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BLOOD, STEEL & CANVAS by Craig Alan Wilson [Excerpt]

BLOOD, STEEL & CANVAS by Craig Alan Wilson [Excerpt]

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Published by Diversion Books

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Published by: Diversion Books on Mar 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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By Craig Alan Wilson
Bach and Boxing
Into the boxing ring sauntered a brawny Filipino, confident and very much at ease.Then, scrambling through the ropes in the opposite corner, considerably less at ease, appearedhis intrepid opponent: me. An incongruous appearance, to say the least. Imagine a middle-agedClark Kent,
cape, with no phone booth in sight. At 32, a balding, nearsighted lawyer whotrained to classical music instead of to salsa, I looked like the embodiment of a practical joke byCentral Casting.If I did not fit the part, I certainly did not fit the scene. Foreigners rarely visited thisimpoverished part of Manila; a foreign lawyer, lacing on a pair of boxing gloves, provokedundisguised stares. The prospect of blood -- mine, most likely -- piqued the spectators’ curiosity,and they pressed forward
en masse
for a closer look at the sacrificial lamb.Try as you might, I doubt that you could find a less likely pugilist. Nothing in my blue-chip resumé even hints at such an improbable avocation. Born in Washington, D.C., I grew up inthe comfortable Maryland suburbs. My parents, who met and married during World War II, hadcelebrated their twelfth anniversary when I, their only child, answered the bell; as my coachcould attest, speed does not rank first among my attributes. My mother, whose family barelyweathered the Depression and could not afford to send her to college, had gone to work rightafter high school. She chose not to quit her job – an unusual choice in mid-1950s America -- so private school proved the alternative to expensive babysitters. I flourished in the environment,so my self-sacrificing parents abandoned their plan to move me to public school when I grewolder.You can’t fool Mother Nature – or genetics. I inherited my father’s eyes and beganwearing glasses in second grade. In the days before plastic lenses I could not risk something sofragile in sports. It was hard to catch a football or to hit a baseball when I could not see it, so Ialways brought up the rear when it came time to choose teams. Perhaps as a result, I preferredthe company of books: they did not snub or belittle me. A nearsighted bookworm who dreadedgym class, in other words, I earned good grades, which eventually opened the doors to success inother realms.Following Yale, Harvard Law School and a U.S. Court of Appeals clerkship, I joined avenerable Wall Street law firm. Key to my choice: it boasted a Paris office. I had studiedFrench since seventh grade; I had won a fellowship from Yale to spend a summer studying inParis; I spoke the language fluently enough that, on a train to Avignon, a well-dressed Frenchwoman mistook me for Swiss; and I longed to hang my Yale baseball cap in the Paris office,where fresh
for breakfast would offset the tedium of legal work.A nice daydream, but in the Washington office I never got the kind of experience whichwould have qualified me for a posting in Paris. I explored every avenue, but none led to thePlace Vendôme.
Instead, like all young lawyers, I worked hard, clocking many hours and sacrificing my personal life on the altar of partnership. Long stints in the library and my Type A personalityhad propelled me to the pinnacle, but as I labored into the night and on weekends, cancelingdates and eating Chinese carry-out dinners at my desk, I came to an eye-opening conclusion:success sucks.After four years in private practice I had become a creature of habit, living an existenceas predictable as the Swiss Federated Railways. The world’s longest ladder could not haveextricated me from the rut into which I had descended. Though as a boy I had devoured biographies of people who coined new ideas, explored unknown places and underwent greatadventures, I sensed that my chances of inspiring a biography were waning. I needed to climbout of my rut before it swallowed me forever.The camel’s back finally gave way when yet another last-minute assignment forced me tocancel a long-planned, prepaid vacation. Surely life meant more than the law firm’s mantra of “billable hours”. How could I ever build a long-term relationship, let alone start a family, if alaw library constituted my legal domicile?The time had come to open a new chapter in the story of my life. That chapter containedmore than a few surprises.During college I worked summer jobs at the World Bank in Washington. I had loved theinternational atmosphere, the opportunity to meet people from countries whose names I did noteven recognize, but despite my best efforts I could not land a legal position there. A friendsuggested that I might fare better with one of the World Bank’s offshoots: a regionaldevelopment bank. In the 1980s pundits forecast the “Pacific Century”, so I leaped at the chanceto join the Asian Development Bank, an international organization modeled on the World Bank which had its headquarters in Manila.I will say little more about the Asian Development Bank; in my employment contract Iundertook not to, so the wrong choice of words could lead to litigation, with the possibility of damages and legal fees that I cannot afford to pay. Suffice it to say that the Asian DevelopmentBank, which in typical lawyer’s style I may also refer to as the ADB or just as the Bank, is notreally a bank at all. A multilateral development institution owned by its 50-odd member countries, it aids the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific with loans and investmentcapital for such things as roads, dams, schools, telecommunications systems, and the occasionalcow. My job, which would take me to a dozen countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region,would involve a myriad of legal tasks and, possibly, counting the cows.I knew distressingly little about the Philippines. Oh, I too had grimaced at photos of Imelda Marcos and her cornucopia of shoes, and I had admired Cory Aquino’s courage indefying the brute force of dictatorship, but of life in the archipelagic nation I had scant idea.Like most Americans, with our mind-boggling ability to generalize, I assumed that Mrs.Aquino’s election would bring democracy and prosperity in its wake.Pretty naïve for a Harvard lawyer.Ready for a change, not anticipating how dramatic it would prove, on March 27, 1987I issued my Declaration of Independence; or perhaps I should term it my Emancipation

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