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Later that night, at Nat's Thai restaurant, Pacquiao eats silently, surrounded by his entourage but lost in his own thoughts. The owners emerge unbidden with plates of shrimp fried rice, shrimp soup, shrimp stir-fry and beef deep-fried to a jerky consistency that Pacquiao eats with white rice and broth, scooping it up in the traditional Filipino way with spoon and fork. They usually play videos of his fights while eating, but tonight they watch scenes from the movie King Kong. A velociraptor jumps on top of a T. rex. "The little one is winning," Pacquiao says, rapt.
He leans to the side slyly and unleashes a fart. Ariza, sitting beside him in the seat of honor, groans. The rest of the table laughs.
"Boys will be boys," says Helena Buscema, Pacquiao's singing coach. In the Philippines, Pacquiao is not just a boxer. He sings and dabbles in acting.
"He is a creature of habit," Buscema says languidly. "Manny likes doing things the same. He has his rituals."
No one really knows why he eats there every night, sits in the same seat, murmurs the same prayer, eats the same food. Boxing is a repetitive sport, Roach says. Pacquiao is the embodiment of that, times a hundred. Perhaps he craves the structure, having grown up with so little of it.
When Pacquiao rubs his stomach and stands up, the entire room follows suit two seconds later, a baroque but well-oiled machine. Younger brother Bobby thumbs through a fat stack of hundreds to settle the bill.
People eat and starve by Pacquiao. "He changed my life," says Nat's Thai owner Tasanee Sridakun. Pacquiao has been eating there since the beginning. His success has been their success. His entourage grew so big, people now have to eat standing up or in the kitchen or scrunched beside the cash register.
"If I don't have Manny Pacquiao," Sridakun continues, "I don't know what happen to me. Maybe I live on the street."
She makes enough in his two months of training camp to pay a year's rent, and dreads the day he no longer boxes, no longer spends $700 a day in her tiny dining room to feed his troops.
"He like a Jesus," she whispers.
The boy who came from dirt is now the sixth richest athlete in the world. Now he endorses beer, ice cream, ibuprofen, and is sponsored by Nike. In his homeland, he owns gasoline stations, coffee shops, a boxing-promotion company, a gym, a basketball team, a grocery store and a rooster farm. The dirt-floor squatter's hole in General Santos has been replaced by a sprawling compound with a swimming pool shaped like a boxing glove, stone walls and 24-hour armed guards. Poor people line up in droves at the gates and are handed plastic bags with rice and sardines and 200 pesos, or $4.
Last year, Pacquiao earned $40 million. He gives much of it away to hospitals; to schools; to his entourage as an incentive to get healthy. Three thousand dollars to whoever loses 15 percent of his body weight; 70 people are participating.
Still, there is tension surrounding his generosity. "You see Manny, he's always surrounded by people with their hands out. Manny's got a lot of heart," says Ariza. "There are mountains of people asking him for tickets, or asking him to fly them here or there. They ask him to invest in businesses, T-shirt companies or who knows what. They're like vultures."
The boxer gives away so much that coach Roach and promoter Bob Arum worry he will be left with nothing. As Arum puts it, "The Philippines has the best social-welfare system. And it is called Manny Pacquiao."
Others call it a functional dysfunction: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
Filipinos have a proprietary feel about Pacquiao. A native television crew flies with him to Los Angeles to document his activities. One afternoon, they ask him to comment on rumors that he is having an affair with a sexy co-star from one of his movies. He sighs, crosses one arm over the other. It is the one time he truly seems weary. "To my countrymen, whatever gossip there is, it's enough. Let's focus on ourselves, on our families," he says beseechingly.
When fellow boxer Z. Gorres goes down in the ring and is paralyzed, Pacquiao is prevailed upon for help. He will sing! At his Valentine's Day benefit concert at the Embassy Suites in Glendale, a thousand fans mob him. They wait for him for two interminable hours, as one performer after another is dragged onstage to sing a tribute to his greatness. They could tear him to pieces with their love.
Pacquiao's eyes widen with surprise as his handlers spontaneously auction the sweatshirt off his back for $450. "You want my shirt?" he asks.
There is joy in his face, even in the midst of the chaos, even as people giggle at his rendition of "La Bamba," where he pronounces una poca de gracia as "una pooka de gracia." Today the eyes that slope down at the corners, the wide, flat nose, the bushy brows that furrow in battle, the darkening face of a volcano god is bursting with innocent mischief as he furtively tosses T-shirts into the crowd. He is relaxed. He stands on a folding table and pumps his fist in time with the music. Someone grips the table so he doesn't fall.
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