“I Hate That Kind of Guy”

Emile Griffith Kills Benny Paret in the Ring on March 24, 1962

Emile Griffith Punches the Life Out of Benny Paret in the Ring on March 24, 1962

I have just finished Norman Mailer’s essay for Esquire about the third Floyd Patterson-Sonny Liston match on September 25, 1962. It was entitled “Ten Thousand Words a Minute.” As Patterson was knocked out a couple of minutes into the first round—so quickly that there was widespread disagreement about the number of punches that connected—Mailer wrote mostly about the coverage of boxing by the press and other matches.

What I remember most about the essay was Mailer’s description of an earlier match, between Emile Griffith and Benny Paret in March of that year. There was a lot of bad blood between the two boxers. Paret was on record as saying “I hate that kind of guy. A fighter’s got to look and talk and act like a man.” At the weigh-in before the fight, Paret touched his opponent’s buttocks and called him a maricón, in English:  a “faggot.” Griffith was enraged.

Mailer ruminated on the confrontation:

The accusation of homosexuality arouses a major passion in many men; they spend their lives resisting it with a biological force. There is a kind of man who spends every night of his life getting drunk in a bar, he rants, he brawls, he ends in a small rumble on the street; women say, “For God’s sakes, he’s homosexual. Why doesn’t he just turn queer and get his suffering over with.” Yet men protect him. It is because he is choosing not to become homosexual. It was put best by Sartre who said that a homosexual is a man who practices homosexuality. A man who does not, is not homosexual—he is entitled to the dignity of his choice. He is entitled to the fact that he chose not to become homosexual, and is paying presumably his price.

In fact, Griffith was bisexual. He designed women’s hats. But at that particular time and place, he was inhabiting his own closet. He came into the ring for blood, and in the twelfth round, he took his revenge:

In the twelfth, Griffith caught him. Paret got trapped in a corner. Trying to duck away, his left arm and his head became tangled on the wrong side of the top rope. Griffith was in like a cat ready to rip the life out of a huge boxed rat. He hit him eighteen right hands in a row, an act which took perhaps three or four seconds, Griffith making a pent-up whimpering sound all the while he attacked, the right hand whipping like a piston rod which has broken through the crankcase, or like a baseball bat demolishing a pumpkin….

And Paret? Paret died on his feet. As he took those eighteen punches something happened to everyone who was in psychic range of the event. Some part of his death reached out to us. One felt it hover in the air. He was still standing in the ropes, trapped as he had been before, he gave some little half-smile of regret, as if he were saying, “I didn’t know I was going to die just yet,” and then, his head leaning back but still erect, his death came to breathe about him. He began to pass away. As he passed, so his limbs descended beneath him, and he sank slowly to the floor. He went down more slowly than any fighter had ever gone down, he went down like a large ship which turns on end and slides second by second into its grave. As he went down, the sound of Griffith’s punches echoed in the mind like a heavy ax in the distance chopping into a wet log.

Paret was rushed to the hospital in a coma, where he died ten days later without ever regaining consciousness. You can see the climax of the fight on YouTube:

Me and the Rainbow

John Dorr (1944-1993)

John Dorr (1944-1993)

I am not quite sure how to word this post, but I’ll give it a try anyhow: It’s about my dealings with gay males from high school days to the present. At this point, I’m not sure of my conclusions, or even if there is one. I guess, ultimately, I am dealing with an alternate form of behavior that, while viewed by many as being on the fringes, is becoming more acceptable as time goes on. While I am not among their number, I have occasionally been influenced by them.

In high school, the drum major of our marching band at Chanel High School was Ernie Horvath. A brilliant dancer, he went on to Broadway, changing his name to Lawrence Horvath. One day, he came in and showed me what he called his “fag shoes.” At the age of sixteen, I didn’t know what he was talking about. I understand he succumbed to AIDS.

At Dartmouth College, I remember one gay couple that was being demonstrative about their affections. They were chased across the campus by a bunch of fraternity types. I didn’t join the chase and don’t know how it ended.

UCLA film school brought me into an environment which was much more varied. One of my fellow grad students in the film department was John Dorr, a brilliant film scholar with whom I enjoyed conversing. At the time, I was somewhat dismissive of silent films, except for the great comedians, but John convinced me that they were great in a different way and were worth a second look. In the end, I agreed with him.

During the school strike after the Kent State shootings in 1968, we were putting together a schedule of “relevant” film screenings. John’s contribution was that we should show The Revolt of Mamie Stover. I still crack up when recalling that one with some of my old film friends.

Around this time, I went into group therapy. Among the participants were male and female gays. What I was there for was the feeling that my medical history made me feel isolated, like a Martian. I still looked like a teenager at the age of twenty-five and wondered whether any woman, ever, could take me seriously. What I found out was that, far from being a Martian, I was very much an Earthling. This was an important lesson for me: Irrespective of sexual leanings, isolation and fear of rejection were more universal than I suspected.

I dropped out of the film program in 1972 and went into computer programing. In the meantime, John Dorr went on to have a brilliant career, founding EZ Films and exploring the potential of video as an art medium. At this point we were not in touch, but I was greatly saddened to hear of his death from AIDS in 1993.

My one negative gay encounter was with my landlord Tony F. For many years, I was against gay marriage because I did not want to see Tony married to one of his typical rough-trade ex-con boyfriends and be subjected to their bullying and panhandling. He was actually considering turning our apartment building into a halfway house. But then he died—of AIDS and multiple other causes, mostly relating to negligence—about three years ago.

As I thought, there really is no conclusion. There’s good, there’s bad, and there’s indifferent. Just like the rest of life.