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October 28, 2003
Perhaps it was the BBC's influence -- their interviewers can be stunningly combative with their hapless interviewees. Or, for that matter, it might have been the content of the news itself: Iraqi suicide bombers and American unilateralism. Or it might have been, discussion Q and I had had earlier in the evening. It had been about something weighty: dinner forks, I believe.

For whatever reason, I found myself in a pair of satin boxing shorts -- my first -- in one corner of a boxing ring. My manager was taping up my knuckles. He was, surprisingly, an artist friend of mine in real life, a perennially outraged man -- he used to be a photorealist, but his portraits grew so aggressively precise (every nasal hair, every pore, the slightest sheen of sweat painstakingly rendered) that he even scared himself. Believe me, the world is a much safer place now that he's an Abstract Expressionist.

"That should do it," he said. The white tape covered my knuckles and I really couldn't move my hands.

"Is it supposed to be like that? I asked. "Stiff like that? What about my manicure?" He snorted and turned away.

The owner of my local Curves happened by, and I asked her about my shoes. Are these all right?" I asked. She looked at my open-toe pumps and smiled kindly. "Yeah, they'll do fine."

"Not a lot of support," I worried. I had a fresh pedicure to consider.

"Nah, they're fine." And she smiled again and walked on.

My opponent approached me, edging along the ropes to my corner. In a low voice, he said, "Maybe we can settle this and we won't have to have the fight. Maybe we could just not hit each other."

"But we're supposed to hit each other," I objected. "That's why we're here." I was looking at his large forearms, his boxing gloves. I've never been hit like that. Punched in the face like that. Nor have I ever punched anybody like that. I wondered what it would feel like. If I would be able to stand. Maybe my opponent was right. What were we doing here, if neither of us wanted to fight?

Then it was 6:30, and the BBC broadcast ended. Radio France took its place: Jacques Chirac, whose ponderous oratorical style puts one in mind of Tom Carvel, was talking about the history of cooperation and friendship between France and Belgium. This was good to hear.

France and Belgium can do it. Anybody can do it. At any time, we can stop. You can decide not to fight. You can choose peace at any time. It may complicate some things in life, and it's a lot of work. You may need to learn a language besides the one you customarily use. You may feel afraid of being mowed down. But you need not be mowed down. And you need not punch anybody. Don't let anybody tell you that those are the only two options you have.
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