A los­ing win

The News-Times (Sunday) - - More Opinion - JUAN NE­GRONI Juan A. Ne­groni, a We­ston res­i­dent, is a con­sul­tant, bilin­gual speaker and writer. Email him at juan­negroni12@gmail.com. His col­umn ap­pears monthly in Hearst Con­necti­cut News­pa­pers.

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.

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