Johnny America


This Par­tic­u­lar Champion


This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on didn’t be­come so in tra­di­tion­al ways but there were dan­gers in­volved. There were poi­so­nous snakes and small an­i­mals with knowl­edge and taste for the flesh of man. There were tests of fire and, of course, ice. Con­tenders filled all imag­in­able spaces.

Con­tenders were lim­it­less be­cause all were once or more con­tenders. The de­sire to be­come This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on was in every one of us. Noth­ing could be done about it ex­cept chal­lenge and com­pete, chal­lenge and com­pete. Chal­lenge and compete.

This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on is ad­mired but hard­ly on a pedestal. When we see him in pass­ing, we say, “Yo, TPC!” or “P‑Champ, what’s up?” or “Good day, Steven.” Steven was the name of an­oth­er Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on — one from be­fore that every­body bat­tled and loved. When This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on talked about him­self in the third per­son, as a Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on is wont to do, even he some­times calls him­self Steven.

For­tu­nate­ly, we place the ma­jor­i­ty of our thoughts on This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on. If we did not, we would like­ly no­tice how deeply we felt Steven’s loss. As it was, we de­layed the process of chal­lenges for maybe thir­ty min­utes af­ter we learned a new cham­pi­on had been named in Steven’s place. It was an eter­ni­ty re­ferred to as The Era of Uncertainty.

The term of a Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on has ex­tend­ed from a few days to a dozen or so years. There have been no­table ex­cep­tions to this gen­er­al­i­ty, name­ly dur­ing The Times of Great Bur­dens. In those hours we saw the turnover of two Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­ons and the be­gin­ning reign of a third. The third was Steven – he re­mained for what seemed like mo­ments but was clos­er to twen­ty years. That was per­haps too long a stretch. As he worked less to main­tain the ti­tle, see­ing that there re­mained lit­tle he had not faced, we backed off the more vig­or­ous as­pects of our chal­lenges. Who of us want­ed to be­come This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on by best­ing Steven, of all peo­ple? For Steven’s last five years, the ti­tle did not change hands due to good­will and hero wor­ship. When it did change it was a hor­ri­ble thing to witness.

The less­ened as­saults up­on the ti­tle left Steven nowhere near fight­ing shape. His skin, dis­played in bare splen­dor ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, was loose on his frame. The cal­lus­es on his once mighty hands and feet had sloughed off over time. Where we ear­li­er chafed un­der Steven’s grasp, we of late wel­comed his ten­der holds and arm bars. His eyes that pierced through a red sheen of blood­lust be­came cloaked be­hind a film of milky wet­ness. The war cries he once pro­duced muf­fled, sound­ing like some­thing loose and rat­tling in his di­min­ish­ing chest. It was our in­ac­tion that caused the com­pe­ti­tion to oc­cur as it did.

This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on, hun­gry for a turn at the top, saw well enough to con­cen­trate on his train­ing as Steven slid in­to com­pla­cen­cy. In his re­main­ing time he con­tributed to the voic­es urg­ing a pe­ri­od of re­lax­ation, as it had be­come dis­taste­ful to chal­lenge a Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on of Steven’s cal­iber. n that en­vi­ron­ment of com­pla­cen­cy, he set up­on Steven in ways not wit­nessed since the Round Robin Era.

When it was all over, Steven had been burned, beat­en, and cut. He was shot and set to wit­ness vi­o­lence against his fam­i­ly. He was tor­tured to the point he asked for death and then re­leased, on­ly to be tor­tured again. He saw his mon­u­ments de­stroyed. His re­li­gion was mocked and his feel­ings were hurt. His flower gar­den was tram­pled and his high-shined dress shoes were scuffed. This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on went too far by half. We couldn’t cel­e­brate the Ex­chang­ing of Ti­tles any­more than could Steven’s prize Labradoo­dle, Mr. Snif­fles, who could on­ly mourn the hack job done un­to him by the groomer in se­cret al­liance with This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on. We wept, we ar­gued, we be­came an­gry, and then we re­mem­bered who we were. We challenged.

Some stepped up im­me­di­ate­ly for a try at the ti­tle. But This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on was drunk with his new fame. He was still rid­ing the high of his half-hour pri­or vic­to­ry and the adren­a­lin and tri­umph cours­ing through his body would have mea­sured off all pos­si­ble charts, if we were a peo­ple of sci­ence or ob­ser­va­tion that cre­at­ed, main­tained, and pre­sent­ed such things as charts. Oth­ers got in­to line and wait­ed for their turn. They clutched their tick­ets and watched the LED leader­board. The rest trained. They saw the strengths of This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on and knew that, when their times came, he would still car­ry the ti­tle. They watched for weak­ness­es and ad­just­ed strate­gies accordingly.

Sev­er­al hours and two years passed. This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on has not changed in that pe­ri­od. He was op­por­tunis­tic in the be­gin­ning but has proven re­silient since. Some have thoughts of giv­ing up. Some have thoughts of giv­ing up as a tac­tic of sorts — to do as This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on did un­to Steven. Oth­ers don’t wish to sink to that lev­el. They feel that the ti­tle with­out the hon­or means noth­ing. But This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on means everything.

We have all, in our own ways, tak­en our turns. We have dis­charged firearms, thrown spears and large rocks, dug tiger traps, plant­ed bombs, weld­ed, cre­at­ed com­put­er pro­grams and sim­u­la­tions, knit­ted, and spo­ken words ob­scured by masks or the backs of hands. All but one, and his turn is com­ing in a week to a few more min­utes to a month or two. We are all look­ing for­ward to some true en­ter­tain­ment. We will wit­ness a clas­sic bat­tle as Steven makes his at­tempt at a comeback.

De­pend­ing on the out­come, Steven will be coura­geous or fool­hardy. Ei­ther way, we will re­joice in the spec­ta­cle. Then we will again chal­lenge. And com­pete. We will all want our shot at This Par­tic­u­lar Cham­pi­on. Every man, woman, and prize Labradoo­dle wants the one sto­ry we pos­sess to be about them, if on­ly for a time.

Filed under Fiction on October 15th, 2009

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