The mesmerizing jumble of contradictions that is Mike Tyson soldiers on! The NY Times magazine published a treasure trove of soundbites on identity formation/deconstruction last week in their profile, The Suburbanization of Mike Tyson. Mike appears to be turning his back on the glory-culture that’s defined him lo these many years, and doing so with religious vigor. What on the surface might seem like an outside-in approach to self-improvement has to be filtered through the bottoming-out narrative that has long characterized Tyson, reaching its tragic apex with the death of his daughter in 2004. And then there’s his touching relationship with pigeons, which provide quite a foil to the way he has described his nature in the past, i.e. that of a “vicious tiger.” Autodidact or no, there’s definitely some serious insight here. Fascinating, ht JG:

The astonishing discipline and drive Tyson once put into “the stern business of pugilism,” to quote the boxer Jack Johnson, is now being channeled into the business of leading an ordinary, even humdrum existence. It is impossible not to wonder whether this effort can be sustained indefinitely, whether you can reshape the contours of a personality by a sheer act of will, but there is no doubt that Tyson has committed himself to a wholesale renovation.

As part of his cleaning-up campaign, he has been adhering to a strict vegan diet for nearly two years, explaining that he doesn’t want anything in him “that’s going to enrage me — no processed food, no meat.” He says that he can no longer abide the smell of meat even on someone’s breath and has dropped 150 pounds since he weighed in at 330 in 2009. “I’ve learned to live a boring life and love it,” he declares, sounding more determined than certain. “I let too much in, and look what happened. . . . I used to have a bunch of girls and some drugs on the table. A bunch of people running around doing whatever.”

The life that he has created almost from scratch over the last two years has been defined at least as much by what Tyson wants to avoid — old haunts, old habits, old temptations and old hangers-on — as by what he wants to embrace. One of the few links between his tumultuous past and his more tranquil present are his homing pigeons…

“The birds were there before boxing,” says Mario Costa, who owns the Ringside Gym in Jersey City and has known Tyson since the early ’80s. “He feels peaceful around them.” Tyson keeps coops in Las Vegas, Jersey City and Bushwick, and to this day he seeks out the birds when one of his “bad spells,” as Kiki calls them, strikes and his mood turns dark and agitated. “The first thing I ever loved in my life was a pigeon,” Tyson says. “It’s a constant with my sanity in a weird way.” 
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I have never been particularly drawn to boxing, but there was something about the younger Mike Tyson — his way of seeming larger than the sport itself, of playing out impulses that seemed all the more authentic for being so unmediated, whether it was his desperate bid for Robin Givens’s heart or his desperate biting of Evander Holyfield’s ear — that caught my attention. He seemed like a man in huge conflict with himself as well as with the forces around him — the media, the celebrity machine with its perks and dangers — in a way that suggested that he was both vulnerable to manipulation and leery of being manipulated.
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He’s also something of a homegrown philosopher, peppering our conversation with hard-knock truths: “The biggest tough guy wants to be likable,” he observed. But there are also whole areas of his life he keeps firmly cordoned off, especially the raging Kid Dynamite days: “I think I was insane for a great period of my life. I think I was really insane. . . . It was just too quick. I didn’t understand the dynamics then. I just knew how to get on top, I didn’t know what to do once I got there.”
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As for psychological conditioning [during his prime], Tyson’s ego was inflated nonstop: “They were telling me how great I am, telling me how I can do this if I really try,” Tyson explained, sounding decidedly of mixed minds when looking back on this approach. “They kept it in my head. It had me form a different psychological opinion of myself. No one could say anything negative about me. I always had to have the supreme confidence that I’m a god and superior to everybody else, which is just sick and crazy. But it had its uses.”
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He says he believes that celebrity made him “delusional” and that it has taken nothing less than a “paradigm shift” for him to come down to earth: “We have to stick to what we are. I always stay in my slot. I know my place.”
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A cynic might wonder whether the kinder, gentler Tyson is merely another act, a construction every bit as deliberate as he claims his invincible Iron Mike persona was — “a vicious tiger,” as he describes it, “out there to kill somebody.” And there is indeed, something of the actor about Tyson, warming to his new role as a humbled rogue, a gentle giant with his delicate birds. But there is also a kind of heroism in his effort to construct a more accountable self, a reaching across the decades of excess back to the more disciplined days in the Catskills with Cus D’Amato. Now, however, the focus is not on invincibility or greatness, but on the perhaps more elusive goal of keeping his furies at bay and trying to master his unrulier impulses rather than letting them control him. It’s sure to be one hell of a match.