Mike Tyson
Photo courtesy of Malina Saval

Party time with Mike Tyson

by Malina Saval

When my son Boaz was about 10-months-old, I took him to a party one Sunday afternoon at the Malibu beach house of a big Hollywood agent. I didn’t know the agent, but a friend had invited me and I went hoping (as I always do) that something would come of it professionally. This is what motivates me to do most things in L.A., despite the fact that these parties rarely lead to anything except empty promises and exchanges of twitter handles. But this particular friend had introduced me to my first book agent who eventually sold my book, so I figured, ever the jaded L.A. optimist (a unique bird that exists in no other part of the world), that this party offered potential in the way of a book-to-film adaptation. Or at least snacks and free valet parking by the beach.

When I got there, the hot Hollywood agent was sitting on a huge sofa in the middle of an all-white room, surrounded by girls in tiny dresses, fake boobs and long, blond hair extensions. They were all smoking cigarettes. I was in Target jeans and a grey Gap t-shirt (but, you know, my dressy one).

Lucky for me, Boaz has always been one of the best party accessories; within minutes he was on the floor crawling toward a gaggle of girls drinking martinis out on the back deck overlooking the ocean. The view was spectacular, like out of a Nancy Myers romantic comedy. A couple of the girls put aside their drinks and knelt down to tickle Boaz under the chin and make high-pitched cooing noises, while I made my way to the snack table and filled up a plate with carrot sticks and crackers.

And that’s when I saw Mike Tyson leaning up against a wall by the front door, alone, sipping a fruity beverage. He was in a short-sleeved button down, and his gold tooth sparkled when he drew his cup away from his mouth. I went and retrieved Boaz from his giggling blonde babysitters and walked back over to Mike.

“Hi, Mr. Tyson. I’m Malina.”

“Hey,” he lisped, and shook my hand.

The only way I can describe what it’s like being in a room with someone who once bit the ear off Evander Holyfield is that it felt like petting a very sweet dog that had been abused by its owner, but was now locked away for attacking a small child. That dog had hurt, had been hurt and would probably hurt again. But underneath it all, that dog was just a dopey, big-hearted, lovable ball of fur.

Mike and I spent the next two hours talking about his boxing (Raging Bull is one of my favorite movies; for me, boxing is brutal but also balletic), the huge tattoo on the side of his face, and our kids.

“I’ve got a four year-old daughter named Exodus,” he told me. He showed me a picture on his phone. She had chubby cheeks and milky brown skin and two big curly pigtails.

“Exodus is an amazing name.”

“She is amazing. Man, she’s into everything.” He picked up Boaz and bounced him around on his knee while the friend who’d invited me to the party snapped photos of us.

“Boaz,” I said, tousling his hair. “Give Uncle Mike Tyson a hug.”

Boaz wrapped his arms around the heavyweight champ. Mike laughed, giddy and kid-like.

Three years later, I found out that Exodus died in a tragic accident. All I could picture in my mind was Mike Tyson holding my kid and then, juxtaposed with that image, his daughter strangled by a treadmill cord.

Life is just that cruel.

The author Aleksander Hemon once wrote that “there are no lessons worth learning” when a child dies, and I believe that’s true. I also believe that while hanging out with Mike Tyson for an afternoon was not a great life-changer, what meeting celebrities does do is remind us of the humanity of us all. Mike Tyson wasn’t boxing royalty. He wasn’t a headline. He wasn’t a tabloid cover story. Mike Tyson was just a person. Just like anyone else.

Malina Saval

About Malina Saval

Malina Saval is the author of The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens and Jewish Summer Camp Mafia. She’s written scripts for Touchstone Pictures and Walt Disney Television and pens entertainment features and celebrity profiles for lots of different magazines. She is an associate features editor at Variety and has a two year-old voicemail message from William H. Macy on her phone that she just can’t bear to erase. Follow Malina on Twitter @MalinaSaval

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