Sunday, December 30, 2012

Glittering Images

by Drew Martin
Last night I finished reading Camille Paglia’s Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. I was disappointed with it as the book I thought I was going to read, when I first sat down with it a couple days ago, but many parts are insightful and worth reading.

Unfortunately, Paglia misses her mark from the very beginning. In the introduction, she writes “This book is an attempt to reach a general audience for whom art is not a daily presence.” But she precedes this with a discussion on post-structuralism, the Frankfurt school, and Marxism. Is the introduction for a different audience? It reads partly as an apologetic disclaimer.

There are many things that Paglia writes that just seem off, such as the overly protective, “children above all deserve rescue from the torrential stream of flickering images,” to the demotion “Artists are craftsmen, closer to carpenters and welders than they are to intellectuals…”

Paglia mentions her doctorate from Yale University in English Literature and then in the same breath makes a wincing grammatical error: “My thinking about art was impacted by an early attraction to archaeology.”

I get that she set out to write a book for a general audience but there are comments that make me wonder if she thinks these readers have been stuck in a cave for the past two decades. She makes an effort to explain that, IKEA is a Swedish firm, and that Photoshop is the image-processing software first marketed by Adobe Systems in 1990. The most awkward comes half of a paragraph later…."In African-American slang, “chillin” means relaxing.”

There are cultural fumbles that someone from her generation and literary background should not make. She refers to On the Road as “Kerouac’s hitchhiking book.”

There are also some misleading entries. She writes that the performance artist Stelarc “had a human ear surgically attached to the inside of his left arm.” The addition was a prosthetic designed to look like an ear, which was cultivated from human cells. It was not a grafted human ear.

Midway through the book I was wondering if my discomfort with many things was just me or if others were having trouble following Paglia. I read John Adams’ December 2 review of Glittering Images for The New York Times. He was not kind.

Any book that encourages us to read more closely and to look more imaginatively has to be a good thing, but "Glittering Images" is so agenda-driven and so riddled with polemical asides that its potential to persuade is forever being compromised.

Why "Glittering Images" would confine itself almost exclusively to Europe and North America is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. How can any serious survey published in 2012 slight the testament of the human condition as expressed in artworks from the world's other civilizations?

The book is full of similar noisy art-historical proclamations that are better suited to the blogosphere than to a cogent historical survey that hopes to expose its readers, and particularly young readers, to the immensity and subtlety of artistic creation.

He basically tears Paglia apart. Click here to read the entire review.

I agree with almost all of Adams' criticism but in fairness to Paglia, I am not sure how thoroughly Adams read Glittering Images. Most of his comments come from what appear to have been a skimming of the book, pausing briefly on the images. He complains:

Such cultural tunnel vision is only made worse by her passing over two millenniums of European art without including a single representation of Christ. Paglia seems distinctly uncomfortable with this most archetypal of all images in Western art…

I was actually worried there would be too much of a Catholic angle because Paglia explains in her introduction, "I have tried to chart the history and styles of Western art as succinctly and accessibly as possible. The format of the book is based on Catholic breviaries of devotional images, like Mass cards of the saints." She writes about “art-laden Roman Catholicism” vs. the Protestant history of iconoclasm. And she is quick to bring up issues with Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ and Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary.

The first few chapters focus on art's ties to Egyptian, Greek, and Roman gods, as well as Cycladic idols, but these are followed by a full chapter on the ninth century mosaic of Saint John Chrysostom in the Hagia Sophia “the name refers to Christ as God’s “holy wisdom.

Then there is an entire chapter on The Book of Kells. Paglia writes, "The most splendid page of the Book of Kells is the Chi-Rho (shown in the beginning of that section). These two Greek letters (XP) attached to the Latin text are a conventional abbreviation of Christ’s name, here appearing at the start of the Christmas story in the Gospel of Saint Matthew."

This is followed by a chapter on Donatello’s Mary Magadelene. She even shows a picture of the Vatican for Christ’s sake in another chapter on Bernini’s Chair of Saint Peter, in which she writes, “…Bernini’s chair celebrates the power of the Roman church triumphant.”

Paglia is smart to not show the obvious images that Adams misses because she uses this as a way to speak about artists and works that are important to her, such as Renée Cox and her Yo Mama’s Last Supper, “a recasting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Lass Supper with black apostles (except for a white Judas) and Cox herself presiding as a nude, female Jesus.”

Representation of Christ was of little interest to me in this book and was not something I took note of before reading Adam’s attack, but to set the record straight, Paglia is continuously in touch with what he says she is divorced from. On the chapters on Jacques-Louis David and The Death of Marat, she concludes, "David’s beatific treatment of Marat’s body recalls Italian paintings of the dead Christ being laid in his tomb."

Adams also must have flown by the chapter on Georg Grosz. The full-page image Life Makes You Happy! includes a crucifix, of which she writes, "But the crucifix is awry: Jesus looks like a prisoner, roped arms dangling like broken wings. His message of compassion and ministry to the poor has been forgotten."

As for Adams’ complaint that her “stubborn omission is exacerbated by her preferring to empower second-tier artists (or worse) like Magritte, John Wesley Hardrick and the Art Deco celebrity portraitist Tamara de Lempicka,” Paglia explains her choices. Of René Magritte, she writes,

“Thus Magritte, even if he lacks name recognition, is probably the modern artist most known to and embraced by the general public. His painting The False Mirror showing blue sky through the pupil (iris, actually) of a large eye became the logo of the CBS television network.”

This is the kind of connection I was expecting (and hoping) to be made throughout Glittering Images. There are more:

Fluxus made its debut with satiric “concerts” featuring the destruction of a piano or violin, an iconoclasm inspired by Gustav Metzger’s 1959 manifesto, “Auto-Destructive Art,” which attacked the artwork as precious object. This sedition was absorbed into rock music by Peter Townshend, whose smashing of guitars with The Who was inspired by seeing Metzger lecture at a London art school in 1962.

(Caspar David) Friedrich has come to be recognized as a prophet of modernism, with its themes of loneliness and desolation. Rescued from near-total obscurity in the early twentieth century, he would have far-reaching impact – on the Surrealist painter René Magritte, for example, and the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, who declared the staging of Waiting for Godot was inspired by Friedrich’s Two Men Contemplating the Moon, with its blasted tree on a dim mountain crag…Though The Sea of Ice may have looked like a dull mess to Friedrich’s contemporaries, its bold lines and angular vectors seem familiar to our eyes because of modern architecture – the stainless-steel spires of Art Deco skyscrapers or the cantilevered concrete slabs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

(Claude Monet’s) sequences of a single subject – grain stacks, poplars, the façade of the Rouen Cathedral – at different seasons and times of day…anticipated serial repetition by modern artists such as Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol…Monet’s mural-sized water-lily canvases (up to forty-two feet long) prefigure Jackson Pollock’s “all-over” paintings. Furthermore, the circular housing designed by Monet for his water-lily pictures – wraparound galleries in the windowless basement of the Orangerie in Paris – looked forward to installation and environment art of the 1960s.

Thus Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon densely embodies a procession of styles in Western art, read from left to right: antiquity through the Renaissance to modernity, which Picasso shows transformed by the abrupt arrival of non-Western cultures, represented by scarified tribal masks from Africa and Oceania.

I also liked many of her asides, which shared information that I had not read before. Regarding Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon she explains, “Picasso did not coin it, and he disliked it. He simply called the painting “mon bordel” (my brothel)."

I also did not know too much about Piet Mondrian. “The artist is asexual,” he wrote, a “spiritual hermaphrodite”: “The man-artist is female and male at the same time; therefore he does not need a woman.” I especially appreciated her insight that "…he achieved one of the great breakthroughs of modern art – balanced asymmetry, which he identified with freedom."

I think Paglia had a nice sub-theme about fashion, which could even direct the flow of this kind personal approach to art. Three examples include:

The Charioteer’s tunic…is pleated chiton in the Ionian style….and the skirt falls in fluted grooves like an Ionic column.

His (Anthony Van Dyck) minute attentiveness to clothing can be traced to his childhood: both his father and grandfather had been prosperous Flemish fabric merchants, while his mother was renowned for her fine embroidery.

