Post Road Magazine #27

How I Work (KO 0)

Charles Farrell

How I Work (KO 0) was meant to be primarily about the boxer Jimmy Harrison, also referred to here as The Good Loser and Joe Grim. Jimmy was a heavyweight who fought professionally for fifteen years, seldom won a fight, and never knocked anyone out. Since even the poorest fighters generally have a kayo win somewhere on their résumés, the fact that Jimmy didn't was, in its way, noteworthy.

How I Work (KO 0) was also going to be about how I go about practicing the piano, and ultimately, about producing music and music related projects. I could see ways in which Jimmy and I, nearly opposites in every other respect, worked using similar methods, at least to a point.

I had to abandon the idea of putting Jimmy first, though. Try as I might, I couldn't find out enough about him to make him the primary figure here. I'm sorry that's the case because Jimmy deserved to have center stage for once. But other than what little I knew about him from our personal interactions, his death at age fifty-three in 2011 erased most traces of him. You can look up his record on Boxrec.com. And there are a few obituary notices that mention the two children and a longtime companion who was the mother of one of the kids. I couldn't find any photographs of him—which is as unlikely in this day and age as finding a veteran fighter with no knockout wins on his record. But he looked like this:


image.jpgSo, in a sense, I begin How I Work (KO 0) having already failed at what I was trying to do. Strangely, this failure almost feels like a success, a fitting reflection on Jimmy Harrison, The Good Loser. He's going to come in second again.

Ironic success or not, I want to apologize to Jimmy Harrison for not making him the main subject of his own story. Having unearthed him, I owe him more than what I'm going to give him.


The First Time I Saw Him

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At the Somerville Boxing Club 1984It's the aural equivalent of suddenly coming into a part of the city that you know, where streets and buildings are vaguely recognizable, but you can't quite place them. You become momentarily disoriented.

There's the ragged sound of distressed breathing, a repeated ripping gasp, coming out as nearly a sob, followed by an exhalation of air, a loud "hah," then a flat slap. Some covered object is making contact with something heavy but not entirely solid. Whatever was being slapped wasn't moving, but whoever was doing the slapping wasn't giving up.

Rounding the corner, I saw Joe Grim hard at work, putting his entire body weight into a conveyer belt of futile punches. (I call him Joe Grim after a legendarily unstoppable loser by that name who, at the turn of the 20th century, was beaten to a defiant but still standing pulp by all the best boxers of the day.) He was indefatigable, although each punch seemed to nearly cost him his life. Heard up close, a wheezing from deep in his chest accompanied the tearful breathing and loud, wordless exclamations. I couldn't imagine why he was doing what he was doing. I never before seen a man of such size hit the heavy bag with so much determination to so little effect.

Joe Grim was like some clunky, antiquated 19th century robot that somehow, against all odds, continued to function.

He must have been in fine condition, but only a genuine boxing expert would have known that by looking at him. Pale, but splotchy from his labors, he had pipestem arms, a slightly sunken chest, and no abdominal definition or visible muscle tone. He didn't look like the contemporary model of a fighter. HBO and Showtime had reduced that to a single image, and it wasn't the right one. It was a window dressing caricature of bulging biceps, chiseled pecs, and menacing traps, all perched above a trim, sculpted waistline. Joe Grim was built like a fighter from the 1920s or even earlier, all his parts set up in service to withstanding, enduring, going distance.

Work, Work (dog sense): Jimmy in the Gym


image-2.jpgJimmy was content in the gym. Liniment and sweat, blood and cologne. This was what he knew, what he expected to find, and what he happily did find every day. You could rely on these things. The heavy bag was always in its place. The speed bag was always in its place. You saw yourself doing the same things in the same mirror day after day. Here was the ring, there the slant board. They all had their subtle scents, familiar rips and tears, tape and wire, things being added to or diminished over time, but always recognizably themselves. The gym was a place where you came to work, and Jimmy had a healthy appetite for work. It brought him something close to satisfaction. It gave a respectable name to what he did. He was a professional prizefighter, although not a good one. Nevertheless, being a good loser had its own place and its own value. Jimmy Harrison could tell other fighters and fighters' managers where they stood. If you couldn't beat him, you couldn't be a professional prizefighter. If you couldn't win every round, you couldn't be a decent prizefighter. And if you couldn't knock him out, you'd never be a champion. Nobody ever asked, "How good is Jimmy Harrison?" But sometimes people asked Jimmy about the guys he'd beaten. It wasn't a smart question, since Jimmy had no unkind words for any of his opponents. "He's a good boy" or "he's a real good boy" or "he's a real tough kid" or "he punches wicked hard." Even the few guys he beat were "good boys."

