January 28, 2023

When Smart Money Hits the Canvas

Tall Ships Ceremony

At the Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City, some parents were talking about their son, the cage fighter. I was wondering if he was the smart money or dumb money but was too polite to ask. I don’t believe there’s a great deal of smart money fighting inside cages. The cannon boom from the ship ended the conversation about cage fighting, and among other topics (I have snoopy ears), the promise of stress free living for some condo associations. I thought stress free meant you were dead.

After reading an article on the Great American Novels (Moby-Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Godfather, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man), the thought struck me, almost like a cannon ball, that the difference between nonfiction and fiction is that the great works of fiction focus on the story of when the smart money hits the canvas.  “When smart money hits the canvas” comes from Ellison’s Invisible Man. An Eudora Welty quote explains it in the New Yorker: “The novelist works neither to correct nor to condone, not at all to comfort, but to make what’s told alive…great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behavior but how to feel. Eventually, it may show us how to face our feelings and face our actions and to have new inklings about what they mean.”

I refused to watch anything on television that had to do with the Trayvon Martin- George Zimmerman case and ignored most of the commentary elsewhere. The media is selling the dead kid like he’s shampoo on an endcap at Walmart. When they’re done with him and ratings dip, they’ll put him on the clearance rack and find some other sad story to sell like soap. The polemicists on all sides consider themselves the smart money. For what it’s worth, and it’s not worth a bottle of shampoo, probably ninety percent of the people who think they need a gun for protection are too paranoid to have a gun for protection. Unless you’re working at a liquor store in Detroit, with cops that take an hour to respond, and solve less than ten percent of the criminal cases, you have many options to defend yourself before pulling the trigger. I don’t mean the martial arts nonsense, which is dumb money. But was Zimmerman’s fear more excessive than the response to the Boston Marathon bombing?  Shutting down a major city, SWAT teams with body armor, three hundred shots fired, and so on. The Wall Street Journal has a story about the “Rise of the Warrior Cop.” There weren’t any SWAT teams until the late 1960s. Now there are thousands of SWAT teams conducting thousands of raids, all dressed up in body armor and locked and loaded for combat. So who is afraid of who? 

The city of Detroit used to be the smart money and now Detroit is officially bankrupt, like Tommy Hearns, the great fighter from Kronk, and also Billy Durant, the founder of General Motors. So much for all those union contracts promising a stress free life in retirement at a condo in Florida, protected with armed neighborhood patrols on watch for the black man loose in the neighborhood. I have too much of the Detroit Rules in me, meaning that there are no rules in a street fight, to defend Martin’s right to attack someone who offended him. The prisons and cemeteries are full of young people who went into a street fight believing they were the smart money. When I was young,  I used to run through a very nice neighborhood in Flint, one that Michael Moore actually confused in “Roger & Me” with GM CEO Roger Smith’s neighborhood in a posh Detroit suburb. In those days, Flint and Detroit had some posh neighborhoods. The neighborhood watch patrols would follow me around as I ran late at night. It was kind of irritating, and would have been extremely unacceptable if they also had weapons. But I wouldn’t think of attacking them. It’s unhealthy and unwise to lead with your chin. One day, like the Boston Marathon bomber, you might get hit in the face with an SUV, or shot by a fat guy fearful for his life. The smaller guy you think is easy meat pulls out the gun, or knife, or has a group of buddies coming behind you. Detroit reporter Charlie LeDuff just tweeted his favorite story of a robbery in Detroit where the smart money in this case, the young robber, failed to notice his victim’s cousin coming at him full speed in a car. Those Detroit Rules…Or What They Don’t Teach in Martial Arts Class.

Ralph Ellison writes, “Once I saw a prize fighter boxing a yokel. The fighter was swift and amazingly scientific…He hit the yokel a hundred times while the yokel held up his arms in stunned surprise. But suddenly the yokel, rolling about in the gale of boxing gloves, struck one blow and shocked science, speed, and footwork as cold as a well digger’s posterior. The smart money hit the canvas.”

I would include An American Tragedy, Lonesome Dove, and The Call of the Wild on my list of five Great American Novels, along with Moby-Dick and Huckleberry Finn. The Great Gatsby just misses, coming in sixth.  In The Call of the Wild, Buck thought he was the smart money, living the spoiled stress free life with his wealthy master, until the man with the club kidnaps Buck:

“He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect and, while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused.”

Buck got up from the canvas. He got the hell out of the cage.

When going through the factory towns, the abandoned buildings and litter on the streets numb the soul. A century of scientific management, the smart money, led to this. While in China, they can’t tolerate the pollution.  The other night, I was running in farmland and a dog came out of the fields and ran alongside me for five miles in the heat while I tried to chase it back home, if it had one. The dog didn’t have a license or identification. The dog wouldn’t quit following me, and I began to think of it as Buck out in the wild. As we got near the suburbs, I turned and chased it one more time back into the farmland. I watched him disappear in the dark. His true master was in nature, not the suburbs.


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