Man or Mouse

Tiny - Posted on 02 January 2012

Much of my life has been devoted to being a man, a good man or worthy of being referred to as such.  Growing up, I associated men as those who carried themselves in, what I perceived to be, a fearless manner—ready to take on anybody or anything regardless of size.  My father was about 5 foot 4, 145 pounds in his heyday.  I’d heard stories about him knocking out guys 6 foot 5 on the streets of Fillmore via a straight right cross followed by a left hook –without assistance from a ladder.  To me, this was the definition of a man.


I gave this a shot and enrolled in collegiate boxing at City College of San Francisco.  I remember the coach--he must have been 60 or so.  He could outdo us all.  He could knock out 80 sit ups (not to mention, us).  He was fleet of foot and had excellent pugilistic skills.  To top it off, he was a math (my worst subject, having failed pre-algebra twice) and science teacher who jogged to his classes, running up staircases. At lunch time he’d run to the roof of one of the many school buildings and do a series of calisthenics as an offering to the Gods of PE before settling down and tackling a pastrami sandwich.


I didn’t want to fail at boxing.  I put on the gloves.  I was informed that I was going to “go to the body” with a guy standing across the ring.  The coach introduced me as “The Fighting Mathematician” and the other guy as having learned to box in Europe.  Europe? I thought.  When was the last time that continent (This happened in 1982, sorry Klitchko fans) had a heavyweight champion?  I’ll drop him like a fly, I thought.  The bell sounded: ding ding (or ding to the second power).  We circled.  We crouched close.  Europe dug a straight right into my gut.  I sank reconsidering my notions of European Heavyweight history as the wind slowly returned to my lungs.


I was dropped like that proverbial fly.  I questioned my manhood afterwards.  I thought about my father and uncles.  What would they say if they saw me go down like that?  Then I tried to rationalize it.  Everybody loses, even the best of us.  Didn’t Joe Louis lose?  Ali?  Joe Frazier lost to George Foreman, going down a half a dozen times—up and down like a basketball.  I stuck with boxing for the semester but didn’t re-enroll.  The good news was that I managed to pass pre-algebra on my third try.  My midsection hurts just reminiscing about it.


Kicking around trying to be a man; the question: are you a man or a mouse?  I’d look in the mirror and see two little beady eyes, a twitching nose, whiskers.  Then I’d start craving cheese.  “Oh, hell no…this ain’t me”, I’d say.


These days my definition of being a man has changed.  It is about being positive.  This positivity has come with the help of a mouse.  I volunteer at Senior Action Network in San Francisco teaching basic computer skills to elders, introducing them to the internet, Microsoft word and other applications. 


The elders are a mix—black, Filipino, white, Chinese—who are there to learn something new.  The mouse on a computer is hard to control for those unaccustomed to the tactile nuances of computer gadgetry.  But slowly the elders get through it, able to control the mouse.  Sometimes it takes a while to get comfortable with the mouse.  Some of the elders move it too fast or click too hard on it.  The little pointer flies across the screen in all directions.  I gently place my hand on theirs, and together we move the mouse, the movements like brush strokes, their hands, hard with work stories, their eyes filled with spirit.  In this movement I learn about the movement from within, the movement to keep pushing forward.  These elders move me towards the man I want to be with patience and openness to what is new and alive.


And then it’s time to break for lunch—fried rice, chow mein, broccoli and beef.  We sit around the table and talk and eat.  “Go ahead, eat more…there’s plenty” a voice says, followed by another, echoing the sound of community that this table more than creates. 


I ask one of the elders “Where is the mouse located at your computer?”  The man is a Filipino elder with thick hands and root-like fingers.  I enjoy his presence in class.  He gets the parts of the computer mixed up at times. If you ask him to point to the modem, he points to the mouse.  When you ask him to point to the keyboard, he points to the monitor.  When you ask him to point to the monitor, he points to the coffee pot.  Again i ask him to point out the mouse at his station.   His eyes travel left to right, up and down and underneath the table before meeting mine.  Smiling, he pointed to his plate of chow mein.


We both laugh and I can’t help thinking about that question, “Are you a man or a mouse?


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