Mary Pat Musick|
FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
When I was seven or eight, I’d slip into the wedding dress that Mom kept in a box under my parents’ bed. Then I’d waltz with a pretend prince, who moonlighted as a boxer. The fantasy was fun. But for bona fide bliss, I wouldn't have missed Friday nights with Dad. That’s when he’d move the portable TV into the dining room. We’d sit at the table, just the two of us, ringside at the Gillette Friday Night Fights. He drank Schlitz. I had milk with Hershey’s syrup.
Dad won dozens of Golden Gloves matches; even beat a guy who later had a title fight with Sugar Ray Robinson. Dad would have been one of the greats, if my grandmother hadn’t forbidden him from turning pro. Instead, he became an accountant. “Finesse, foot movement, and pacing are essential to the art of boxing,” he said. “Brute strength only goes so far in the ring,”
Mom, and my brother Jeffery, practiced piano in the living room. She’d play Chopin, then Jeffery would bang out “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” Dad and I ignored them, and rooted for the fighter who could dance around the square ring into the late rounds. “Wear down your opponent,” Dad said.
Once, when he worked late, I watched the fights alone, turning them on after Mom went to a neighbor's house. The following morning, I performed commentary for Dad while he shaved. Substituting a toothbrush for a microphone, I announced: “Tony, the guy in the black trunks, got off a left hook, then another. Buster, in the white trunks, fired back with a flurry of punches that pushed Tony against the ropes. The referee separated them. Buster moved his feet like there were lit matches on the canvas.” I continued till the fight ended on a TKO. “The ref grabbed Buster’s wrist and held up his gloved hand.”
Dad told me that I put him in the front row in Madison Square Garden. Said he smelled the boxers’ sweat. I thought that Friday nights would always mean sitting with Dad on the straight-backed dining room chairs, stirring chocolate syrup from the bottom of the glass, cheering on our favorite. We always picked the same boxer.
The fight that destroyed it all started out like the others. The boxers bopped around for most of the bout until round six. At the bell, Jack Jacoby, in the black trunks, came out with a fierce patience. He plotted, using footwork, till he had his opponent off balance. Then he directed a single, powerful punch. It was fast, but unhurried. When it landed, the audience roared to its feet. The other man’s head went back, too far back, before it bounced forward. The crowd grew quiet as his body slid to the canvas, thick and slow going down. It lay stock-still. I didn’t see if the ref held up the victor’s glove. Dad had turned off the TV.
After that, whenever my parents quarreled, Mom had a new entry to her litany of complaints. “You let her watch that. I’m not sure who was more brain dead.” She forbade any more boxing in the house.
Dad still watched the fights. He went to O’Neil’s Bar. One Friday, after a ten rounder, he tried to drive home. He didn’t make it. That's when the wedding dress in the box turned shabby and I could no longer conjure up my prince. Fantasy was for kids.
Years later, I was browsing an airport magazine rack and saw a boxer glaring at me from the cover of Sports Illustrated. I wasn't interested enough to pick it up, but it awakened a question I had not asked. I called my brother Jeffery. He lived a thousand miles away, so we didn’t see much of each other, but I called him every year or so, to confirm we were both still alive.
“Why didn’t you watch boxing with Dad?” I asked.
“I was afraid someone would get killed,” he said.
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