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Muhammad Ali and My Dad

My dad sat across from me at the kitchen table. My mom sat in between us at the head of the table. The other head was set against the windowsill of the large window that frames the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. There is tissue paper and wrapping paper crumpled up before us. My mom had come home from work to her birthday gifts set out on the table with only one head. We now sat talking. They each had a glass of white wine in front of them. They were using glasses without stems. These glasses are supposedly not the best to use because the heat of hands effects the taste of the wine. My mom still liked them aesthetically and so now they have a set in the cupboard. I drank a Scrimshaw. My dad looked at me very seriously at one point and asked

 

“Have you heard my Muhammad Ali stories?”

“No.” I replied

 

My mom came back to the table and interrupted

 

“Do you think I should wear the bracelet on my right hand or on my left with my watch?”

“I think it looks better with the watch.”

 

I had given her a bracelet. She had told me which one to get her. She does this often for Christmas and birthdays and Mother’s day. There are no hints. She shows us, my dad and sister and I, pictures in catalogs or on websites and says

 

“I’d really like this.”

 

We nod and then discretely order it. She is always surprised, though. Or at least she acts surprised.

 

After my mom commits to a wrist for her new bracelet, we coo at the two dogs at our feet. My dad starts talking about his time at the dog park with Jazz.

 

“Jazz met a baby Great Dane today. The dog was all legs.   They played and played. He could really move fast with those long limbs, but Jazz still beat him on the turns. Man, can she move.”

 

My dad always talks about Jazz with a lot of pride and, I think, even admiration. When I lived far away he would always send me pictures of her snuggling or sprawled on her back with all limbs spread as though she were floating on water or flying through the air.

 

“Oh I still need to tell you about Muhammad Ali.” He remembers after his story of the long legged Great Dane.

 

“Yeah” I responded.

“I’ve seen him twice in my life. The first time was at a Laker’s game. It was when the Laker’s were the best with Kareem and Magic. In the middle of the first quarter he came in, discreetly to sit down. At first, I didn’t see him, I saw the audience start standing, as though the wave was happening. And then, they started clapping. I saw him after a moment with a few men, and I stood too and started clapping. Can you imagine being Muhammad Ali’s body guard? Before I knew, it the entire Staples center was giving Muhammad Ali a standing ovation. That is 18,000 people acknowledging the significance of this one man. Not one person was paying attention to the Laker’s as Magic and Kareem continued playing. After Ali sat the audience settled and started cheering for the Laker’s once again. And then again, halfway through the fourth quarter Ali stood up to leave. The entire stadium rose again as he left. I have never felt so connected to 18000 strangers.”

 

These last two sentences were said with tears in my dad’s blue eyes.

 

“The next time I saw him I was at the airport in Phoenix. I was the first at baggage claim. I looked around. I saw a man sitting by himself off to the side near the counter where you claim your lost bags. I then stared, because it was him. It was Muhammad Ali sitting by himself. I didn’t really want to bother him but I did and I asked him to sign my boarding pass, which I still have somewhere around here. Then I felt incredibly protective over Muhammad Ali. I know that sounds ridiculous because he’s the world’s greatest boxer, but I felt like I had a responsibility to protect him. So, I told him that I was just going to sit next to him until his ride got there. And I did. Just him and I at an empty baggage claim carousel. We were both quiet. And his black town car pulled up to the curb. He quietly got up and started walking away. I desperately wanted him to acknowledge me on his way out. A nod, a smile, a thank you, a good bye. Anything. But he didn’t and I felt a bit disappointed. But then he rolled down the window and shook his fist at me as they drove away.”

 

At this point my dad did an impression of Muhammad Ali. His face was stern and he waved his big fist in front of it. It wasn’t an angry gesture. It was more like a “Go give them hell” gesture.

 

My dad continued “And I felt so satisfied. He is my hero. And I don’t say that lightly.”

 

He smiled and tears grew again in his eyes. My mom giggled a little because he does this often and she had just heard the same stories a few days before on the night of Muhammad Ali’s death. I never know how to react to my dad’s emotional tales. I generally smile nervously and get very quiet and give some generic remark. But I do love hearing them. I think eventually I will respond better.

 

And so this evening I smiled nervously and said something like “Wow it sounds like a movie. ”

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