Fashion for him (Édouard Manet) was not superficial ornamentation but a sensitive barometer of cultural change.

Although the inclusion of Tamara de Lempicka and John Wesley Hardrick do seem out of place, I am really glad Paglia included them, along with Renée Cox. Returning to the shelved books of art history and inserting overlooked/too often dismissed female and African American artists is necessary. But I am with John Adams regarding her final chapter. Paglia’s considering George Lucas as the greatest artist of our time is almost laughable. I do appreciate her comment about his taking film from the world of photography into a world of painting but there is not much in his work beyond the entertainment industry.

Pictured here, Porch of the Maidens, Anthony van Dyck, Jacques-Louis David, George Grosz, Piet Mondrian.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sky Above the Clouds

by Drew Martin
This morning I was transported to another time and place while I was making silver dollar pancakes. The numerous, playful shapes and proximity to one another on the black pan reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe's oil painting Sky Above the Clouds (top), which reminded me of a friend from college. My friend lived in a house perched on a bluff over the ocean and is one of a handful of people I had the pleasure of meeting, who truly live a charmed life.

One night this friend and her housemates had a party, which she invited me to, so I stopped by and ended up in her room looking at a print of Sky Above the Clouds IV, which hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago (bottom). It is the most abstracted of the series, in which the clouds are elongated, like Band Aids, and packed together, like cars in a traffic jam, but there is nothing negative about the scene. These clouds are wooly sheep grazing on air, swabs of cotton floating in space, and a sky full of unadultered thought bubbles.

What I remember most about the encounter was that my friend was really into the painting and I was not into it. Now, of course, I am. That night she was explaining to me why she liked it to win over my dislike, and then a big, blond and very tan surfer guy walked in, and I exited like a cold draft.

My friend studied a year abroad, in Italy, where she met and fell in love with a handsome, young Peruvian street musician. She stopped by the copy shop where I worked during my college days, to introduce him to me before they set off to start a life together. He had long, shiny black hair. She had golden locks. They looked good together and truly happy with each other. Now they live in the Andes and have three beautiful children. They have an inn and give tours of the region, including Machu Picchu.

I often think about  this painting, my friend, and that evening, but this morning, while standing over the warm skillet and looking out on a wintry landscape, I made the connection between her appreciation of the painting and a charmed life. What I did not like about the painting 20 years ago was that it was too nice, too sweet, and too romantic. I fought its positive vibe and desired something more challenging. I missed the point, and with that I missed out on many things.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pancake Breakfast

At the end of last month, I posted the first story I read by Jim Damis, The Water Man. In a recent conversation with Damis, he spoke about his boxing days. He agreed to send me more of his writing, but I forgot to ask if he had ever penned a piece about his sport. I was delighted when the story he sent was exactly that; access to the thoughts of a boxer.

Boxing is a tempting theme because it is one-on-one and it is a great metaphor for defending a title or making a comeback, but as a metaphor it is only shadow boxing, which is why I wanted an angle from a boxer-writer.

Pancake Breakfast could have been obvious; a once promising/then washed-up boxer, Bud, is a deadbeat dad and an irresponsible husband about to be served divorce papers, who wants to be a champ again, in the ring and at home. Damis, however, turns this run-of-the-mill idea into a finely crafted story. He dangles the big-win comeback in front of our eyes, and then leads us down a very different path. He does this with a writing style that is informed by boxing; little jabs and balanced footwork. Damis does not try to win our attention with a knock-out plot. Pancake Breakfast is a patient story, written with confidence of knowing the subject at hand.

The entire short story is available here with permission by the author.
Click here to contact Jim Damis at

Pancake Breakfast
by Jim Damis

Bud paced in his small furnished room at one in the morning, smoking a cigarette and sipping a bottle of beer. He couldn't lay on the lumpy bed anymore, where he'd been staring up at the shifting shafts of light from the window. The neighbor upstairs was having another party and the jazz records were playing too loud, the guests laughing in raucous waves. But the noise was not the main reason Bud remained wide awake, as he could sleep in a crowded bowling alley if need be. It was the invitation to a father and son pancake breakfast extended him by an old friend that roiled his mind. A chance meeting two days ago at an Esso station with a stout man in a suit and fedora who turned out to be Rory Meier, the onetime promoter of Bud's fights when he was a promising young light heavyweight, kept Bud up. He had heard about Meier's entry into politics, his wheeler-dealer smarm leading to a position of power in the county Democratic machine. Yelling a big “Hey Bud!” with a warm smile, Meier came over and hugged Bud, slapping his back and asking how he'd been. Despite Meier's sustained sense of delight in seeing his old chum, there was a sadness in his eyes he couldn't hide from Bud. Over the years, since his ring career crashed and burned after a string of impressive knockouts had them expecting a title shot one day, Bud got to know that look from the old crowd. The way one might look at a doctor who promised a cure but proved a quack. Bud mostly tried to avoid them and their look.

“I understand you're a father, Bud,” Meier said.

“Yeah, we had a boy. He's six now. He's a good kid.” The attendant, dipstick in hand, called over that his oil was fine. Bud nodded and the hood slammed shut.

“And Claire? How's Claire?”

“Fine. Hey, nice wheels, Rory,” he said, moving towards Meier's new Mercury. “That's a '65, ain't it? I didn't know they were out yet.” He lit a cigarette and turned to his beat-up Packard drinking from a pump. “You remember my old bomb there, right?”

Meier chuckled. “You almost killed me a few times driving that thing.”

As Meier paid the attendant he broached the pancake breakfast to Bud. A congressman they wanted to put up for the Senate would be there, he explained, among other bigshot politicos and sports notables from the area. Tom Tresh of the Yankees was going to be the main speaker. Meier grasped Bud's shoulder and held his eyes. “Bud, I wish you would come. A lot of the old boys will be there. They'd love to see you. I'll make sure you are introduced to the crowd. Whatd'ya say? People remember you, Bud. You had a lot of fans around here. Your kid will have a ball. I'll make sure he gets a one-on-one with Tresh.”

Bud recognized the sincerity in his old promoter's face. It might be fun to see some of those guys, he thought, and Joey would love to meet Tom Tresh. He lived for baseball and rooted for the Yankees. A cold shudder rose from his stomach and lodged in his throat. He missed his boy. The separation was killing him and he couldn't blame Claire for asking him to leave. He knew he deserved it. Ever since he got laid off unloading trucks at the Sugar House last year, he'd been unraveling slowly into one long bilious bender. He cavorted at night with knock-around guys, street guys, the same drinking pals who messed up his career in the ring by disrupting his discipline to boxing. He knew he deserved it, only never expected her to follow through and turn him out. Only now, living apart in his lonely room, still drinking, did he truly realize how much he loved his wife. And his little boy. He very nearly unbosomed his marital situation on Rory Meier; he almost had to so close he was to bursting. But he held out, too ashamed to let him know that he blew his marriage too. That he neglected and betrayed the only woman he ever truly loved, the woman who stood by him through everything, and now he goes home at night to a sad lonely room. He couldn't give up his last shred of dignity before his old promoter Meier. He told him he'd see if he could make it.

Bud opened another beer and continued staring out the window at the junkyard across the street. He could see the dogs lounging by the office shack in the lambent spotlight. One was named Larry and he reminded Bud of his boyhood dog, also a Shepherd mongrel with a mean bark and little bite. He had always planned to get a dog for Joey, he recalled. He looked at the clock, one-thirty now and no let up in the party upstairs. It sounded like one of those crazy bebop records playing up there. He never cared much for modern jazz, the songs had no melody in all that improvisation, and hardly ever a singer. Frank Sinatra was the only musician he ever needed. Bud had been to a few of their soirees when he first moved in, and found everyone friendly enough, if weird. Bohemian hipsters who read poetry and lit candles and smoked marijuana and swapped partners were alien to Bud's world. To him, the men were a bunch of unkempt, affected layabouts and the women likewise dressed like lumberjacks in their blue jeans. They all seemed demented and dirty and drank like winos, not unlike himself—but he had reason to drink and they were just kids for chrissakes. Now Claire, there was a woman with class. Everybody said she looked like Carol Baker. His wife knew he was fooling around when she heard he was in a local bar with his arm around a brunette. This information was the last straw for Claire Phillips, he had to go after that. On this floozie's dime, the one from the local bar, he drove to Ft. Lauderdale and they stayed in a nice hotel until she left him flat in a couple of days for a big-nosed Italian man she met in a downtown five-and-dime. Bud drove home with a bad sunburn and barely the money to make it back. He regretted his fling, felt terrible over the pain he caused his wife. Remorse built up in his system, weighed him down, made him drink alone more in his room. He found sporadic work with a small moving company as a helper on the trucks. He was supposed to go in this morning, Saturdays usually were busy. He could use the money, though loathed the brutal lifting, especially when doing so without much sleep. The father and son pancake breakfast was this morning as well, at eight-thirty. Bud was melancholy and worn-out and half in the bag, the encounter with Meier underscoring his sense of loss and aching for his old life. He longed for rest, still not a wink in sight. Now they were playing some of that folkie crap and talking more loudly, laughing. He would ask them to respect his need for quiet, that he had to rise very early for a big day. He thought they'd understand.

