I once a bit off a piece of a man's ear in a prison brawl. The bloody sliver of cartilage had a singularly uninteresting taste. Like Mike Tyson, after he chomped off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear, I spit out the soft flesh the moment I felt it tickling my tongue.
Anyone who has been in a gang fight knows he should prepare to lose an ear -- or a nostril. But barbarism is not the monopoly of the street thug. Nor is savagery only a prison ethic.
I have a friend who survived hand-to-hand combat in the Vietnam War. He bayoneted a North Vietnamese soldier to death, but not before his antagonist slapped my friend on the side of his head, grabbed his ear and peeled it off the skull.
Sportswriters and boxing fans, including President Clinton, were quick to decry -- and distinguish themselves from -- Tyson's bloody business. We censure him and call him a "brute." He is an example, we reassure ourselves, of what it is civilization rises above. Methinks humankind doth protest too much.
Under surface trappings, humans are animals at base. Nature documentaries that show a zebra twitching in the jaws of a tiger are the most popular programs on PBS. Go to your local video store and ask to rent anything in the "Faces of Death" series, and they'll probably tell you to sign the waiting list.
The common pay-per-view customer expects violence inside the ring. In some cases, even demands it. Boxers will tell you of the withering public criticism they receive when they show the slightest sign of losing the "eye of the tiger."
Long before Saturday's infraction, Mike Tyson was a tough kid full of rage. Remember his ex-trophy wife, Robin Givens, declaring on national TV that Tyson's eyes went dead vacant when he was out of control?
In Tokyo, when Tyson was preparing to fight Buster Douglas, the cameras captured Mike in a public square, tossing peanuts to pigeons. Our hero waited for the birds to begin pecking before his strong hand lunged at a gullible neck. He giggled with the scared bird in his grip, then he released it. But not before the crowd giggled along with him.
On Saturday night we watched Tyson become rage incarnate. Uncomfortable with the naked nature of his gnawing offense, we all turned from the opportunity to recognize ourselves in Tyson's obscenity.
Or maybe we are simply scared, as this bloody century closes, that our vulgarities compete against our virtues, and that the latter lose more times than we'd care to admit. Think of Germany. Rwanda. Cambodia. Bosnia. For all our talk of progress, human civilization hasn't yet found a way to conquer the beast within.
July 2, 1997
Roswell: The loonies have landed
An alien civilization springs up in the heart of New Mexico.
BY JACK BOULWARE
ROSWELL, N.M. --"I want a one-way ticket," says a woman at the roadside fireworks stand outside Moriarty, N.M. She's speaking about hitching a ride on a UFO at Roswell, 95 miles to the southeast. "I don't want to come back!"
Moriarty, she tells me, is the "pinto bean capital of the world," and says that there are plenty of things to do in town, including blowing up Gulf War-strength firecrackers on July 4. For a moment, I'm tempted to stroll across the 100-degree highway to the Motel 6, get a room for a week, eat nothing but beans and blow up M-1000 explosives.
But no. I'm due at Roswell to observe the 50th anniversary of the alleged 1947 UFO crash, the granddaddy, as we've all learned from "The X-Files," of all government cover-ups. Besieged by UFO nutbags from all over the world, the week-long festival, which began Tuesday, is doubling Roswell's population of 50,000. The local Chamber of Commerce is billing it as the Woodstock of Flying Saucers, and a new Holiday Inn has been built just for the occasion.
Towns like this do their best to play the cards they've been dealt. Moriarty's ball team is called the Pintos. Truth or Consequences, N.M., named after the old TV game show, has a Ralph Edwards Park, in honor of its host. But Roswell has them all beat. Ground zero for advanced Western civilization's current cultural obsession, it has an International UFO Museum & Research Center, a competing UFO Enigma Museum, two separate UFO crash sites and a debris site. Now, it has tens of thousands of hard-core aficionados devoted to strange lights, unsubstantiated rumors, ominous acronyms like MUFON (Mutual UFO Network), black helicopters, mutilated cattle, probed abductees and Gillian Anderson. All in all, the makings of a very profitable summer.
The road signs indicate we're nearing Roswell. "Crash here for best prime rib in the galaxy." "Tastee Freez food is out of this world." "The aliens have landed at Quilt Talk." A local TV station's studio foyer announces, "Take me to your news leader."
We check in at the Chamber of Commerce building for press credentials. The trade show room is setting up for the onslaught of books, videos and the hundred gazillion separate products featuring the alien head logo, the smiley face of the '90s. One table sells individual tickets to the various symposia of UFO supporters and detractors, bicycle races, pancake eating contests, films, plays and tours of the crash site. An Alien Espresso stand sells drinks. A few children scurry past in alien costumes. In the Chamber of Commerce lobby is a large burial vault from the Wilbert company with stylish brochures resting on top of the polished bronze tomb. The message is clear: Call us when your abducted loved one is found stiff in the desert, disemboweled and sucked clean of ovaries.
The main speaker at Tuesday's press conference is Robert O. Dean, sharply dressed in sportcoat, tie and slacks, his hair pulled back in a gray ponytail. Dean is a retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. who was attached in the 1960s to SHAPE, the military arm of NATO. He says he was once shown a NATO Top Secret document that admitted NATO's knowledge of UFOs and extraterrestrials, and now lectures on government cover-ups. Press nerds take notes and munch from the complimentary buffet. Dean tells us that the kids walking around in alien costumes are fine and add color to the proceedings, but that we shouldn't laugh. The issue is real.
"There are many young people out here," he says to the room, "who are going to win Pulitzers about this. If you dig deep enough, and don't believe the government BULLSHIT." Five days to go. Plenty of time to win a Pulitzer.