Nature is at her best right now, the leaves still holding, Central Park awash in golden browns and reds. I go there every morning, half a block away from home, and under a giant elm I put the creaky body through its paces. Twenty push-ups, 30 deep knee-bends, 25 kicks over a knee-high bar with each leg, and finish with 25 punches against a leaf for speed and accuracy. Then a quiet walk and back to the flat for breakfast and the papers. At six in the evening I walk to the dojo and mix it up rather hard with karate sensei Richard Amos and other black belts. Tuesdays I skip the park and go straight to judo training, the judo sessions being much too brutal for wasting energy before hitting the mats. Saturdays and Sundays I stay in bed dreaming of Rebecca Hall, The Spectator’s deputy editor, Claire Danes and Jessica Raine. That’s the most frustrating part of all. On Monday it starts all over again.
I used to have a pat answer when people asked why I trained as hard as I did: ‘When the revolution comes, I want to be able to take a few with me.’ I now train a bit less and can’t wait for the revolution, anything to get rid of the horrors who pass as celebrities nowadays. I suppose I’m someone who expresses my emotions through martial arts as much as I do through seduction. The physical is inseparably entwined with the spiritual and great physical effort and at times violence can be a pathway to spiritual grace. Which brings me to Mike Tyson.
His name should have been Mike Braggadocio, and the director James Toback got to him first about five years ago. Jimmy loved Tyson, something that is beyond me as I respect only fighters who respect their fallen opponents and do not humiliate them à la Muhammad Ali. But in his new stand-up routine based on Jimmy’s documentary, Tyson makes it all worthwhile with just one joke. He sees his wife talking to Brad Pitt (before he became famous) and looks threateningly towards the actor. Pitt, a hero on the screen, shits in his pants. ‘Dude, don’t hit me, don’t hit me, for God’s sake.’ Looking like someone who is being given the last rites, pretty boy begs. I can’t see Robert Mitchum begging, but then Mitchum was no pretty boy. I loved Pitt’s humiliation because he’s so politically correct, adopting African children, saving the planet, endorsing wind and solar power, you know the type. In his latest film Pitt appears as the only decent white man in 19th-century America, refusing another larger part because ‘I didn’t want my kids to see me in this role’. (Of a slave owner.) What a phoney, and like most phonies, a coward to boot. The worst that could have happened would have been for Tyson to have applied instant sedation, Pitt taking a short snooze but keeping his dignity, and that ghastly Robin Givens (Tyson’s first wife) receiving some badly needed publicity.
The now contrite, rueful Tyson I sort of believe. He has blown more than 200 million big ones, which might make even a ruling Saudi camel-driver rueful. And unlike the Saudis, Tyson earned his money as a gladiator, not pushing ignorant Filipino and Bengali workers around. I wish him well, despite having given Pitt a pass. We all decline and fall, and I see shades of mortality cross his tattooed face every second. But on to happier subjects.
Once a week I go to dinner at Michael Mailer’s in Brooklyn, where the food is excellent, the wine ditto, and the female company superb. Michael is a movie producer as well as a heterosexual, and that tends to draw the fairer sex. He’s also very good-looking and a great amateur boxer. His father, Norman, had the reputation of a toughie, but Michael is the tough Mailer as far as I’m concerned. His house, overlooking the water and the Statue of Liberty, I first visited a very long time ago. Elia Kazan was Norman’s guest and during dinner he noticed I was being awfully quiet. ‘His wife’s just kicked him out,’ whispered Norman to the great director. Kazan got up, came over to me, put his hands on my shoulders and in bad Greek said, ‘All you need to do is be nice for a while and you’ll be right back where you were before.’ ‘You are assuming I’m married to a Greek,’ I answered. ‘She’s a German.’ ‘Doesn’t matter, all women are the same, just be nice and keep it in your pants.’ Sure enough, he was right.
Neither Kazan nor Norman Mailer are around these days, but I feel the latter’s presence once a week chez Michael. The other friend of Norman’s I remember well is Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show and other memorable works about small western towns of long ago. McMurtry told me over dinner that he had three subscriptions to The Spectator as he was always travelling back and forth and didn’t want to miss an issue. I got underneath the table and tried to kiss his shoes, but Norman kicked me. I was having a shoulder operation the next morning — a real one, with a scalpel — but one thing led to another so Larry and I hit the hot spots. Three hours away from being put to sleep I confessed to McMurtry and, horrified, he forced me to go home. He wrote very nice things about me in his autobiography. Brooklyn is good for me.