BLOOD, STEEL & CANVAS
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
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.