In Memphis, Mike Tyson opened his heart to me and revealed the
real birthplace of the blues. "I've been hearing comments from
people most of my life," he said with a sigh while holed up in a
house on Friday night. "Since before Robin Givens. After the
Holyfield fight a guy gave me a poster of the ear, and a line
underneath it said: got milk?" Tyson paused and said, "I just
laugh. You have to." It's all you can do when you're Mike
Tyson--a 26-year-old, Harley-riding truck driver from East
Just laugh: You had to in Memphis, where Fight Week began in
earnest at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street. There, on
Tuesday night, golfer John Daly sang, on stage, "Knock knock
knockin' on heaven's door." It was a lovely rendition, if an
imprudent choice, as Daly was hosting a benefit for--yes--the
Across the street, at Silky O'Sullivan's, two billy goats drank
beer from a bucket. There you would also find former light
heavyweight champion Bobby Czyz, the only boxer in Memphis who
is also in Mensa. "Most of 'em," says Czyz, "can't spell Mensa."
Still, World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman did betray a
bit of bibliomania at a press conference on Wednesday, when he
said that the Mississippi River puts him in mind of the classic
American novel, "Huckleberry Finn, by Tom Sawyer."
As for the prefight rhetoric of the fighters, Tyson and Lennox
Lewis, it was evidently scripted by that litigating,
alliterating Seinfeld attorney, Jackie Chiles. Said Lewis, "I'm
a pugilist specialist...." Said Tyson, "I'm a tyrannical
titan...." Said Lewis, "He's ignorant, arrogant...." Said Tyson,
"I'm impetuous, impregnable...."
The story of Tyson--enriched beyond measure, corrupted by
hangers-on, medicated by prescription--is not a new one. "He was
the sweetest guy you'd ever want to meet until his momma died,"
Bernard Lansky said on Thursday, speaking not of Iron Mike but
of Elvis. Lansky was, for 25 years, the King's tailor, making
everything from Presley's prom suit in 1953 (black pants, pink
jacket, pink-and-black cummerbund and tie) to his all-white
burial suit in 1977. "Laid him out clean as Ajax and too proud
to speak," said the clothier of his client, who liked his belts
roughly the size of the WBC's.
Though there is still a pair of Everlast gloves at Graceland
(signed by Muhammad Ali--you are the greatest), Presley always
preferred football to boxing. Among the few books gracing
Graceland is The Illustrated History of Pro Football. Removed
from Graceland, and displayed in Presley's boyhood home in
Tupelo, Miss., is Great Running Backs of the NFL. You'd
recognize each of these volumes. You read them when you were
Lansky's haberdashery is in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel,
which last week warehoused most of the celebrities in Memphis.
Out front, stretch limos with arena-ready sound systems had
Union Avenue thrumming like the surface of an old
electric-football game. In the back window of one blocklong
white Escalade was a fully stocked aquarium. It was spectacular,
the automotive equivalent of platform shoes with goldfish in the
Inside the Peabody, as they have done daily at 11 a.m and 5 p.m.
since the early 1930s, ducks rode from their rooftop roost in a
gilded elevator to the first floor where they paraded to and
from the lobby fountain for the benefit of tourists, who last
week included Jerry West and Samuel L. Jackson and Lewis
himself. Decades ago a group of sailors threw a Peabody duck
from a penthouse window, wrongly presuming it could fly. Said
Lansky, mournfully, "On the sidewalk wasn't nothin' but a grease
It is a strange country, filled with opportunity, that produced
Presley and Tyson and fish tanks for the car, where ducks
inhabit five-star hotels and billy goats down Coors. Indeed,
even those Memphians uneasy with the fight would not deny the
rights of Donald Trump and David Hasselhoff and at least one
woman in a miniskirt made of pull tabs to rubberneck at ringside
on Saturday night.
Or so suggested Bill Walton, an 82-year-old Memphian who told me
an improbable story in his home on Friday. In 1953 Walton and
two other men--none of them high school graduates--took an idea
and a dilapidated storefront and tried to start a business. "The
place stunk, there was dirt on the floor, the venetian blinds
were all wampus-eyed," Walton recalled of that office, at 877
Rayner Street. But soon their idea was catching on. "Within 16
years," said Walton, "we had hotels in 51 countries of the world."
And then the retired president and CEO of the Holiday Inn
Corporation--24 hours before Tyson and Lewis split a $35 million
purse--said, "That kind of thing could happen in America. Can
still happen in America. I really believe that."
Presley and Tyson and fish tanks for the car.