From Mike Tyson to Choo-Choos, a Lesson in Brain Training

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.

It was a quarter ’til why-do-they-start-school-so-early on a Monday morning, and I was about to kick Mike Tyson’s ass.

Of course, if history was any indication, what really was about to happen was the separation of my head from my shoulders. That’s what had happened each of the previous 4,182 times Iron Mike and I had thrown fists.

To be fair, he was the unified heavyweight boxing world champion, and I was 12.

Hi there, Skinny Pete

To say I was mildly addicted to Mike Tyson’s Punch Out in 1987 is akin to saying Skinny Pete was mildly addicted to meth in “Breaking Bad.”

Every waking minute my parents would allow me to play video games (and some minutes when they didn’t), I was working my way through the cast of characters who dared step up to my surrogate, Little Mac.

Glass Joe? Broken.

Von Kaiser? Kaput!

King Hippo? Pick your shorts up off the ground, fat boy.

When I finally dispatched Super Macho Man for the first time and advanced to Tyson for the first time, I was on a roll and confident I would end the “0” for the 31-0 Kid Dynamite.

He promptly knocked me into next week.

Ah-ha! But now I had a code! I didn’t have to worry about dodging Don Flamenco’s flamboyant uppercut or Bald Bull’s Bull Rush anymore. I could jump right to Tyson!

For two weeks, I had tried to dethrone the champ. For two weeks, I had failed. The best I had done was survive the second round … once.

“OK Champ. One more time before school,” I said as I punched in the code. (For those who still have an NES and don’t know the code, it’s 007-373-5963.)

The screen lit up: “Let’s keep it clean! Now come out boxing!”

Tyson charged across the ring and immediately threw a massive right uppercut.

Too slow, champ. I dodged to the left and clocked him in the head with a jab followed by a straight right.

That got his attention.

Too slow, Champ.

He immediately fired back with a left uppercut full of evil intentions.

Again, I was too fast. I bobbed left just before his fist crushed my chin and this time threw a powerful right hook with a straight-right chaser.

Boom. Suck on that.

But the champ would not slow down. Uppercut after uppercut came. Uppercut after uppercut missed.

Next were the hooks. With unimaginable ferocity, he threw big, wide punches that met nothing but air. Each time, I shot back with a quick left-right.

I had Tyson teetering when the bell rang to end the first round.

Back in the corner, my trainer, the pudgy and friendly Doc, encouraged me, saying, “Don’t give up, Mac! Fight!!”

I really hadn’t thought about throwing in the towel, considering Tyson had yet to hit me, but yeah, Doc, sure. Thanks for the pep talk.

From across the ring, Tyson taunted me: “Hey! Is this kid a joke? Where’s the real challenger?”

He was about to find out.

“John! The bus is going to be here any minute!”

What the…?

“Get your butt down here!”

It was my mother. And she obviously knew nothing about priorities.

“I’ll be right down!” I said, a truth that relied heavily on a liberal interpretation of the word “right.”

The second round began, and Tyson charged across the ring once again. I was ready. I stopped his onslaught with a flurry of body blows, but the Champ’s defense was impregnable.

Suddenly, I was out of energy! My Little Mac was purple and sucking wind. I couldn’t throw a punch! Surely, this was the end!

The champ reared back and unleashed a massive right uppercut that, if it hit, would pop my head off.

Not so fast.

I dodged quickly to the right, then ducked another punch. I felt a second wind! After stepping away from another face-buster, I connected flush with a right hook to his chin.

He wobbled back, stunned … and crumpled to the mat!

“John! Now!”

“I said I’ll be right down, Mom!”

I had made it into the second round against Mike Freaking Tyson without being touched once, and catching the bus was somehow vital to ending the Cold War all of a sudden?

Tyson slowly rose off the canvas at the count of five.

Now he was mad.

He started throwing hooks again, and I kept up with my magnificent dodging and counterpunching. The Champ was fading. My fingers worked the controller as they never had before. I was a nimble 12-year-old god in the prime of my videogame life.

This time? This time was going to be different. He wasn’t going to laugh at me and flex his bicep while I lay defeated on the mat, seeing stars. Tyson was going down.

But then…

The Champ unleashed a barrage of jabs and straight right hands. I ducked and dodged as best I could, feeling the rhythm perfectly, as punch after punch after punch sought to smash my nose.

But then, with the eighth punch, I was a split-second off. His granite fist slammed into my jaw, and I flew backwards to the mat.

“Dammit!” I said, a little too loud for a 12-year-old whose mom was downstairs.


Oh crap. Had she heard?

“Downstairs. The bus. Now!”


“I’ll be right there!” I replied, mashing the A and B buttons to get my Little Mac back vertical. I could not — would not — let her distract me.

Tyson didn’t wait for me to recover any further. He walked across the ring and threw another one of those nasty right uppercuts, but I was too quick. In return, I used one of my “star” points to throw an equally nasty uppercut. It connected solidly with Iron Mike’s jaw … and he went down again!

This time, he didn’t arise until the count of eight.

The second round ended, and I went back to the corner. There was Doc, lifelong friend, rider of the bicycle in front of my training runs through the city, ready to dispense fresh words of wisdom that would inspire me onward to victory.

“Don’t give up, Mac! Fight!”

Didn’t you just say that? What the hell, Doc?

The bell tolled for the final round, and I knew I was in good shape. Even if Mike connected, I still had a few knockdowns left before mashing those buttons wouldn’t do a thing to keep me in the fight.

