Issue 115, Summer 1990
We used to go to bars, the really seedy ones, to find our fights. It excited Don. He loved going into the dark old dives, ducking under the doorway and following me in, me with my robe on, my boxing gloves tied around my neck, and all the workers inside the bar turning on their stools, turning as if some day someone special might be coming through, someone who could even help them out, perhaps —but Don and I were not there to help them out.
Don had always trained his fighters this way, all of them: in bars, with poor lighting and a hostile, hometown crowd. We would get in his old red truck on Friday afternoons—Don, his wife Betty, and Jason, their fourteen-year-old son, and my two hounds. Homer and Ann —and we’d take out driving, heading for either the coast —Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula— or sometimes up into the woods, to the Wagon Wheel bar in Utica, or, if it had been a long enough time, long enough for them to have forgotten the speed of the punches and the force and snap of them, we’d go into Jackson, to the rotting, sawdust-floor bars like the Body Shop or the Tall Low Man. That was where the most money could be made, and it was sometimes where the best fighters could be found, but not always.
Jason would wait out in the truck with the dogs. Sometimes Betty would stay out there with him, with the windows rolled down, so that they could tell how the fight was going; but other times she would come in with Don and me, because that was what would get the bets up, a woman who had come in with a man and who was not drinking, who was only there for the fight.
We’d make anywhere from five hundred to a thousand dollars per fight, from our bets.
“Anybody, any size, any age, man or woman,” Don would say, standing behind the bar with his notepad, taking bets, though I never fought a woman. The people in the bar would pick their best fighter, and they’d watch Betty, and watch Don, or they’d watch their fighter—but they didn’t ever watch me the way they should have if they were going to bet on it; and I would look around, I would wish there was better lighting, and then I’d take my robe off, I’d have my gold trunks on underneath, and sometimes a few of them, drunk or sober, would begin to realize that they had done the wrong thing. But by that time things were in motion, the bets had already been made, and there was nothing to do but play it out.
Don had said that when I won a hundred bar fights, I could go to New York. He knew a man up there, a promoter to whom he sometimes sent his better fighters after training them, and that was what I had to do to get up there: win a hundred fights.
Don was forty-four—Betty, thirty-eight —and Don only trained one fighter at a time. Don hadn’t boxed in almost twenty years. Betty had made him promise, swear on all sorts of things, to stop, when they got married. Don had been very good, but he had started seeing double after one fight, a fight he’d won but had been knocked down in three times, and he still saw double, twenty years later, when he got tired.