The door was slightly ajar and he wandered in, searching in the dim light for the guy with the beard and wild hair who lived there. Dylan was on the stereo and they were passing around a bong, many laughing so hard it seemed to hurt. No one paid any attention to Bud, though he was offered the bong and declined. He groped around in the candlelight, as men and women lay on the floor listening to music. Wine was flowing everywhere, in corners some were gathered discussing politics and music and various radical ideas of discontent. In the tiny kitchen where the light was better he came across a few people drinking at the table. He watched them talking and laughing about things he couldn't understand, regarded their scraggly looks and asked them where the guy was who lived there. Suddenly they noticed Bud, his barbershop slicked-back haircut, his tight undershirt showing his boxer's build despite the paunch, his broken nose and scar tissue eyebrows. He looked more like their parents though he was actually closer to their age. They studied him a moment in silence. He felt old and confused by these younger people.

“Hey man, you're not some sort of cop, are ya?” one asked.

“No. I live in the room below you. I couldn't sleep.”

A girl in a yellow beret came in and said, “I know you. You're the guy from the building. Todd and Joanne live here too. You're all neighbors.” Everybody raised a glass to being neighbors. The actual tenant of the room stumbled in, a fat frizzy-haired guy. He heard Bud was looking for him. Bud told him he couldn't sleep.

“Hey, why don't you hang out a bit and party with us? It's cool,” he said.

“I don't want to party. I partied more than anyone should ever be allowed in my day. I'm partied out, pal,” Bud said. “I have to get up real early. I need some rest. It's after two, you know.”

“Hey, where you going so early?” someone asked like a smart aleck.

Bud was irritated by the question. He bummed a cigarette and lit it as he met their curious eyes around the kitchen. “I'm going to take my little boy to a father and son pancake breakfast, is where,” he said almost defiantly. “Tom Tresh of the Yankees is going to be there.”

No one said a word, they just stared at him, like they were afraid now of him. “That's great,” one said condescendingly. Someone else was snickering softly. “Hey, what do you do?” another wanted to know.

“Right now I'm part-time with a moving company.” He sipped his beer and took a long draw on his cigarette. “I used to fight. Did pretty good for awhile.”

“You were a professional boxer?”


Their eyes stayed on him and he felt them judging him. “Sharp. So what happened to you?” the same inquisitor followed up.

Bud inhaled a final drag of his cigarette and leaned forward to stamp it in the ashtray on the table. “I didn't take care of myself. Skipped training too much. Too many late nights like yours here. Started losing.”

“That's too bad,” rejoined the fellow, a skinny shaggy grad student. “Hey, at least you got out in one piece.”

Bud gazed hard at the guy, thinking him a lucky bastard likely with wealthy folks who paid his college, pay his bills, afford him the privilege of going around like he's better and smarter than everyone else. He looked at the grad student in the striped sweater and uncombed hair, the only one still paying Bud any mind now (the others in private conversations once again, chuckling over their witticisms), and he saw all of them as one, the lucky ones, the phony inheritors of easy street who end up running the show despite all the underground bohemian playtime. They were incomprehensible and repellent to him. He was a simple poor man to them, a brute beaten down by failure, an ex-pugilist with a melancholy mien, someone of no consequence. They were not around ten years ago, young types like these, not to Bud's recollection. But he felt their ranks growing, a new breed who took themselves too seriously and had too many smirks and snickers for all others. Bud was made before sarcasm got into young souls, his sensibility seemed void of irony. Bud Phillips was all meat-and-potatoes, half-eaten at that, fast disappearing. All he wanted was to get away from them now—and for the rest of his life—out the door and down the stairs straight to the past glories of the fifties when he was up and coming and knocking everybody out. Upstairs here he glimpsed a future with no place for him. As he turned to leave the frizzy-haired tenant called after him that they'd wrap it up very soon. Bud never heard him, he was already gone. Plenty of pieces of me left behind, plenty of me still on the deck listening to the man count. And I'm going back to where I belong, where it's not so lonely and cold, where there must be time yet to rectify the mistakes.

The party went on for another hour after Bud returned to his room, but he hardly noticed now. The focus of his concentration had nothing to do with the building or the wee hour. The little voice inside that normally sizes up notions as silly or stupid was quelled. He bounced around on the balls of his feet, lightly letting his fists go in warming up as if he'd just climbed through the ropes and heard the roar of the crowd again as his name was announced in the ring. He circled the room, shadowboxing his biggest fights all over again, remembering his opponents and every decisive moment, this time slipping the punches that did him the most damage, while seeing the openings to land his own, connecting with bombs which just missed before. The meaningful fights against tougher opposition, the ones which could have catapulted him into contender status with a shot at some serious money, all ended with Bud on his back. He blocked them out for a long time, as drinking became his balm which kept his utter defeat at bay. Its memory turned into more of a monster to avoid than any vicious puncher he ever faced. Only now, this night, the fights came back to him vividly as he fought them all over again. He was not prepared when it counted and needed to earn redemption. It was six years later and he was 37 years old, a boozer and smoker, but Bud Phillips told himself in his furnished room that he was coming back. Boxing was the only endeavor in which he was ever any good, some even deemed him once good enough to perhaps become great. He squandered his chance and found himself fading into the slow ignominious death of a washed-up tomato can. He would fight back, come back, find what he left back there in those 1950's rings. This is what he swore to himself.

He called up his old trainer, woke the man out of bed, pissed him off. “Who the hell is this?” he snarled, his eyes refusing to open, the voice on the line unclear.

“Whitey, it's Bud.” Silence. “I want to come back. We'll do it right this time.”

The old man let out a raspy grunt of ire. “Are you outa your goddamn head? What is this, a joke? You gotta be looped.”

“I want a fight, Whitey. Tell Mack to set it up. I need a fight. You gotta do it, Whitey.”

“Nothing from ya all these years, like ya fell off the Earth, and ya call me in the middle of the fuckin' night, crocked out of your head?! Listen Bud, go back to bed and forget about it, would ya?”

“You gotta do it, Whitey. I ain't crocked. I need your help.”

“You're fuckin' nuts. Go to bed, Bud. Leave me alone.”

“You talk to Mack. Set it all up. I'll be in the gym Monday.”

“You'll be lucky if your sobered up by then. Good-bye!”

Bud heard the receiver slam. “No I won't,” he said to himself.

He showered and put on a sports jacket and a pair of clean creased slacks, drove to an all-night diner and drank coffee, worrying how Claire would react. She'd been cold and still bitter every time he stopped by to see Joey. Once she mentioned a lawyer who would finalize their split. That's when Bud began to doubt his wife would ever take him back. He cursed the floozie who dumped him in Florida, cursed himself for being weak and running off with her. He gazed out the diner window at the Bell Telephone building's shrubbery across the street, the softly lit angular bushes where he one night some months ago passed out and slept until dawn. She'd see he was his old self this time, he kept telling himself, drinking coffee in the diner, this time she'd recognize the old Bud Phillips she fell in love with, the big-hearted prizefighter with championship dreams who loved the hell out of her.