In the mornings, he'd run three miles. Seldom more, but never less. He didn't look fast and he wasn't graceful, although he wasn't clumsy either. He moved like a draft horse. It was only if you tried to keep up with him, running along the pavement on the Monsignor McGrath Highway, Dunkin Donuts coffee cups already starting to collect early in the day, that you'd realize looks could be deceiving, as his chugging figure moved further and further away from you down the highway and into the distance.

Dogs can teach us a lot about perseverance and optimism. And ultimately perseverance has to be seen as a kind of optimism. Jimmy Harrison smiled when he talked to you—a bashful but open smile. For me, that was his optimism showing. What might he have needed in order to smile like that? Not much.

Let's say that dogs aren't lesser. Let's that they're equal or even in some instances better. So if you saw Jimmy Harrison as a dog, it wouldn't be a slur or an insult. It might be a compliment. It might be saying something good about his even-temperedness, about his willingness to continue with his work, about his patience, about his ability to personalize his reward in a way that was meaningful to him. Even if his reward was outside the range of others' understanding—the dog whistle that other humans couldn't hear—it could still be precisely the thing he needed in order to get home.

The Stillness in the Center of the Lowlife


Old Orchard, where I spent my summers as a small boy in the mid 1950s, was safe because it wasn't safe. The fun houses, roller coasters, and live animal rides, the pizza and fried dough stands, the rigged games of chance, the peep shows and freak shows all taught me things I'd need to know later in life. To be comfortable in what looked to be unpredictable surroundings. To recognize that, embedded in the whirling lights and movement, the noise, the scents, in the dark, in the floors that moved under your feet, in the walls that weren't where you expected them to be, embedded in the uncertainty of the racetrack daily double, in the midst of people's drunken and irrational behavior, there was a reliable bedrock that you could find the center of, where you could thrive and go forward. I left Old Orchard as a small boy in 1957, but was sure, on returning in 1993, that I had come back as a king.


The Second Time I Saw Him


image-3.pngAt the ballpark, Old Orchard, Maine 1993:

The white heavyweight I'd flown in to manage wasn't nearly as good as they told me— as they'd promised me—he'd be. He could outbox Joe Grim easily enough, but not knock him out. And so they wound up in an unsightly tangle that continued for four lugubrious rounds. Then their heads, which had been bumping ominously but inconsequentially throughout the fight, finally smacked together with the kind of bone on bone clomp that changes everything. From the corner, I saw a bright splotch appear above Joe Grim's eye. Instantly unstaunchable, the gape blossomed before my eyes, a small but earnest geyser that covered the doughy fighters in cinematic blood. I knew that the fight was over and that my fighter was not going to get his knockout. Beating The Good Loser meant nothing; everybody beat The Good Loser. It was only meaningful if you knocked him out.

The night had been an expensive waste. Pat Petronelli kept saying, "I know these people from Maine. They love their fights, but they always arrive late." But they didn't arrive at all, and we finally had to start the card without them. When the opening bout fighter's heraldic woofer-centric theme abruptly drowned out the estival sounds of insects and birds turning in at sundown, there were still only a dozen people in a ballpark that could seat a thousand. It looked like an estranged family had decided to have a tentative reunion in the bleachers. Eventually another dozen customers trickled in, but Pat and I lost about six thousand dollars on the promotion. The gate receipts couldn't begin to pay the fighters' purses so Pat had to retreat to his Cadillac and sneak under the dashboard to get his share from his hidden stash.

Birthright

Birthright is magic. You don't work to get it. It's easy to mistakenly assume that you are similarly blessed in most other facets of your life. If your birthright, which is your natural aptitude, comes along with underclass beginnings, you're always going to be drawn to lowlife. Once situated there, you'll always believe you were born to be king. People will tell you that all the time.

My Irish grandmother Betty would say, "Charles, you're not supposed to clean up anybody else's shit. That's what I had to do." The message was clear: I wasn't to work. There were people for that. Down on the ground, my talent made me special.

