A losing win
To say my life was in danger after I won the first boxing match against Georgie would be an exaggeration. But then again with his two older brothers, William and Henry, one never knew. They had reputations as tough guys. After the bout I was scared, very scared. With good reason as it turned out.
It started when someone from our neighborhood got boxing gloves for a birthday present. We think it was Baldy Guy Jimmy. That name stuck with him after a summer crew cut. This led to James Ortiz being tagged with Little Jimmy, so as not to confuse him with Baldy Guy.
My brother, Peter, and I have tried recalling details of the boxing match. Memories fade with time. But the more we spoke about it the more our recollections came alive. It seems that when we allow our minds to roam along a certain path one memory leads to another memory and suddenly longstored events come alive. We both remembered the match but not how it came about. What is very clear is that Georgie and I had never been friendly with each other.
It took place on a Sunday in July or August on Madison Avenue in Spanish Harlem between 101st and 102nd. We’re sure it was a Sunday as people were too busy to come out on Saturday and hang around the stoops of the three buildings on our avenue. I worked on Saturdays delivering laundry.
On those steamy weekends days no one among us escaped the city heat by driving up to a country house in upstate New York. Or by taking a bus to a cottage along Connecticut’s shore. We didn’t even know those retreats existed.
The best we could hope for was a subway ride to Coney Island or Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. What I enjoyed most at Coney Island was the banner ice cream some food stands served. No one seems to sell banner ice cream any more these days.
Occasionally we stayed cool by turning on the fire hydrant on Madison’s side street. To feel gushing water from a hydrant knocking me down was a pleasure I hope one day to enjoy again. And then there were the pushcart vendors selling “Piraguas.” We savored the scraped ice laced with sugary flavors served in paper cones.
My memory of what Georgie looked like is vague. Yet I was very much aware he was lefthanded. Probably because of my father. A lefty himself and an ardent fan of Friday nights’ “Cavalcade of Sports” boxing on TV, he would say, “Cuidado con los zurdos!” Watch out for the southpaws.
So, the first match with Georgie was on. We danced back and forth between the stoops and in front of Cesar’s bodega as we threw punches. It seemed as if everyone from the three buildings and across the avenue had come out to watch us.
Those who have seen the movie, “A Christmas Story,” shown yearly on Christmas for 24 continuous hours, may remember the Ralphie-Scut Farkus fight. Ralphie, no longer able to take Scut’s tormenting, reacts and batters Scut repeatedly until he bloodies his nose. In this first bout Georgie did not bleed that day as my gloves pounded his body. There was no doubt, however, as to who won. Someone stepped in and stopped the fight. My father, elated that evening, had no idea my troubles had just begun.
A few days later the word got around that Georgie’s brothers, William and Henry, wanted me to fight him again. They dared me to win. I have no idea if Georgie knew about their threat.
Soon afterward we fought on the roof of my four-story tenement. Here again my recollection is hazy, other than that I intentionally lost the fight. Moreover, I have no memory of what followed nor of any other interactions with Georgie or his brothers about the rematch or what took place afterward.
So, what led me to “throw” that second match? My brother says it was a subconscious strategy on my part. That was flattering but questionable. Chances are it was more my fear as to what would have happened to me if I had won.
And then again, I can’t be certain. Perhaps there was more to it than my being afraid. Perhaps it was the beginning of learning a valuable lesson — one doesn’t always have to win to really win. And that sometimes one can win by losing.
We danced back and forth between the stoops and in front of Cesar’s bodega as we threw punches. It seemed as if everyone from the three buildings and across the avenue had come out to watch us.