It was still dark when he parked across the street from the modest garden apartment building. He waited for daybreak, sitting stiffly in the cold car. He thought of them sleeping up there, fixing his eyes on the first floor window, waiting for the sun to wash away his long long night and grant his admission home. His love for them would make it right, he wanted to believe.

At a quarter to seven Bud knocked on their door and after a few minutes he heard Claire's voice.

“Who is it?”

“It's me.”

“What do you want?” The tone stung him.

“Claire, I want to talk to you. I've made some big decisions. I want to tell you about them.”

“It's six-thirty in the morning, Bud!” she snapped lowly, unfastening the bolt and swinging open the door. “You've got to be kidding me!” She gazed hard at him, her arms folded against her loose robe. “What are you, drunk?”

He shook his head. “I ran into Rory Meier the other day. There's a father and son pancake breakfast over at St. Paul's. He said a lot of old friends will be there. There'll be a baseball clinic for the boys, Tom Tresh from the Yankees is speaking.” He paused, looking down a moment. “I would like to take Joey.”

She searched his face skeptically, trying to see if there was more to his showing up like this. Only sincerity stared back, which rankled her just the same. “You know, you could've called. This is bullshit. You don't get to swoop in here out of the blue and take him to some old buddies reunion. I'm sorry.”

“It's a baseball clinic for boys, Claire. It's not about me.”

“It's always about you. You come around to see him when you feel like it. Where were you when his team played in that tournament in June? He was looking for you in the stands.”

That hurt. He remembered the obliterating hangover he woke up to that day, along with the mysterious ankle injury which limited his mobility. He had no chance at making that game. She wanted to shame him, he thought, ignoring the comment. “Where's Joey? Sleeping?” he asked.

She stepped out on the stoop. The late October morning frost glistened atop the iron railing and the tiny front lawn. “Look, you can't just show up like this and pretend nothing ever happened. He's going to play with his friends today.”

“They'll be there when he gets back. Rory's got a one-on-one with Tresh all set.” He opened the door and motioned for her to go back inside. “Listen, this will be the thrill of a lifetime for him. Let's wake him up. C'mon.”

She grimaced with a sigh and moved past him. Bud followed her into the kitchen, where she sat trancelike at the table, “I can't trust you. It's too much. You'll get him all excited and then disappear for months. It's not fair.”

“I know you hate me, Claire. I can understand that now. Forgiveness don't come easy.” He paused and held her eyes. “I thought you'd maybe be open to us talking about some things.”

She remained seated, not looking at him when she interrupted. “Just leave, will you Bud? Just go. You put me through enough of your shit.”

He moved closer to her and spoke very deliberately: “I'm sorry for all the pain I've caused you. I really am. The truth is that I miss you, Claire. I look back when we were just kids and in love and I get sentimental. That counts for something.” He hesitated for several moments before leaning on the table and holding her gaze once more. “You know they say we only get to have one big love in life, and that's if you're lucky. You were mine, only I blew it.” He peered out the window at the blackbirds on a telephone wire. “I want to be Joey's father again.”

She looked at him incredulously. “Bud, what do you mean again? You weren't there for him ever.”

“Look—I fucked up, all right? There's nothing I can do about that now. But what about a second chance? I'll make it up to you. I promise you, Claire. I want my family back.”

Claire sat lost in a trance, tears welling in her eyes. “Why are you doing this?” she murmured.

“It'll be good this time, Claire,” he was saying. “I know it.” He made a fist with his right hand. “I'm coming back. Whitey and Mack are going to get me a fight. Probably some bum to start.” He nodded his head gazing in the distance out the window. “There's still time for me, I can work up to a money fight.”

She gaped up at him as if he'd gone mad. “Oh God, Bud,” she sighed.

“I'm going to quit drinking and train like I did in the beginning. I'm starting all over. This time I'm going to get it right. I made up my mind.”

Claire got up and opened the refrigerator to pour herself some orange juice. Her face was impassive. “Listen to you. It's been what, six or seven years since your last fight? And it's not like you took such care of yourself during that time, and you got out for a reason, remember? Comebacks at 37 years old, Bud, never succeed. When are you going to face reality and just get a real job?”

He flinched, rubbing his face in his hand. “That's what I'm doing, facing the fact that I have to try again—at least to leave it on a better note than before. I need to fight again. And I need you and Joey back in my life.”

They locked eyes for several seconds until the sound of their son's voice exclaimed “Daddy!” before Joey came bounding into the kitchen. He ran to his father and Bud knelt to greet him with a hug and kiss. “Hey, champ,” he said, “how's my boy doing?”

“Are you coming home to live?” the boy asked.

Bud glanced at his wife. “I'd like to, Joey. We'll have to see about that.”

He put out his hand open palm and smiled at the boy. “Let's see that jab. Stick it out like I showed you.” Joey eagerly got into his stance with his fists up and threw a left straight into the palm. He followed with several more and some right crosses. Bud laughed with approval. “Very good. You still have it, kid.”

Joey was all excited now. “Can we play some catch, Daddy? I'll get my mitt and yours,” he yelled, bolting into the back rooms.

“A father and son breakfast would be good for him,” Bud said. “It will be a lot of fun.”

“You should've called. Given me some notice.”

“I should have, but I didn't. Here we are just the same.” He paced to the window and stared out at the blackbirds as a silence fell over them.

The boy soon ran back in wearing blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, holding the mitts and baseball. “Let's go, Daddy. C'mon,” he cried, hurrying to the door.

Bud looked at Claire leaning against the sink, gazing expressionlessly into her orange juice. “Joey, would you like to go to a breakfast with me? You like pancakes. A lot of dads will be there with their sons. You may even know some of the boys. And Tom Tresh of the Yankees will be there. You'll get to meet him, son.”

Joey's eyes popped out as he regarded his father. “Tom Tresh! Neat! Can we really go to the breakfast?!” Bud turned to Claire again, as she still seemed pensive with glassy eyes. “Sure we can. If it's okay with your mother, that is.”

The boy began pleading with her as she frowned at Bud. “I don't believe you pulled this,” she said. “You don't leave me a choice.” She nodded and turned to Joey with a forced smile. “Okay.”

“You better bring a jacket,” Bud said, smiling. “Hey, we can have that catch before we leave,” he added. “Yeahhh!” the jubilant son cheered as he scampered back to his room.

“Thanks,” Bud said over his shoulder.

“Don't thank me for anything. Just bring him back when it's over.” Claire slammed her empty glass on the counter and left him alone to wait for Joey.Bud was happy to see old friends from his boxing days at the breakfast. They gave him quite a warm backslapping reception, yet after a while the look was there again and he could not avert it. He felt the old disappointment unmistakably in their eyes. Only this time he had something to offer them, the comeback he was planning. And he'd watch their faces morph into a stunned bewilderment of furrowed brows and slackened jaws. When he was introduced to the crowd he rose with intense gratification upon surveying the packed church basement and hearing the men clap. Joey clapped too, beaming up at his father, proud to see him validated by them as the great boxer he always knew his father had been. As he acknowledged the applause with a little wave and looked down at his son, something deep and warm stirred in him, and he believed he was exactly where he belonged. Joey knew some of the boys from his class and Peewee League baseball, and as soon as he scarfed down his stack of pancakes with puddles of maple syrup he scooted over to visit them scattered among the long tables. Bud watched him pointing back at him, no doubt telling them that the famous former fighter over there happened to be his dad.

Tom Tresh gave a speech about the Yankees World Series triumphs and failures (including the recent heartbreaking loss in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals) and the pride and tradition of wearing the pinstripes, how fortunate he was to be a Bronx Bomber. Soon the boys were called up front for Tresh's clinic, and he demonstrated some batting and fielding fundamentals for the awestruck bunch. Bud stood by taking it all in with Rory Meier and a few others and made sure afterwards Joey personally met Tresh and got his ball signed. The boy would never forget this pancake breakfast, where fathers and sons celebrated the sporting life, the American Pastime in particular, with a bona fide Yankee hero on hand to meet.

In leaving Bud said good-bye to Rory Meier, thanking him for the invite. His old promoter regarded him with a warm smile. “Bud, are you sure about fighting again? You've been away from it a long time.”