How could I have wound up being anything other than a musician, a gambler, and a gangster? From the start, everything I loved pointed me in those directions. Whatever natural aptitudes I possessed steered me directly to them. So I'm stuck with this. Even now, many years after learning that birthright alone will get you almost nowhere. Birthright minus work equals a three card Monte trick that can only be played on fellow lowlifes.

Like everyone else on my mother's side of the family, I was born able to play music. It would be my birthright to be able to go to any city, anywhere in the world, walk into a good hotel, sit at the piano, and wind up with money and a place to stay. That's magic that can do you no good if you're of a certain temperament. And so you bump up against your own aptitudes, mistaking them for license. But, if you're lucky, you can learn from your defeats. Maybe I shouldn't use the word "lucky" here.


Dogs Go On

Dogs go on. If what they have is taken from them—if their human dies, if they are relocated, if they are injured in some way—they do what they can to adjust and to replicate their patterns from before as closely as possible, to keep to their routines, to hold onto what they know. They make what they can of what they are given. They remain true to themselves.

I never got the sense that The Good Loser was actually trying to win his fights, although he wasn't trying to lose them either. His mission was to endure, to make it to the final bell, if possible. His offensive arsenal was so limited—and within its limits, so feeble—that his only chance for winning was on those rare occasions when his opponent was either a rank beginner or someone who himself had no real interest in winning. If infrequent slaps could win you a fight, The Good Loser had an outside chance. This happened six times during his career, although I was never there when it did. I saw him get a draw once—a draw that should have been a win. His opponent that night, Kilbert Pierce, had already beaten Jimmy twice before, and the judges were in the habit of awarding him the rounds. They also remembered Pierce, a fat, lazy, and endlessly complaining semi-professional, as a former local amateur star on whom high hopes had been pinned. They would have been humiliated to have been so wrong about him, if they'd had to vote for Jimmy.

The day finally came when even Massachusetts, a hotbed of losers, would no longer give The Good Loser a license to box. He was only thirty-seven years old, but he was an old thirty-seven. He hadn't won a fight in a decade, and the one he'd managed to win before that was by split decision over an opponent with a 0-1 record. Maybe more significantly, he'd been knocked out three times in a row, in six, then four, and finally in one round. For a guy known for his durability, if for nothing else, this was a very bad sign. It's not that managers whose fighters were being built up wouldn't have used The Good Loser in perpetuity, letting him be knocked out with increasing ease for years and years to come. It's that they were unwilling to pay his travel expenses from Boston when they could use local losers to serve the same function. And in Massachusetts itself, the commission guys had developed a soft spot for Jimmy over the years. They were actually a little worried about the guy.

When Jimmy's career ended, he did what he could to maintain his life as he knew it. He trained exactly as he'd always trained. He did his road work and bag work. He skipped rope and shadowboxed. And he sparred with anyone who'd have him, pro and amateur alike. If he were sparring with a beginner, Jimmy would work light, no more than playing. If a pro hired him or simply asked for work, Jimmy would do what he'd done for nearly twenty years: hang on, slap, and take lots and lots of hard shots, swaying with them as well as his worn out body would allow. And so, although he was no longer a professional, Jimmy's life didn't change too much.


His Obituary

Jimmy Harrison passed away of cardiac arrest on July 8, 2011, while working out in the gym. According to an obituary written by Mickey Finn, President of Ring 4:

The ring was his life and his life ended, by way of cardiac arrest, at Ringside, during his workout. He was a top notch sparring partner who reached his full potential as a knowledgeable and dedicated boxer. He helped many boxers along in their career by giving them the best workout possible. He started Boxing at Connolly's Gym, but didn't escalate to the rank of boxer until Papa Ray Drayton took him under his wing, and taught him the Sweet Science the way it should be taught. He was a sparring partner for Jerry Cooney, and several years ago he was the sparring partner for Ring 4 Clerk, John O'Brien, who was the two time National Masters Champion. O'Brien credits Harrison for his knowledge in the Ring, and has often said that Jim was one of the best sparring partners he ever worked with. Papa Ray also spoke highly of him and said he was robbed on more than one occasion. Although he had a very deceptive record of six wins, thirty-five losses, and five draws, he was still well respected in the Boxing Community. His opponents were all the iron, one of them being International Boxing Council Light-heavyweight Champion Drake Thadzi. He was waked at the Donovan Funeral Home in Cambridge, MA. Ring 4 President, Mickey Finn, and John O'Brien, gave Harrison the Final Count at his casket. Also in attendance was former Boxing Commissioner Mark DeLuca, amongst many other former Boxers. He is survived by his devoted friend Anna Camara, and his sons, Andrew and Spencer. Above all Jimmy was a true "Genleman Jim.


