Hold That Tiger

The provocative essayist and novelist ruminates in his unique style about the sexual privileges of the super-athlete.

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If you know the way from the alley to Buckingham Palace and back, having listened to the glistening slime of pimps and hustlers can provide you with a perfectly realistic sense of human nature beyond the supposedly shocking Tiger Woods scandal. 

In my youth, almost any subject would be taken apart in the near darkness of the pool hall on 42nd Street and Central Avenue. There, fallen boxers, broken-down criminals or others on the way up watched the virtuosos of the green felt rectangles where battles of pool were fought. The best-handled pool sticks with a mastery parallel to knights in the middle of a joust. The balls rolling balls into pockets were accompanied by exhortations or loud regrets whenever it became evident that more shit had been talked than could be backed up. 

Chumps were a favorite subject. We young bloods on the stopover from high school listened closely, hoping we could avoid becoming the most contemptible type in a hustler's eyes—a "sucker-assed lame, a chump." 

The cold drool of condescension was most evident when the talk moseyed over to someone who had been hustled or made a fool of by a woman. His example would get the hustlers and the pimps up on their hind legs and send them into preaching the lessons learned in the streets, “That Negro could put a capital F on the word fool. Negro so dumb and naive he think a woman want to get in the bed with him just because she broke a smile in his direction. Dummy. She might be smiling at somebody else, which that chump don’t know and don’t care to know. All-day suckers around the clock, they always mistake a little bit of class with some available ass, but that’s OK. Truth is a reliable motor scooterand don’t take no mess. Yes, my little chickadees, it will find a stump to fit your rump. The truth can put a good old whipping to a chump, oh, yeah—with a switch made out of barbed wire. You can see the blood on the back of his pants every time he turn around ... dumb ass. Now that ain't no kind of lie.” 

Now there are times when it seems that almost any kind of woman, high or low, exceptionally intelligent or dumb as Ned in the First Reader, fine, blind, crippled or crazy is ready to climb the short distance out of her clothes at a breathtaking speed after she lets loose a smile. But what most men eager to judge Tiger won’t admit is that his experience is shared by only a few men in the entire world. We are talking about those who have achieved objective recognition for exceptional talent in the world of competitive sports. 

This is invulnerable recognition. It has the mystery and the pure indifference of quite natural democracy. No one knows or can explain this small body of the elect. All that is known and acknowledged is that it exists and the guys thought to be so radiant are not bragged upon because the public has been fooled. They have the chilling and thrilling authority of the true aristocrats chosen by nature alone, tantamount to the very rarest of precious human stones made of flesh, blood and poetically graceful muscle, randomly spread through the gene pool, awaiting no more than the polish that makes their value particularly evident.

Such people did not come from having certain mothers or fathers of status; they are not part of a privileged line lowered into a luxurious tub of butter immediately after popping from the womb like wet and howling corks. They did not get the mantle of superiority because they are from a certain land or because they worship in a certain religion. In a time of insubstantial subjects given excessive celebration by our commercial and electronic culture, these men are separate from pop stars. They are much more than products created with all of the gimmicks and gadgetry available to use in the absence of the compelling power delivered by great singers or dancers or actors.  

That separation into a special category of ability on the magical level of physical genius guarantees the perpetual presence of an unending line of attractive and sometimes charismatic women in every country on the face of the globe, so many of whom—literally millions—are ready to make themselves available for whatever kind of less-than-cruel fun one of those special men wants to have. And, like Pamela Harriman, they can, far more often than not, put a zipper to their lips because the experience itself is more important than whatever notoriety it might bring if the public got wind of the skin-to-skin moments that tell a man and a woman things about each other that nothing else can. That is how it is, and that is a world different from the one that most of us know anything at all about. Especially we men. 

It is an icy school of experience common to women at least from their emergence into adolescence, and that experience tends to last throughout the bulk of their lives. The Watts writer Johnie Scott, while we were wheeling around in his orange hatchback many years ago, once bemoaned how it felt having to watch the way the world changed for his younger sister when she grew from a little girl into a teenager with an almost ripe young woman’s body she could not hide from sight. Uh oh.

“Then the regular guys and the hustlers spoke to her with a different tone in their goddamn voices. Sure did. They might be kind of soft and sweet when they said hello or whatever they said, or they might be crude and make me feel like stomping them a new asshole. But they all had one thing that brought them into a mass focused on that young, tender, female ass. All of them were ready to use her or abuse her, to lick her down or tear her apart. She was like a piece of meat that fell off the back of a delivery truck and landed in the dirt among a pack of hungry, wild-assed dogs. They were ready to love her or prove, without a doubt, that a rock-hard skeeter has no conscience. 

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