Bud hesitated before answering. “Yeah, I am. I can't stand the way it ended. I realize the pain it's caused me. I have to see what I have left, Rory.”

Meier crossed his arms against his chest, holding his chin in his hand as he contemplated his interlocutor. “Listen to me—you're going to be forty years old in a couple of years. I don't want to see anything happen to you. You walked away with your marbles, that's more than a lot of fighters can say.”

Joey wandered off now to see one of his school buddies who was leaving with his father. Bud nodded to the man with a smile, and turned back to Meier. “Hey, Rory, I hear you but I'll be fine. It just feels right to do this while I still can.”

Meier looked past Bud at his son. “That's a great boy you have there, Bud.” He pulled his old pug closer to him, wrapping his arm around his back and grabbing the back of his neck. “I see some of them walking on their heels, mumbling gibberish—it's a cruel business. Your son needs you around. I can get you your book with the Ironworkers. They owe me a favor. Those guys make a good living, the benefits are tremendous. You'll do very well with them. Let me know and I'll set it up. Think it through, Bud. All right?”

Bud nodded, appreciative of Rory's concern and offer but saddened by the reality check. Meier, like the others he told that morning, did not seem to have much confidence in his renewed dedication to training yielding much of a comeback. “It seems so long ago now, like another world, when I was fighting. I always thought back then you'd be fighting for the title one day, Bud,” Lou Bradley, an old friend and former middleweight, told him. “I'll be looking to read about you in the paper. We'll all be pulling for you, Bud. The old crew.” Bradley got out of boxing early and became a gym teacher and football coach at a local high school. He was there with his youngest son, an eleven year old. The more Bud spoke with those old boxing peers, the more distant and faded their time spent in the sport seemed. Their time, he reminded himself, was also his time. Yet they had moved on to regular jobs, mortgages, families, leaving boxing as a memory of their youth. (This morning there were many remembered too, the crazy, colorful, and reprobate, the sorts which abound in boxing, lost to those days and likely dead, jailed, or otherwise broken.) And the other dads at the breakfast, the ones he didn't know, they too seemed comfortable in their skin, established in their vocations, secure in who they were. Not many, he'd have bet, had something still to prove before going forward. They all had gotten to where they were going years ago. He had to be the only one who needed to earn new respect and find redemption in his profession of yesteryear.

It was only twelve-thirty when Bud and Joey got back to the car, and neither really wanted to say good-bye just yet. A gorgeous crisp October afternoon waited for them, and Bud thought they could play a little ball before calling it a day. And Joey, all hopped up from meeting Tresh and the excitement of the morning, simply did not want it to end. So Bud stopped in the sporting goods store and bought a Louisville Slugger, as they had their mitts and ball in the back seat, and he drove to a nearby field. He hit Joey grounders, pitched him some batting practice, and they had a nice long catch. It gladdened Bud that his son was a good little ballplayer. Afterwards, he took him to the old Caboose Diner for burgers and shakes, and then he couldn't resist a quick round of miniature golf which the boy had been requesting. At the Dairy Queen, where they went for a nightcap of ice cream cones, Joey told his father how much fun he was having. “When are you coming back home, Daddy?” he wanted to know.

“I'm not so sure, Joey. But I want it to be soon. I have to talk to your mother.”

“Well, you should hurry up because Mommy is going to move to California where Uncle Eugene lives. I already told her I'm not going.”

A jolt of despair shot through Bud. Three-thousand miles away, they might as well be on the moon. Maybe she threatens Joey with the move to make him toe the line. If real, however, Bud would've expected her to tell him of her plan and could not help already feeling resentful that she did not. “When is she moving?” he asked the boy.

“In the summer, when I finish school. She wants to start me in the third grade there. But I'm not going so it doesn't matter. With you coming home now maybe she'll want to stay,” Joey said.

This did not sound like an idle threat to Bud. A raw melancholy got hold of him as he steered through the downtown area on the way back to Claire's apartment. He would confront her with this revelation of her pending move; there could be some harsh words between them, he winced at the thought. Tooling up Columbia Boulevard, where several of his favorite haunts happened to be, he noticed Gil McGargle's Plymouth parked outside the Birch Tavern and realized it was happy hour. Along with Gil several of his other local pals had to be there, and since it was still pretty early he thought he could bring Joey in and introduce him to the gang. They'd get a kick out of meeting his son, he thought. He sure felt like a nice cold draft.

McGargle was at his stool alongside Teddy Farrell and Hal Schmidt, and the men greeted their old crony with the customary dose of banter. “Hey, there he is, Teddy! You don't want to cross that one—he'll do a flamenco dance on your damn head!” McGargle kidded. “Who? This guy here? He's a cream puff I hear,” added Farrell. “There they are—the three stooges,” Bud returned. Now they noticed the boy at his side and the raillery was momentarily silenced. The drinking men vaguely remembered hearing about Bud having a kid, but certainly never expected to meet him. Bud introduced them to Joey and told them about the pancake breakfast and the clinic with Tresh. Joey showed them his signed ball. “So we have another Yankees fan among us,” Schmidt began. “They win too much cause they get all the best players, Joey. Do you want to root for the team that is supposed to win all the time? What fun is that? Now the Mets—there's a team that could use a new rooter like you. An underdog club if there ever was one.”

“The Mets!” Joey shot back incredulously. “They stink!”

The men laughed. “Joey, anyone who roots for another team besides the Yankees usually roots for the Yankees to lose every game,” Bud explained. “They envy the Yankees. Like Hal, who is a Mets fan. They can't help it, so Yankee fans have to feel sorry for them.”

“I don't feel sorry for them. Their dumb enough to root for the Mets,” the boy stated to more of their laughter.

“You tell him, Joey,” Farrell said. “These guys are still mad their old teams left them and are winning and they're stuck with the lousy Mets. I told 'em to just pull for the Yanks like you and me, but they can't do it. National Leaguers, you know.”

Joey looked at McGargle and Schmidt a moment, then turned to his father and Farrell. “Who were their old teams?”

“The Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Bud said. “There used to be three teams around here, Joey. They moved to California.” Bud thought of Claire and her brother, a cold wave moving through him. The West Coast destination resounded with the boy as well. “I would never root for them cause I hate California,” he proclaimed.

“I could not have said it better myself,” McGargle seconded. “Let's drink to that notion.”

The men bought themselves rounds, talked sports, traded barbs, and told stories. Joey drank Coca-Cola and felt proud to be included in his father's circle of friends. He played a few games of pub shuffleboard with his father, who upon his return to his stool at the bar disclosed to his pals his intention to mount a comeback in the ring. Everybody now had to buy him a drink. “They'll line up some bum for me to beat up. I'll see how it feels in there. I'm not going to think past that. One fight. We'll see. But I really want it again,” Bud was saying. He held up his mug of Ballantine and added: “I'll be saying so long to this stuff pretty soon too.”

“Hey Joey!” Farrell crowed. “You're dad here could be the light-heavyweight champion one day. What do you think of that?”

“Yep, he's going to be the champ. I know he will do it,” the boy beamed.

In such a manner hours slipped by on Bud in the Birch Tavern, and by the time he and his son finally got out of there and were in the Packard heading back to Claire's apartment it was well past eight o'clock.

Claire was furious and lit into Bud as soon a she opened the door. “Where the hell were you?! The breakfast ended like noon, Bud! I was worried sick—I can't trust you at all.” She squatted in front of Joey running her hand through his hair, asking him if he was okay.

Bud desperately tried to explain, maintaining he “ran into some of the guys, you know how it is—they'd never met Joey. He had a great time—isn't that right, Joey?”

She cut him off, however, and would hear none of it. “And you've been drinking! Nice. This is it, Bud. I'm so over your bullshit.”

She had Joey away from him now, tugged behind her. “Mommy, don't be mad,” the boy pleaded. “Daddy didn't do anything wrong. He wants to come back and live with us. He's going to be the champion of the world.”

They were in the kitchen and Bud wished she would calm down, moved to comfort her but she recoiled. “You have to let Daddy back with us!” Joey demanded. “He can't come back, Joey. And we're moving to California, remember?” She almost cried for a moment, closing her eyes before lunging at Bud, pushing him in the chest. “Why did you come here today?!” She glared at her husband and said: “We're going to my brother's. We're getting the hell out of here.”