Work, Work: 4:30 AM (dog sense)


image-4.jpgCoffee and emails for thirty minutes. Meditate for thirty minutes. Mostly only the birds are awake—sparrows, robins, blue jays, crows, cardinals—these distinctively optimistic, a tiny "sweet, sweet sweet"—and they all have a lot to say. Sometimes a dog will bark. There are also occasional cars heard from far off, getting louder as they approach, then receding—someone who needs to get home or who is at the start of a long trip. The mat and cushion are made of rough, bleached canvas; I can feel the texture with my toes. Nico sits in my lap, always in the same position. Occasionally I will run my fingers through his thick fur or pat his head. Sometimes he falls asleep, sometimes he sighs in his sleep. On the rare mornings when Nico doesn't join me, I place my hand on the heavy canvas, feeling its texture. There's the sound of the breeze. The feel of the breeze replaces commerce and memory. Autumn is coming quickly; I can feel it, day by day ("Wintertime is coming. The windows are filled with frost.") The leaves smell different than they did just a week ago, drier, struggling to hang onto their remaining life. My lower disc, nearly crushed from weightlifting twenty years ago, begins to act up. This is actually good for my meditation, anchoring me to the here and now. My right foot often falls asleep. The meditation timer sounds, four rounded pulsating tones. I stay still with the first, open my eyes with the second, fill my lungs then exhale with the third, and try to fully enter the sound with the fourth. Wait until the sound has entirely disappeared. During the thirty minutes that I've sat, the sun has come up. It's the specific time of day where the sky goes from having no light at all to full daytime. There is something encouraging about emerging from darkness into light.

I used to begin my piano practice around 5:00, the time that I now meditate. Piano practice is difficult for me; if I don't get it out of the way, it becomes harder to do as the day progresses. But meditation has made me more focused during practice, so the later start is made up for by better quality work.

I practice three hours of piano—never more, never less—every day except Sunday. Depending on the piano where I'm staying, I will just play another one to three more hours. The first two practice hours are always sight reading classical literature, the final one almost always technical exercises of various types, often ones I make up myself. I never practice the music I wind up playing in my work. I practice solely to be technically equipped to play that music.

Technique is largely a matter of imaginative confidence. To play something nearly impossible is to make a small jump from what has already been accomplished through hard work into deep space or into part of your own personal history. Advanced technique is synonymous with faith; in order to not be empty, it must be linked to the spiritual.

You have to make a living connection between yourself and the piano. You have to see it as an equal partner, as able to communicate with you as you are with it. Fingers meet keys in mutual dynamism; tone is brought up from the keys, not from pressing down on them. If you can't feel it living and breathing, if you can't feel the give and resistance in the keys, if you can't feel how the keys connect to the hammers, the hammers to the strings, the strings to the frame, in a completely corporeal way, you'll never be able to play the piano. The piano has bad days. So do you. Some days both parties are clicking.


The Next to Last Time I Saw Him

image-5.pngAt the Convention Center, Washington, DC 1995:


The second time I was responsible for getting Joe Grim beaten up by someone named Foster, he got a longer, more professional, and much worse going over. Dennis Rappaport's Melvin Foster was a more accomplished fighter and a much harder puncher than my Martin Foster. And he was too savvy to stand around banging heads with Joe Grim. So he administered a creative but disciplined pounding, barely missing a punch for the six rounds the fight lasted, artistically changing the color, then the shape, and finally the very bone structure of The Good Loser's face. For his part, Jimmy planted his legs, accepted every punch, swaying and swaying, hanging on, occasionally pushing out with his own futile slaps, thinking his faraway thoughts, patiently enduring, waiting for it to all be over, until the ridge of scar tissue over his left eye could hold no more punches and disintegrated, at which point the referee stepped between the fighters. Joe Grim, although he never fought to lose, didn't fight to win either. He fought to withstand. And, much to everyone's irritation, he had withstood much longer than expected.

