Paper Mike

Years ago, I belonged to a gym (or health club) located on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase. Joining this gym was an easy choice for me, since it occupied the penthouse floor of my office building. 

For a time in the late 1990s—when he was past his heyday as the heavyweight boxing champ of the world—Mike Tyson occasionally visited the gym. I was told h would arrive in the early afternoon, accompanied by his trainer and bodyguards, and spend a couple of hours working out. Because I could schedule my visits to the gym only after work, at 5:00 or 5:30 in the afternoon, I never laid eyes on Mr. Tyson myself.

The reason Tyson chose this particular gym—patronized mainly by people like my self with offices in the building or retired people who lived in the neighborhood—was a matter of much speculation. At the time, Tyson was married to a Georgetown University medical student. He had purchased a mansion for his bride in Potomac, where she was installed, and he stayed there, too, whenever it was convenient. There were other gyms much closer to their house— there may have even been a gym in the house—but for some reason, he worked out in the same place I did. Maybe he just wanted to get out of the house and out of the neighborhood.

In September of 1999, on my daughter’s nineteenth birthday, my wife and I arranged to take her out to dinner. We agreed that they would drive to the street behind my office building, where I would meet them at 6 o’clock, which allowed me enough time to visit the gym for a quick workout and a shower.

After I showered and dressed, I walked into an adjoining locker room, which had two wash basins, to brush my teeth. But my way was blocked by a very muscular black man, naked except for the towel around his waist, who stood between the two wash basins, combing his hair in front of the large mirror mounted on the wall. His back was to me. There were two other black men in the room, both quite large, standing against a row of lockers and talking to one another. Instantly I had felt some kind of déjà vu.

“Excuse me,” I said to the muscular black man, in the blandest, least shocked tone of voice that I could muster, of course. “Would you mind moving just a bit in one direction or the other, so that I can use one of those?”

“Oh, sure,” he answered, taking three paces backward. “I’m sorry… please go ahead.”

There was no mistaking that high-pitched, squeaky voice. I had heard it on TV on so many occasions. It was the same voice that comes out of the box when Mike Tyson is being interviewed. Beyond any doubt, this was him. Iron Mike. The Baddest Man on the Planet.

I quickly brushed my teeth, rode the elevator down to street level, hurried across the street and entered the car in which my wife and daughter were waiting. While driving, I told them what had transpired in the locker room of the gym. They both laughed appreciatively, and then my daughter asked a question: “Dad, let me get this straight: You and Mike Tyson were in the same locker room. You told Mike Tyson to back off, and he backed off. Is that right? Is that what happened?”

I pondered her question for a second or two. “Yes” I said. “That’s about right. That’s what happened.” But in all fairness to Iron Mike, he was already on the downside of his career by the time of our confrontation.

Elliot Wilner is a retired neurologist who practiced in both Maryland and the District and has been married for 40 years. He lives in Bethesda.