So I dodged. I punched. I knocked him down. He got back up. I knocked him down again. He got back up again. I dodged and punch some more.

“John! That’s it! Get down here and out to that bus stop! I am not going to drive you to school!”

For a brief moment, I analyzed the threat. I was now further than I ever had gone against the champ. I had an actual shot to beat him. As I saw it, based on my mother’s warning, there were two options.

  1. Shut off the game like a good son.
  2. Continue the fight and potentially miss the bus, at which point — if Mom was to be believed — I was guaranteed a day off school because she wasn’t going to make we walk to a building that was a half-hour car ride away and she’d already staked out her position on driving.

The fight continued.

The clock was ticking toward the end of the fight, and I wasn’t going to let this go to the judges, who I assumed were Mario, Luigi and Donkey Kong — not exactly a trustworthy bunch.

With a minute left in the fight, I slipped Tyson’s billionth uppercut. My timing was on point that morning, let me tell you.

I stunned him with a counter jab. He stood there, defenseless, mouth agape, just waiting for my fist.

And then with one mighty super uppercut, I knocked Mike Tyson the hell out.

And the NEEEEWWWWWWWW heavyweight champion of the world….!!!!!!!

I threw my hands in the air. The controller flew off the wall.

Hell, yeah!” I screamed, “I did it! I did it! Mom! I did it!”

“Did what? If it’s not ‘I did get my butt out to the bus stop,’ I don’t want to hear it!”

“I beat Mike Tyson! I beat Mike Tyson!” I yelled, running down the stairs and past where she stood with hands on hips. “I did it! I did it! I did it!” I screamed, grabbing my backpack without missing a step and flew out the door, leaving Mom wondering why she didn’t just stop after my older sister — something I was and still am pretty good at making her wonder, I might add. I charged up the driveway and made it just as the stupid little short bus that was dispatched daily to the netherworld of my neighborhood pulled to a stop.

Everyone should feel the exhilaration I felt that day. No, not just that day. That week. That month.

When I met up with my pack of friends at school, I shared my story. A few scoffed. “Yeah, right. Prove it.”

Oh ye of little faith.

But most knew it was true, that truth in videogame accomplishments was part of an unwritten code of boyhood. Beating Mike Tyson mattered in the world of 12-year-old boys back in 1987. It wasn’t something just anyone could do. Even when the game faded from popularity, those who never felt the sweet joy of victory against the Champ outnumbered those of us who did.

Fast-forward 34 years. I’m playing videogames again. And this time, if Mom yells at me, I’ve got a doctor’s note.

I went for a neuropsychological assessment a few weeks back. This Longhaul crap has turned my once-solid memory into something of a garbage dump. Working memory, rote memory — I just don’t have it anymore.

So I’m trying to fix it. The doctor said to try Lumosity. I’d heard of it before because advertising works. It’s an online program consisting of games aimed at improving memory, attention, speed of processing and problem solving.

Once a day, I take a break from work and call up my training. This time, I’m not dodging Mike Tyson uppercuts. I’m trying to come up with as many words as possible that start with “STR,” quickly figuring out which way the center bird is pointing or guiding choo-choo trains to the right station.

Yeah, not quite as intoxicating, but when you sometimes struggle to remember things like your ZIP code, it still can be rewarding.

There’s no Doc to help me in between the six games that make up a daily training session — but, really, what help was he back in the day? There’s just me, my aching brain and a strong desire to feel more like me again.

Some things, I accomplish easily. I’m in the Top 5 percent of all Lumosity users in mental math because that’s evidently a thing I’m good at now.

COVID Teaches Me I’m … Good at Math?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. There are several truths in my family, among them: When my wife says we’re leaving someplace in 10 minutes, go ahead and get comfortable because she means an hour. At least. My youngest son is biologically unable to close the front door without force he does not have in any other situation, a force that shakes the house’s foundation. I suck at math. I’m not upset that I have the reputationContinue reading “COVID Teaches Me I’m … Good at Math?”

Some things hit me like one of Bald Bull’s Bull Rushes and show just how much progress still needs to be made.

Is it working? Well, if “working” is defined as “Helping improve my memory,” I’m not exactly sure yet. I think so, but things still are pretty bad. But if you want to define it as, “Making me feel better because I’m actually doing something about all this stuff instead of just sitting back waiting for things to miraculously get better,” then yeah, it’s working.

As I’ve said, Dr. House ain’t walkin’ through that door, and self-empowerment is a wonderful drug.

When I beat Mike Tyson, I was the shit for weeks. Kids who hadn’t accomplished the task came to me for tips. I gladly gave them. I even went over to a friend’s house to replicate the feat for him so he could see what it was like.

When we have knowledge of how to do something important — even if it’s important only in the world of 12-year-olds — I think we should share it.

Longhaulers know that for every symptom we have, there are at least a hundred suggestions that sometime border on demands from well-meaning people who think they’ve found the cure to this misery. The disturbing thing with this virus is that what works for Mary and Bob doesn’t work for Carrie and Tom. Someday, physicians will know why that is. Or maybe they won’t.

For all of you suffering from brain fog and other neurological issues doctors can’t fix, consider Lumosity. No, I’m not saying that because they’re paying me (though if they’d like to, I’d make a pretty good pitch-man).

I’m saying it because, well, maybe it’ll work. And if it does, awesome.

Would you then kindly and gently spread the word?

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