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Horn Man

Friday night. Ringside at the Garden and underway. A win gets a title shot for Tina Turner legs out there sportin' purple trunks. That's a definite maybe since there's a queer side to his 23 - 0 record. No ko's, plus his glamour pins got him bad-mouthed around as the Prima Ballerina - not a good label in this game.

The goin's slow and the announcer's hungry for jazzier action, so he gooses the crowd. The ballerina's sure lookin' pretty. Maybe we got a couple sweethearts dancin' all night. We'll see. We'll see. Seconds now and round one's history.

In the first row, a pretty woman in a black spaghetti strap gown watches, crying softly. She's feeling last night's thrilling caresses and remembers saying over and over he has the heart and soul of an artist. She hears his soft voice and the hesitating way he spoke, like some men do when struggling to open their hearts. I'm safe with you. Before...bingin' with my horn...that was my way...how I gathered myself. Bingin'. You understand? He never resisted music's seduction, but neither did he understand its narcotic quality.

Oh my god! Did you see that?!!! He just leaned into a rocket! What stupidity! His jaw was C-R-U-S-H-E-D. He's down on one knee. Listen to this crowd! They're gasping! His manager's goin' nuts! He's screamin': Get up you good-for-nothin', goddamn, violin player. Oh mama! Forget the title shot. Goodbye twenty million. The Fancy Dancer is loopy. It's pandemonium all 'round. Oh mama! The training wheels are off, off, off.

She's still tasting his lips and encouraging his whispering about the newspapers - catchin' on to him, was how he put it. He admitted caring little about the title or the money, but he just couldn't confess his life of lies - not with a manager and trainer, his family and friends all needing what they took from him. Needing the title. To slap their champ on the back and say - oh yeah, he's my friend, my neighbor. Lived right across the street from me. We hung out all the time. Yeah, he's a good boy, from a real good family. And he conspired with them. For what could be a better reward than plugging up holes in their anxious lives? How come my circle of friends and family turned out feeling like a noose? He asked her.

Bong. His manager's spongin' down his boy, but there's no goddamn sweat. He's slappin' the kid's face but nothin's happening. Nobody's home. Somebody's screamin'. Whatsa matter with you? You gotta move, bob, weave, jab. You gotta remember, you got friends out there. You gotta remember people are countin' on you. Now they're wavin' smelling salts under his nose, massagin' his shoulders and arms.

Later he'll remember watchin' the left hook closin' in. I froze to the spot, he'll tell her, believing that fist was truth comin' to get me, if I let it or not. So let's call it birth. Let's say in another lifetime devilish Impulse made a horn man not a boxer, savoring the surprise 'till a punch cracked life wide open. Or maybe it was capricious Instinct finally whistling for risk. You know the deal with those Jockeys of the unconscious, don't you? Supplyin' what your body feels wired to. What you'd do if you didn't think. The arousal you chase away while sniffing at a passion or lured by hope. What you know is true before somebody says it isn't. What you really want.

Bong. He's bobbin' and weavin' now. What a tremendous athlete. How did he recover?!!! The ballerina is baaaack and totally untouchable. Round two's almost history. Oh nooooo...!!! He dropped his hands! A right cross smashed his left cheek! He collapsed on both knees!! His manager's screamin': Get up you lunatic trumpeter. He's clawin' up the ropes, collectin' his balance. His pins are rubber. Jesus, he's got guts. I'll give him that. A gyroscope's in his brain. O.k. He's up. By god he's up. Backin' away now...

Plenty of time, the fighter says to himself, ignoring the crowd. Now he'll be smarter, and he dances left, then glides right, regaining his native rhythms. He hears no cheers. Or jeers. Just his own breath smoothing out. His feet feel light and quick again. He thinks of his body as flexible and strong. The orchestra's playing. His father sounds exasperated. There's a crescendo. He never sees the right hook. How could he? He's not lookin' there.