Right now, in the middle of the Mai 20 Stadium, Muhammad Ali is sweating. Sweating for latent justice and Don King’s bank account and Nixon’s sins. He’s sweating and fighting George Foreman, all glistening brown skin and muscles.
I don’t glisten. I don’t sweat it. Because I’ve stopped giving a shit. I don’t care enough about anything to sweat.
That’s why I’m here, drinking Wild Turkey, America’s Native Spirit, pissing in this pool at the Kinshasa Hotel InterContinental, African moon shining down on my naked ass.
I sold my tickets to the Ali-Foreman fight and bought a bunch of hash. Threw most of it in the pool. It’s floating around me in clumps, like turds in a toilet.
Rolling Stone magazine paid for this trip. Head toady Jann Wenner is freaking out. I’m supposed to be covering “The Rumble in the Jungle” for them. History in the making gone gonzo. But Wenner already knows he ain’t getting shit. Like I said. I’ve stopped giving a shit.
Ralph Steadman came too. They’re paying that gruesome hairball to draw some of his filthy scribblings. He’s pissed off at me for selling our tickets. Or maybe he’s pissed off because I hired a guide to take me out into the jungle today instead of writing notes. I went looking for Nazi war criminals hidden in the dark foliage and cobras swallowing pygmies and giant elephant tusks. Only found the tusks. Cost me 300 bucks. No idea how we’re gonna get them through customs. Might have to leap over the security gate and keep on running. It’s as good a plan as any.
So Steadman’s upstairs in his room, probably drawing a hideous, diseased-looking picture of me right now from memory. Shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve spent enough time with that Limey freak. Met him at the Kentucky Derby and he just never went away.
Ali is from Kentucky like me. Well, Cassius Clay was from Kentucky. Muhammad Ali is from America. I guess I am now too. That’s what happens when you become famous. The country swallows you whole as its own. Like the cobras and the pygmies. Big bulge in the belly of America.
Truth is, I’m afraid to root for Ali anymore. Or anybody else. That’s why I gave up my tickets. I’m tired of placing my bet. Because I always back the losers. I couldn’t take it again, another jersey with the wrong team on it, rattling the cashier’s cage when the chips fall. It’s time to leave the casino.
The way I see it, I’m not missing out on the fight. I’ve jumped in. Into this pool. Into everything. This pool is the whole damn point, don’t you get that? Don’t you?
It’s just me and one hotel employee here at 4am. Some sad bastard wandering around the pool with a mop. He’s humming. He’s got a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, turned down at the corners like a rope of licorice.
“What are you looking at?” I shout. “Leave me alone!”
He says nothing and keeps mopping and humming and smoking. He probably wonders why I’m not at the fight with all the other American writers. George Plimpton is here, all Eastern Seaboard WASP bullshit and forced boyish charm. Norman Mailer is here too, trying to swing his limp dick like it’s bigger than everyone else’s. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I don’t know who’s winning right now and I don’t care. I told you. I don’t sweat anything anymore. I’ve stopped placing my bets.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
But I’m not floating like a butterfly. I’m floating like the hash turds in this pool. America is built on winners and losers and you don’t really get the chance not to take sides. Until you find yourself drunk and stoned and pissing in a pool in Kinshasa. Sinking hopes of a waterlogged 1974. But I’m out of bourbon and the abominable humming is getting louder and louder. I recognize the tune now. Stars and Stripes Forever. I toss the empty bottle in the direction of the maddening noise.
“Stop humming!” I shout. “Stop fucking humming you licorice-mouthed asshole!”
I fall asleep in the pool on an air mattress. When I wake up, Plimpton is standing near the deep end. I open my eyes and ask, “Who won?”