I’m sorely tempted to launch a whole new Microkhan series about the late-career floundering of high achievers. I’m just fascinated by this concept of how the truly great cope with the inevitable diminishment of their skills, as well as the revelation that they really should have taken better care of their personal affairs while riding high on the hog. Their most common tactic is to rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light, in increasingly undignified ways—until, at some point, they either spiral out of control or achieve some measure of peace. The journey to that denouement is a narrative arc that has been too seldom explored in modern storytelling. (Yes, yes, I know about The Wrestler. What else you got?)
I’ll start with the tale of Joe Louis, circa 1950, when the former champ found himself deeply in debt and several steps slower than the latest generation of pugilists. That May, he abandoned his plans to recapture his heavyweight crown, choosing instead to join the Dailey Brothers Circus:
Under terms of the contract, Louis will receive a guarantee of $1,000 per day, with the total amount of the pact calling for $75,000, making Louis one of the highest priced features ever presented by a circus…
Louis will join the Dailey organization at Port Huron, Mich., May 23 and makes his first public appearance with the circus at Sarnia, Ont., May 24. The contract also provides that Louis be furnished with a private railroad car for himself and staff of five.
Strange that the article doesn’t describe what duties were expected of Louis. Did he simply stand in the center of the ring and accept the astonished applause of the circus’s audiences? Or was he compelled to show off a few boxing moves, to delight those without televisions who had only heard his fights on the radio?
Whatever the answer, I can see a great play growing out of this scenario. Act One, Scene One opens on Louis’s private railroad car as he crosses the border into Canada, preparing for his first circus appearance. What is going through his mind at that moment?
(Image via The Circus Blog, which I cannot recommend more highly)