“Joey, your mother and I have to talk about this, okay. Why don't you go upstairs for a little?” Bud asked. The boy hesitated and his mother sharply insisted he go. Sulking, he did as they bade.

“You should have told me about California,” Bud said.

“When was I going to do that? We don't see each other. Besides, what's the point?”

“You could've called me. I'm still his father and taking him three-thousand miles away from me is not a decision for you to make without my involvement.”

“I don't even know where you live these days,” she replied with a quizzical grimace. “Give me a break. And it doesn't matter because we're going, Bud.”

“Believe me, it does matter. You could have at least told me this morning.”

“You mean when you bum-rushed me out of the blue at seven in the morning?” She paused and sat at the kitchen table. “I was going to tell you after the breakfast. Now you know.”

Bud sat down and folded his hands. “Why, Claire? What will you do out there? You know how unfair it is to me. I'll never see him.”

Claire shook her head. “You don't have any right to say that. You didn't care about me or Joey. You were too busy having a good time, sometimes staying away for days doing your thing. Let's not forget all that, the sluts you ran around with. The lying to my face. And whatever it was you were up to hanging around that Dominick Barone's club all the time. It's a wonder you didn't wind up in jail like most of them down there. I'm sorry, Bud, but you weren't there for us when it really counted and we're leaving as soon as Joey finishes second grade. We're staying with my brother until I find an apartment. He already has a job lined up for me. This is a done deal.”

The pain of Bud's predicament hit him all the harder because he knew she was right. He had been a lousy husband and absent father. His dedication to his ring career flagged in part because he got himself mixed up with some wise guys, mostly as nightlife pals but he did some things he regretted. Bookmaking enforcement, collection muscle, he threw his weight around, even beat up a few guys. It was fast money. Bud wasn't built for any of that, but the drinking tempered him enough. Now, as his wife laid out his past bare, he felt its brunt. His shame ached like a tumor deep in his bowels. “I was wrong and I'm sorry, Claire. I'll make it up to you and Joey. I'm going on the wagon for good and I got nothing to do with Barone and those guys anymore. I told Joey I'm coming back in the ring and at home.” He paused to gather himself, rubbing his face. “Let me have another chance. I made mistakes, but I never stopped loving you. I love you and Joey so much...I'll never let you down again.” He reached across the table to hold her hands in his busted-up pair.

Claire's eyes began to water and she took a deep breath. “There will always be a part of me that still loves you, Bud. But you hurt me too much. The pain killed it between us.” He tried to interject something, but she would not brook it, speaking over him. “Bud, I have a lawyer...I'm filing divorce papers.” She stood, crossed her arms and gazed down at him as he stared down at his hands. “And I'll be seeking full custody of Joey. It's for the best.”

After a long silence Bud rejoined: “Best for who? Joey says he's not going.”

“Please—don't do that. No kid wants to move. He'll make new friends. This is my decision.”

Bud rose and slowly moved away from the table. For a moment, Claire thought he might simply leave. But he didn't, he stopped in the center of the kitchen and turned to her. “You're as beautiful now as when I first met you in the luncheonette. You were refilling folks' coffee cups the first time I saw you.” He came towards her now and could see Claire had tears in her eyes. “I was in a goddamn trance for days after that,” he said, going to hug her. She sighed, letting him. “Remember, Rory used to take his fighters there for breakfast? I couldn't train right for days after I finally said something to you. I've been in love with you from day one and still am. I was stupid, self-destructive. I need you, Claire. Joey needs a father.” He released her and looked her in the eye. “We had something so strong...we could get it back, baby.”

“Whatever we had, Bud, is gone,” Claire said in almost a whisper. “It's lost...over. You have to see that. Can't you accept that? Like your days as a boxer. You can't go back in time. We have to move on, Bud. Let all that go, you know?”

He took a few steps toward the door and turned to say: “Come out with me for one night. That's all I ask. Let's go on a date, like we barely know each other, starting all over again. We'll have dinner, okay? Do that for me, sweetheart, and if then you still want to proceed the way your talking, well, I'll leave you alone. Give that some thought, will you?”

Stunned, too exasperated to essay a response, Claire only stared back stolidly.

“I'll call you,” Bud said before closing the door behind him.In his Packard driving away, Bud felt sorry for himself. He also hated the man he had been who got him to this bleak juncture. He could not go back to his furnished room, the lonely void would surely engulf him. The company of friends for solace and escape seemed salutary at first, but he realized they could not make him feel any better. In fact, their usual jests and barroom polemics would only make him feel worse. So he sped past the Birch Tavern and Gil McGargle's car still parked outside it. Bud needed to drink though, but it had to be alone without any interaction, while strangers socializing around him helped him feel less isolated, somehow connected. He continued to the sketchy outskirts of town and a dive bar called The Belvedere. He found a stool in the smoky, beer-soaked darkness and ordered a draft and a shot of Old Grand-dad, and blended seamlessly into the smattering of half-seen figures bent over glasses or lurking back by the pool table. He listened to Elvis, Duane Eddy and Dean Martin on the juke box and the crack of pool balls breaking, and he drank. Blunting the blow of losing them required much beer and many shots.

“You okay, chief?” the fat, flinty bartender asked him once.

“Yeah. I'm breathing, ain't I?” Bud answered.

They quaffed in clusters around the oval Formica bar, somber and subdued, as if in some lost lifeboat drifting to nowhere. The black corners maws waiting to swallow them whole. Bud and a few others closed the place and he moved rather unsteadily out the door. He wobbled and tottered but summoned the control to amble to a nearby late night package goods pub, where he bought himself a quart of Old Grand-dad. He followed the back roads so he could so he could swig his bottle in peace, soon coming across a narrow cobblestone alley which captured his sloshed curiosity. The occasional pale light cast over the sleek worn stones amid the early morn stillness impressed him with its bewitching mystery. Down here he lurched and swayed, his Packard forgotten about back by the bar, a lapse for the best considering his condition. He felt not very unlike he did in the last rounds of fights he lost by knockout, more like the very last round in which the pummeling preceded the unconscious end. He kept thinking of the breezy spring mornings in the luncheonette where he first met Claire, her graceful motion in tending customers, the aqua skirt and white blouse uniform she wore, her smile. Time seemed to stop when he was in her presence and its afterglow left him swooning all day, smitten and excited. He smelled the strong aroma of the hickory coffee and the maple syrup on the stack of pancakes she would bring him. Lines they spoke to one another during those first encounters came back to him. What would you recommend for a guy like me? Hmm. You? I don't know enough about you. Well, we can fix that, he boldly offered. In the meantime, how about some eggs and bacon and a short stack? she suggested. He was diffident about asking her out, but finally mustered the gumption to suggest they grab a bite and a movie one night, and she thought about it a few moments and replied: “All right. Why not.” He remembered how sweet those words sounded to him. Fleeting, floating away elusively, he tried to hold the memory longer but the hard night pulled him down. All he had to fend off the weight of reality was his bottle of Old Grand-dad, but it wasn't enough to keep him on his feet. Bud hit the deck, and continued to drink on his ass, albeit the boozing soon turned into snoozing.

He woke with a jump, startled. Something hit him in the chest and he peered down the cobblestones into the darkness. A small rock lay beside him, the missile apparently flung his way. He heard voices somewhere off in the alley and another rock caught him in the shoulder. It hurt, he rubbed it, and from his sitting position he thought he saw their shadows in the thin gray light, accompanied by faint joking and laughter. The figures were traversing the alley and coming toward Bud, who felt all of their menace but could only remain seated against the brick building and await them. Adrenaline pumped through his drunken frame as he braced for trouble, with no place to hide. Maybe they'd roll him. Or maybe they'd simply stomp him for the hell of it. Bud had a real bad feeling. A big rock now struck him in the side, while several missed around him.

“Hey!!” he yelled. “What the hell are you doing?!” He got up and stood staring at their dim advancing forms, their laughter louder now.

“Throwin' rocks,” came back a sarcastic voice. “And you been layin' down right where we need to throw 'em. You got no right being where we are throwing our rocks! Son of a bitch!” Guffaws followed. “We could make a citizen's arrest, you know.”

