Down for the Count by Fred Vogel

Calvin Allen and Leo ‘The Lip’ Grady were superstars in the world of boxing during the seventies. Their three fights against one another are legendary. Allen won the first bout with a TKO in the eighth. A year later, Grady would turn the tables with a fourth round knockout. But it was their rubber match that people still talk about today. It was the lanky, reserved, black man from New Jersey against the stocky, white, Irishman from Queens. The crowd was divided in their loyalties. Back and forth the two boxers went, bobbing and weaving, each landing devastating blows on the other. One would be knocked to the canvas and then the other. The sold-out arena was in a frenzy. It was the closest, most brutal, of their three meetings. Round after round it continued, with neither fighter giving an inch.

And then it happened.

Both men came out for the twelfth and final round, exhausted, bloodied, yet of like mind. When they touched gloves, they didn’t take a few steps back to continue the battle. Instead, they embraced in front of the boisterous crowd, raising each other’s arm in unity. That was it, they were done. There would be no more fighting for either man. As the crowd booed and threw every unattached object into the ring, the men exited the ring, walking away from their livelihoods, never to see the inside of a boxing ring again. The press had a field day, with headlines reading: “We Demand A Refund!!” and “When Is The Wedding?”

However much they were reviled in the boxing world, the two men eventually were able to melt into society as two ordinary Joes as the years passed.

Calvin married his high school sweetheart, Maribelle, and had three sons. He worked at his uncle’s garage in Trenton, changing oil, rotating tires, and replacing fan belts. When the uncle died, he left the garage to Calvin, who eventually retired and sold the business so he and Maribelle could move closer to their now-grown children and seven grandchildren, all living in the New York City area. From time to time Calvin revisited the scrapbook Maribelle had put together, browsing photos and newspaper clippings of his life as a boxer. He recalled most of the photos, but not all of the clippings rang a bell. Calvin passed it off as old age creeping in and a need for stronger lenses.

Leo Grady also went into the car business, but as a Chevrolet salesman in upstate New York.

He returned to the Big Apple after his wife died from a cancerous brain. Leo rented a one-bedroom apartment not far from where he had grown up as a child. His two cats, Joe and Louis, were his only companions. He rode the bus whenever he needed to go further than his feet would allow. He disliked taxis, positive the drivers were all terrorists-in-training. He lived off his Social Security check, along with the payout from his wife’s modest life insurance policy. With his wife’s passing, Leo felt he had only one friend in the world he could count on – his one-time rival, Calvin Allen. The two had kept in contact throughout the years, but it wasn’t until Leo moved back to the city that they reunited, face to face, for the first time since their infamous fight. The two warriors shook each other’s calloused hands before allowing for an overdue, tearful hug.

They would meet for breakfast on the first Monday of every month at a downtown diner. They sat in the same booth, nearest the open kitchen, exchanging friendly banter with the line cooks. They ordered the same meals every time – two eggs over easy, unbuttered wheat toast, and coffee for Calvin, while Leo had the Mexican omelet, hash browns, a bowl of fruit, and iced tea. Each meal began with ‘The Lip’ leading them in a quiet prayer. They talked about Calvin’s erratic golf game, the weather, the Yankees, but never about boxing. Boxing was never discussed. Nor were their medical conditions, though both were suffering from Dementia pugilistica, the debilitating disease that destroys those who have had their wits repeatedly knocked out of them. It was heartbreaking to realize that even after all those years away from the ring the two would end up contributing to each other’s eventual death.

As the years passed, Calvin and Leo would find it more and more difficult to maintain their monthly ritual. The disease worsened in both men, especially in the tough Irishman. The first time Calvin visited Leo in the hospital, he gave him a copy of Recipes from Great Irish Chefs, a prank book consisting of a hundred blank pages. Leo smiled, still somewhat aware of the book’s intended humor. But when Calvin showed Leo recent photos of Joe and Louis, the cats Calvin and Maribelle had adopted after Leo could no longer care for them, Leo was unable to recognize either of his old roommates. When Leo’s health spiraled further downhill, there was no choice but to move him into hospice where he could live out his remaining days. Each time Calvin visited the facility he knew that his time would be coming soon enough and that it would be his turn to be visited by loved ones in a similar depressed environment. He dreaded the thought of not being able to recognize his family, but realized their names and faces were already beginning to fade to black.

When Leo Grady died, Maribelle Allen arranged for her husband’s dear friend to have a proper burial. She attended the simple service, along with family members and a handful of old-time boxing fans who wanted to pay their final respects. Calvin stayed home to play with Joe and Louis, not interested in going to the funeral of someone he didn’t even know.

 

Fred Vogel

Banner Image: Pixabay.com

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Down for the Count by Fred Vogel

  1. Bares some resemblance to the story of Joe Louis and Max whose name I can’t spell. Despite their fans differences they admired each other.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s