I'd had my own problems earlier that night. In the main event, I'd put the "come-backing" former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks in the easiest non-fixed fight I could arrange. A minute after the opening bell, the fight was over, and Leon, under a barrage of hooting, laughter, and boos, was being slowly led, bleeding heavily from the mouth, to his corner, semi-conscious at best. His opponent had never had a pro fight before.

Maybe that's why I didn't commiserate as much as I should have when I visited Jimmy in his dressing room. His handler, Papa Ray Drayton, was methodically stitching up his face, not waiting for a commission doctor, who wouldn't have done it as well. I didn't think about my own culpability in what had happened to Jimmy, didn't figure out how I'd added to his long term damage. The Good Loser was stoic, even philosophical. He hadn't expected to win, or even, to lose. He took his opponent exactly as he came, neither building him up nor diminishing him. His opponent was just a man, bringing no history into the fight.

"Why didn't you put me in with Leon?" He smiled his shy smile.

"Because you would have beaten him."

"I know. So why didn't you let me fight him?"

"Because you would have knocked him out."

"I know. I'd finally get a knockout."

"But that wouldn't have been good for Leon, Jimmy."

"No, it wouldn't have been good for Leon."

He thought about that for a minute.

"But I don't think I would have hit him as hard as the guy who knocked him out."


I'm Not Directly Responsible, But

I've got a connection through Old Orchard to two fighters whose deaths I had a hand in speeding up, one more directly than the other. The Buddha said, "Do not dwell in the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment." I try to take the Buddha's advice here, but I fail sometimes. I'm pretty good about not dreaming of the future, but have trouble not dwelling in the past.

In one instance, I introduced a foolish and ambitious club fighter to some dangerous people, and he came to a bad end as a result. He was stupid, but a good case can still be made that he should have known what was coming. No matter; I knew that he was foolish and ambitious, and I figured out what was coming. So I should have warned him.

With Jimmy Harrison, awareness of my contribution to his demise came late, and it came slowly. I made just three of his fights, of which he only lost two, but he got beaten up in those two. The fight he didn't lose, his draw against Kilbert Pierce, I made as a favor to Tony Petronelli; Pierce wasn't my fighter. I truly didn't care that Jimmy had had forty-one, then forty-two, and then forty-three pro bouts by the time I put him into fights. I can take partial responsibility for number forty-four too, since I was the one who introduced him as an opponent to Dennis Rappaport, Melvin Foster's manager. Dennis then put him in with another of his fighters, Oleg Maskaev, who knocked him out in four rounds. Maskaev would go on to win the WBC heavyweight title. Jimmy would go on to be knocked out in one round in his next—and last—fight.

How much of all this is on me? I really don't know. Maybe what happened is just like weather, like clouds. And maybe it's not.

The Last Time I Saw Him


image-6.jpgAt the Somerville District Courthouse 1997:

Seeing Jimmy Harrison in a suit and tie helped me recognize what an estimable presence he was. That he was still young. Within the confines of the ring, he seemed ridiculous—an old, undersized, ungifted plodder. But in the courthouse, dressed in street clothes, among everyday people, he emerged differently. He was the largest man in the room, and the most physically imposing. People took notice of him. He was no longer laughable.


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image-8.pngA Small Event and the Dream It Caused (dog sense)

I found myself unable to write this essay. I knew what I felt, but not what I had to say. I couldn't articulate how the dots connected—although I knew they did—between myself, Jimmy Harrison, and dogs. So I went to Revere Beach. It's a sad place at the end of the earth, a place I hadn't been in about fifty-five years. As a child, I went often with Ruby and Betty, though; Suffolk Downs and Wonderland were both nearby. Back then, Revere Beach was working class Italian. Vacationers rented their oceanfront bungalows during the season, crowding the beach and the boardwalk, the boulevard and the noisy amusement park. We'd eat at Doans on the Beach, high above the rocks and the surf. Now Revere is El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan. The signs are in Spanish, mostly for nail salons. But the ocean is still the ocean, so I looked at it.

Those who don't have anything often look to those who do. The further down the ladder they are, the more bald the look. Dogs are slaves mostly, so their looks signal that they're waiting for a sign or a cue. On the streets of Revere, recent émigrés from Central America watched me drive by, with a question evident on their faces—"What can I do for this man so that he will do something for me?" If my car slowed down even a little bit, they would take a tentative step in my direction.

