social-needs types. I stood, paced around the steamer trunk cluttered with bleach and spoons and glasses of water. I had a social need of my own but waited until John’s cousin drifted off, the dope overtaking his narrative imperative.
I needed them to witness the fire in my eyes, my belly, my loins, all the flammable parts. I wheeled, announced my intention to write a children’s book about Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Usually when one of us spoke like this, by which I mean shared a dream or ambition or plan with the others, nobody would offer comment. The group would regard such utterance with stricken silence. Then somebody would start in on something else. It felt cruel at times, but served, I think, to prolong our plummet. Even as we measured, cooked, tied off, we would not indulge each other’s delusions.
But tonight when I mentioned the Marvelous Marvin Hagler children’s book, somebody spoke up. It was John’s cousin. He was new, ignorant of our code. He rose from his nod with a query.
“Hagler was bald, right?”
“Yes,” I said. “He was the first bald guy.”
“In the modern era.”
“Nobody was ever bald before?” said Gary.
“You know what I mean,” I said.
“I remember him,” said John’s cousin. “Dude was relentless.”
“Nobody would fight him,” I said. “That’s why it took him so long to be champ.”
“Like me,” said Gary, tapped the barrel of his syringe.
“But why Hagler?” said John’s cousin.
“He was relentless,” I said.
“Did he ever lose?”
“Just a few times.”
“I was robbed!” said Gary.
“Huh?” said John.
“I’m being Hagler.”
“He was robbed indeed,” I said. “In a fight with Boogaloo Watts. But then they became good friends. That’s partly what the book is about.”
Nobody said anything and I figured this would be the moment a new topic got introduced. I could see Gary doing the things he sometimes did when he was about to launch into a rant, maybe about the cunning rhetoric of the Soft Left (he was the hard), or the immense number of people he believed had pancreatic cancer, or how the smartest pop songs were by definition the dumbest, namely letting his head drop so that it was nearly in his crotch and doing some painful-looking maneuver with his shoulder blades and breathing super quickly, but then he didn’t lift his head or say anything at all, and John’s cousin broke in with the oddest words.
“I can help you,” he said.
It turned out the divinity student had an older sister in publishing. Children’s books, in fact. She kept an eye out for fresh talent, the divinity student said. He’d be happy to write down her number.
“Oh, he’s fresh talent,” said Gary, his head still buried in his corduroys. “Fresh and juicy. He squirts talent. He’s a squirter.”