Mao* was one of five, born to a young mother – too young, really – who left as soon as he could cover his own poop.
After Mao’s mother left town (with a traveling basketball team, to hear some tell it) Mao went to live with his grandmother, Kitty.
Baby Mao-Mao was the biggest of the litter, with a good appetite and a pleasant demeanor. Grandma Kitty lovingly teased him that she suspected that his father had been Samoan.
“A fire-breathin’, foot-stompin’ Samoan god,” she’d chuckle.
Time passed quickly for Mao, and he joined the Marines as soon as he was full grown. Grandma Kitty watched him from the front steps on the day he set out for Basic Training, worried for her big black Tom.
“Stay outta trouble, now,” she called after him. “Steer clear of the fancy women – and don’t you smoke no dope now! Beer is good enough, you hear me, Mao? Beer is good enough!”
But Mao was already half-way down the dirt road.
She needn’t have worried about him – at least not initially. What he lacked in intelligence he made up in likeability. Easygoing and handsome, men wanted to look like him, women wanted to look up at him.
He was that good-looking.
Mao was a quiet cat with little ego. He was, as he would explain in later years (but prior to the kilo of Meowie Wowie that would eventually ruin his career), a “self-defecating kind of cat”.
We can only assume that he meant “self-deprecating”. He never smiled when he said it, and he did not appear to recognize that he was either mispronouncing the word or being unintentionally funny.
And who was going to tell him?
Mao joined the USMC boxing team in his second year. The rattle of the ring, the steamy smells from the locker room – these things excited Mao in a way he had never been excited before. His size, his natural strength, and his willingness to be led made him a stand-out from the beginning.
Mao was going to be a star.
And if only he’d listened to his Grandma, he’d still have that house outside of Scotsdale, the apartment in Tokyo, the villa in Tuscany, and the cartilage in his nose.
But those are other stories.
• If you don’t know who Mao is, there’s 300-some words right here that will bring you up to speed. Go ahead! I’ll wait!
The Power of Ideas and When They Fail
10 hours ago