I Meet The Champ

I Meet The Champ
The summer of 1965, my 16th year, a friend of my parents had snared me the exotic job of car hiker for Z Frank Chevrolet in Chicago. Every workday Mr. Burr picked me up on Blodgett Street in Clarendon Hills and drove me to a six-story garage on Federal Street on the south edge of the loop where Z Frank Chevrolet had leased some space. My singular duty was to shuttle (hike) rental cars from one Z Frank rental spot to the next.
One morning while shooting the breeze with some fellow hikers, a white convertible Cadillac with red leather upholstery pulled into our garage on South Federal Street. Moments before we had been tipped that The Champ was coming and here he was. Hardy, a short dude with a limp, the head car hiker, instructed all of us to not call him Cassius Clay. His name is now Ali.

With great controversy, Cassius Clay had recently changed his “slave name” to Muhammad Ali, a Black Muslim name. The name change didn’t bother me. He had just beaten badass Sonny Listen for the second time a couple months prior, this time by a knockout in the first round, another controversy. I thought he was impossibly cool. As the big white Caddy convertible whooshed into the garage, the five or six of us car hikers gathered around. Ali sat alone in the middle of the back seat with both arms spread out on the red leather seat backs. A driver and a bodyguard—sure looked like Black Muslims to me—sat in the front seat. Ali looked extremely relaxed when he got out of the Cadillac. He was all business but gracious and rather soft-spoken, quite different than his public persona. We all briefly crammed into the tiny garage office and he shook everybody’s hand. Not a crushing handshake. Just a regular shake.
For a second I looked into the eyes of the most famous person on earth.
And that was it. I have no idea where he was going or why he parked his car at our garage but I had met the Champ. It never occurred to me to get his autograph. Who had a camera handy in 1965?

Golden Arm

The Man With The Golden Arm

We all are within each other.

That’s the line that gets to me in Nelson Algren’s  “The Man With The Golden Arm.”

You could start a religion based upon this sentence. Or a political movement. You could sum up life with this sentence.

Golden Arm is one of those books I’d been meaning to read for years and I finally marched to the library and checked it out. Not an easy book. Surreal. You’re not sure exactly what’s going on but when you stand back you can see it take shape. (Like when you open your eyes inches from  an expressionist painting and then slowly step back. Same effect.)

Compassion—but not glorification—of the addict is another theme. The addict is not evil, not heroic. A common man, lost.

Art Shay photo of Algren playing cards.

Frankie Machine is the ex-soldier, addict who is also a card dealer in the neighborhood game—Chicago’s gritty, post-war Division Street. 1946 or so. The precinct Captain Bednar  is the one whose interior monologue espresses that we all are within each other.

I felt no color while reading. The book is written in black and white and gray. Brought tears.