They pelted him. He took one in the stomach and off the top of his head, which really hurt and shook him. He cursed loudly. And now they were in front of him, three young men, clean-cut, couldn't be twenty-five, the kind of guys who would settle down with pretty wives and babies and good jobs and that house in the suburbs, guys who probably played football in high school and as such were little kings who could do no wrong, yes, that's the type of men here who terrorized Bud this night. His display of drunken defeat was apparently an affront to their lit go-getter sensibilities. So they'd have to go get Bud.

“Well, hello there! We are the euthanasia patrol and it is our civic duty to remove you,” the closest one announced. “You're obviously longing for closure to your miserable existence, and we are here to help.” The laughter sounded more sinister, and Bud saw they were drunk and demented.

Bud stood motionless, his eyes intense on them. “Go on, keep moving. You'd be wise to leave it be, boys. Go on now.”

“Were you moon bathing out here? I've been looking for a good moon beach,” one teased. “Nooo, our man here's the toll collector of this alley! He's shaking us down for safe passage, ain't ya, Mr. Rumdum Bum?,” another remarked. And the three tormentors laughed as ugly as they could.

“I said keep moving. You boys might take me, but I'll do some damage. I promise you,” Bud said in a steady low voice.

“Whoa! Our rumdum can talk tough. Don't you know, rumdum, it is our duty to put your lights out and stuff you in that dumpster down there?!” the apparent leader shouted with a violent cry. He slowly approached Bud, came within a few feet of him before springing at him with a squalling scream and cold-cocking the ex-boxer in the face. Bud reeled, while one of the others attacked him with a kick to the groin and several wild roundhouses to his head, and not to be left out, the third one threw him to the cobblestone and stomped the crumpled form with kick after kick. All three now stomped him while guffawing and cursing and whooping it up, when Bud managed to latch onto one kick firmly planted in his stomach. He held that foot in his arms, had it folded in his midsection, and would not let go like his life depended on it, twisting the leather shoe and bending the ankle with all his weight until the body came tumbling down. And in the shock of those seconds Bud pounced on the guy, pinning him with his knees on his chest and beating him senseless before the others jumped him. They pulled him off and tried to wrestle him down, one got him in a headlock, while the other felt the power of Bud's right hand against his eye. They were desperate to put him away now, as they seemed to understand that they had misjudged their target, never thinking they had a onetime pro fighter with a hell of a punch on their hands. Bud drove the headlock guy into a backpedal and unloosed a vicious blow to his belly, forcing him to release his hold, instantly clipping him flush on the chin and once more with a hard left hook to the side of his head. The man was out before he went down, though he cracked his head with a resounding thud on the cobblestone, leaving him that much more unconscious. The remaining attacker, the one who'd cast himself the leader, had resorted to rock-throwing again and had already whipped a few, once catching Bud in the back with a sizable stone from fairly close range. It nearly knocked the wind out of him, buckling his knees, and when he turned to confront his foe he took another rock against his collar bone. He groaned and cursed. “You better aim well, you gutless punk, cause if I get my hands on you I'll kill you,” he warned, moving towards the rock thrower.

“You can't get away with this shit, I won't let you,” the younger man stated, all agitated now. “You're going to be either dead or bloodied up enough so they could capture your ass and send you back to the asylum you escaped from.” He hurled a fist-sized rock Bud's way, which sailed just above his head. He sent another one whizzing by wide to his left.

Bud just kept coming at him, and now broke into a sprint for him, which allowed for two more rocks thrown at his charging form—one missing, the other grazing the top of his head—before he overtook his assailant, pounding him with fists flying and slamming his head against the brick wall of the building behind them. He finished him off with a brutal haymaker and an uppercut that packed all his weight and anger with it. The man fell forward like a cut down tree and did not move.

As Bud trudged away into the night, vaguely seeking his way home, images and ruminations on the brawl and his crazy conquest filtered through his spent, wasted head. His body was banged-up and bloodied, but he paid no heed, the injuries irrelevant. He would ramble all night, walking all over until dawn, in a strange post-fight trance. There were no spectators, no cheers, no one would congratulate him on this one. None of that mattered now. Survival, knowing the fortitude was there to beat back the sons of bitches meant everything. His spirit wasn't broken, it was strong. Like his heart. Time to get on with his life. There was time.

Bud got back to his room later in the morning. Along the way he stopped in an empty church and sat a few minutes well before first mass would begin, saying a prayer of thanks. He spent most of the day in bed, waking towards evening with a violent headache and a body so bruised and sore he could hardly move. He took a long shower and had a cup of Campbell alphabet soup, which he was very pleased to find in a cabinet left behind by a previous occupant. After this meal he turned in for the night, needing more rest, but he was up at daybreak drinking coffee at the diner down the street before retrieving his Packard, which had a three dollar ticket stuck under its wiper blade. And then he drove straight to his old gym.

He was among the first to arrive at the ancient dingy factory of the sweet science. A few old faces recognized him and called out jovial greetings, a mustached sparring partner, a veteran black middleweight he used to play cards with, an ex-con manager he once almost signed with, and the gym's custodian, an ex-pug himself. They were surprised to see the once-great prospect who flamed out back in the fifties, a ghost of their cruel brutal cult, suddenly reappear. Soon the fighters were busy training and Bud took it all in with a knowing smile, the smell of leather and liniment and sweat, the thump of punches on flesh in the ring, the round bells ringing every three minutes, the bang and pop and rhythmic tattoo of bags being beaten, the whir of the skip rope.

Whitey seemed to ignore him at first, but Bud remembered how disagreeable his old trainer could be. He watched him across the floor, aging and grizzled, still manic, working with a young fighter on a heavy bag, barking instructions. He made Bud wait until the lesson was finished before shambling over.

“Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed seeing Bud up close. “You look like you went a few rounds with Liston.”

“I fell down some stairs. I'm all right. How are you, Whitey?”

“Lousy. Don't ask. I'm fuckin' broke. Still lookin' for that meal ticket. It shoulda been you.”

He looked at Bud with a half-grin, shaking his head. “What you put us through. Youuu.” He let out a guttural noise of disgust. “Don't think you're gonna do anything here looking like that. You gotta heal up first—and by then maybe you'll come to your senses and forget about it.”

“I'm not here to start training, Whitey.”

“No? Good.”

“I've decided against the comeback. You were right when I called you the other night.”

“You woke me the fuck up! I oughta shoot you. What's the matter with you? So what did you come down here for? If I never saw you again, I'd get the picture.”

Bud chuckled. “I guess I wanted to see the old place again.” He glanced around at the young boxers bobbing and weaving and practicing combinations. “I'm often back here in my dreams.”

“Nightmares—the way you hated to train,” Whitey recalled. “Like this kid here, the southpaw,” he motioned at one of the boxers sparring just then. “Keep your hands up, Jack! Keep 'em up! You drop 'em he nails you every time!”

“And I thought I should tell you in person that I'm retiring for good,” Bud continued. “I don't remember doing that the last time...maybe I left you hanging.”

The old man regarded him with a contemplative squint. “Hey look, a phone call would've been nice, but I wrote you off after a couple months. You were mixed up in too much bullshit. Hard Livin' Bud. Where does that get you? In the shit house is where. So what are you doing with yourself?”

“Rory Meier said he could get me in with the Ironworkers. I might check that out.”

“Meier? Tell him I got a couple of prospects for him if he ever comes back to boxing!” Whitey snapped, starting away and turning to add: “That's a strong union—they're getting a guy with a helluva right hand if there's any trouble.”

Rory Meier came through for Bud that same day. He found his old promoter in his office finishing up a meeting with two men in dark suits and brilliantined hair. Meier wore a sweaty white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and smoked a cigar. They all drank highballs on the rocks and were laughing when Bud walked in. “I came to talk, Rory. I can wait outside,” he said. “Get your butt over here, Bud. We're about done, aren't we fellas?” Meier returned, pleased to see his old fighter. He asked him about his face. “I went down some stairs”, Bud explained.

After the suits left, Bud told Rory he was there to take him up on his offer to get him in the Ironworkers. Meier smiled, gladdened by Bud's change of heart. “You're making the right call,” he said. He came around his desk to shake Bud's hand. “I'm going to get Lester Muckowski on the phone right now,” he announced, before sitting on the edge of his desk and dialing the number of the Business Manager of Ironworkers Local 619. By the time he hung up, all was settled. Bud would be issued his union book in a couple of days and would report to his first job site in about a week. As a complete novice, he knew he had a lot to learn, but felt eager and enthused about his new trade. He thanked Rory profusely for the opportunity.

“I haven't been in the ring in over five years,” he said, “but only now do I feel like up here (gesturing to his head) I'm ready to leave it behind.”

“I know how it is, Bud. Everyone sooner or later gets knocked down in this life, some never get back up. You have your whole life ahead of you.” Meier patted him on the shoulder. “Those stairs did quite a number on you. Next time you ought to take the elevator.”

“Yeah,” Bud agreed with a chuckle.

He wanted to call Claire right away and ask her to dinner as he promised, but anxiety thwarted him. He took a long walk and began practicing his invitation. If he could get her to have dinner with him, he believed he could win her back. But persuading her would not be easy, he knew, so he became obsessive in his preparation. He rehearsed sentences aloud and visualized Claire on the receiver in her kitchen. In his furnished room that night, he dialed her number and quickly hung up. He would fret and stew over this all night, and upon awakening in the morning he declared aloud that today he would call his wife. He went for another long meditative walk followed by some eggs and coffee in the diner. He planned to call her that afternoon at her job as a secretary with a plastics manufacturer, but when the time came he hesitated. The possibility of rejection intimidated him too much. He considered having a few beers to relax and quiet his doubts for the call, but he could not break the vow he took walking around after the brawl. He was determined never to drink again, so he'd have do this sober.

That evening, after several more aborted attempts, Bud managed to drag his finger around the right numbers on the rotary and listen to the rings. She did not answer. Not home yet, he thought. He dialed again in a half-hour, and thereafter in decreasing intervals. He began to suspect that she knew it was him and decided to preempt his overture by not answering. The more he dialed, the more he came to believe this is how it would end, Claire blocking out his voice altogether. When she finally picked up the receiver and said hello, Bud was caught unawares and paused before exclaiming, “Claire, it's me.” She silently

“It's only one dinner. If, afterwards, you don't want to see me any more, I'll go away.” “And if I don't have dinner with you? What then?” “Well, I may keep trying until you do.” “What do you think is going to happen between us? After all the bullshit I've been through?” “I'm willing to find out.” “Well, I don't believe I am.” “Sure you are. What do you have to lose?” “Bud—this is really hard for me.” “C'mon, one dinner. Angelo's—our old place where you loved the shrimp scampi. And the best baked alaska anywhere. Seven o'clock, Saturday night. One dinner.” Claire really tried to end the conversation, but he would not let her. She very nearly hung up on him a few times, but could not. There only seemed one way left to extricate herself from his call. She finally said in a low dispassionate voice: “Okay. I'll come.” After a moment, Bud said, “That's great.” He sensed the lack of conviction in her tone. But he did not want to face its meaning. “I'll pick you up at seven, Saturday.” With a hint of exasperation, Claire replied, “No—I'll meet you there. I'd rather do it that way. All right?” “Yeah, sure,” he answered, “I'll see you at Angelo's at seven.”

As the big night approached, he could not quell the doubts troubling him about whether she would show up. He struggled with it, hoping the memory of their good times together would bring her to Angelo's. The sincerity put into his pledges to her became an article of faith in his uncertainty. And then before he knew it the maitre d' was leading him to his table, where he would wait for Claire to arrive. He was early, and pleased to settle into his old seat at their old table off in a corner by a window. He had requested the table in his reservation, and now remembered how they'd share a bottle of wine here and look out the window at the park across the street. He hadn't been to Angelo's for a good eight or nine years, when their young marriage was going strong and his boxing career still seemed like it had a bright future. He recalled watching it snow from their cozy perch, especially the night he knocked out Ed Trainor with a left hook in the 10th round of a fight in which he was losing, before they came to Angelo's for a late supper. They talked about their dreams here, envisioned an exciting world awaiting them somewhere. Bud sat at his old seat and looked around for Angelo or one of the waiters or hostesses they used to know, but saw only new faces. Suddenly, the passage of time cast a lonely gloom over him. Where did the years go? Time sure doesn't fly just when you're having fun; it flies period, he mused. Yet, conversely, he could hardly believe the pancake breakfast was just one week ago because it seemed more like a year had elapsed since that momentous day. Yep, sometimes it can take a long time between breakfast and dinner, he heard his mind's voice saying. Particularly when you miss lunch.

About a quarter past seven Bud's apprehension of being stood up began to grip him. His eyes fixed on his dining room's opening leading to the door, staring with disappointment at each new stranger appearing from without. Her reluctant acceptance haunted him along the way towards half-past seven. He could hear fragments of light-hearted conversations taking place around him, ripples of laughter, while the delectable aromas of meals being carried to patrons wafted to his nose. He poured himself some more water from the pitcher in front of him, and a sad pessimism took hold of him. He felt invisible in a place where he once was well-known. Maybe something happened, that Rambler of hers broke down, or the baby-sitter was late. He noticed a man a few tables over dining alone, a rumply middle-aged man sporting a couple-days beard, reading a newspaper as he wolfed down his meal. Bud found himself observing him, pondering his solitude. He seemed accustomed to the habit of dining alone. He wasn't expecting anyone to join him. At 7:40 the maitre d' came by to ask Bud about his plans, whether he wanted to wait longer for his party or perhaps order an appetizer or a drink? You can bring the bread out, Bud allowed, and a Coca-Cola too. “My wife is running late,” he added, “but she'll be here any minute.” The maitre d' appeared less than satisfied with this answer. Saturdays were their busiest night and tables needed to be regularly turned over. Bud thought to inquire about Angelo, and was told in stolid fashion that he had suffered a heart attack some years ago and retired to Florida.

He gazed for a while out the window at the familiar view of the park, drifting into a deep melancholy. The old-time lamps spread just enough light to give it some enchanted mystery, he always felt. He preferred the park at night. But a view that was once so delightful and infused with dreams now only seemed bleak and barren. It was fast closing in on eight o'clock, the final bell for when he decided he would leave. He girded himself for that inevitable forlorn exit across the floor. It would be hard not to go somewhere for a drink, he knew. He felt the pull already, but in his chair by the window he was still safe. The maitre d' once more dropped by, asking how he was doing. Bud had not touched his Coke or the basket of bread. A couple of minutes, he saw, had ticked past eight now, and he rose and told the maitre d' that he was leaving. “How much do I owe you?” he asked, putting on his jacket. He never heard the man say there was no charge, because as he turned he saw his wife approaching him not thirty feet away. He had to breathe deeply, almost choking up, feeling such a relieved sense of joy. She seemed rapt in her thoughts, otherworldly, and the most beautiful Bud had ever seen her. As she neared him he met her eyes, greeting her with a smile. She grimaced quizzically and Bud quickly remembered his bruised face. He said he tussled with some stairs and lost the decision. Her coat draped over her folded hands, she was radiant in a turquoise shift. Silently, they held one another's gaze for a few moments. She seemed caught up in a restless reverie tinged with a hint of sheepishness. Misgivings were in her face, as someone who came despite her better judgment and all good reason, and because of an irreducible old feeling which yet flickered in her. She remembered who he was and envisioned who he could still be, the changes he spoke of. And she recollected once saying, “Why not?” Why not saying it again?

“I wasn't sure you'd still be here,” she said.

“I wasn't sure you'd come,” he said, “but I told myself you would.” He took her coat and held her chair for her as she sat down.

The maitre d' returned with menus and a smile. He said their waiter would be right over, before disappearing again. Bud just spent the longest hour of his life in Angelo's waiting for his wife, and the haughty head waiter waited, too. We all wait for the tide to turn, he thought.

“I made sure to ask for this table for us,” he said.

“This is our old table, isn't it?” she remembered with something of a smile, looking out at the park.

“It sure is,” Bud answered, also peering out the window. “And I'm really glad we made it back here.”

The End