Why would someone want to be the king of nothing? It makes me heartsick that some part of me still does want that.

Dogs look to someone else. Jimmy Harrison looked to someone else. The poor people in Revere look to someone else. That doesn't mean that, when no one turns up with what you think you need, you don't do what you can on your own. You do.

If you're taught to not look to anyone but yourself for instruction, you become a fool, of course. But you might also become something else. If you're unlucky, you might become the one the other fools look to.

(The thing is, in Puerto Rico, women wear a ton of perfume. When you're living there, you think, "God, how can they stand it?" But once you leave, once you're back in the States, back in a different life, if you pass a Puerto Rican woman on the street, her perfume takes you back, and you long for the place, not necessarily just its women. You miss the island itself, and all its millions of competing, conflicting scents. You miss yourself, for who you were then, even though you were reckless and stupid.

A decade passes. You go back for a short stay. Like any dog, you unerringly find your way to every place you ever knew there.)

So here I was on Revere Beach Boulevard, looking at the Atlantic Ocean. I did that for a while, then got into my car and drove safely back to Newton Centre, undoubtedly still a fool, but perhaps having not done anything foolish this time.

I'd dodged a bullet, I thought, until I fell asleep and had this dream.

I had taken a couple of losers to the whorehouse. The losers were out of shape old guys, really disgusting and disreputable looking characters (although "important" in some way). They were wearing towels around their flabby middles. For some reason, I had my shirt off and was wearing a cowboy hat. In real life, I hadn't had my shirt off in public or worn a cowboy hat since the age of three. I told the Korean woman who ran the place, who appeared to be a business associate, "This visit isn't for me; it's for my friends." She said, "But look at you. You look great." For some reason, I didn't have my sixty-two year old body; I had my forty-five year old body (which had been an incredible body). I assumed that I was wearing the cowboy hat because I no longer had hair (which is true in real life). I said, "I think I'm wearing this so that nobody can see that I'm bald." She answered, "Are you crazy? You have a beautiful head of hair. You're wearing the cowboy hat because you're just a little boy. But you're still going to fuck me, I hope."


Some of What I Learned from Dogs & Jimmy Harrison

It's taken me a long time to figure this out, and I have yet to entirely adopt it, but one of us is no better than the other. Aptitude is something, but it's not the only thing; maybe just a smallish piece of the puzzle. The average dog is smarter than the average man in some ways that actually matter. They matter once you enter the flow of dog sense, dog smart. Entering that flow connects you with a vibrant network that you might otherwise miss. When you begin to closely observe a dog's enthusiasm toward whatever presents itself, its determination to get to the heart of what it's studying, and its devotion not only to its tribe but to meaningful ritual, you realize that you've got a lot to learn.

Jimmy Harrison had a lot of dog sense. I wasn't smart enough to see it when I knew him, but I see it now.

Look, there are intelligent and highly educated people, mostly male, mostly white, who look into the sky and see space stations and colonies on Mars, rocket ships and docking modules, robots and accessories. They see ways to spend your money in order to figure out the atmospheric configuration of an asteroid millions of light years away. This is all a sophisticated form of human progress—the interest is in the name of progress, of moving ahead, always, gazing vertically to project horizontally. For dogs, each pebble on earth, if they can see and sniff it, resonates with narrative. If you look up at the stars, you feel mystery and awe; you feel tiny, yet connected. No money gets spent. You'll never go there. You don't want to go there. You think, "I am in the flow of this big thing." Or you don't think it, but are in it. You don't evolve, you don't grow. You are born, you live your life, and you die.

Maybe the difference is that, in one instance, you are always projecting, trying to imagine what things can be, and, in the other, you live entirely with things as they are. Even when meditating, I spend too much time thinking about what my meditation is—which means that I'm thinking about what it is supposed to do. Nico, who always curls up in my lap when we meditate, knows it's a meaningful time, but he doesn't try to figure out why it is. Who is the more successful meditator?

Jimmy Harrison, The Good Loser, would always be squarely in the middle of wherever he found himself. It didn't seem odd to him that one day he'd be at the Somerville Boxing Gym, another, fighting and prodigiously bleeding in front of thousands of people at the Capital Center in Washington, DC, then suddenly out of boxing, selling a panhandlers' newspaper on the streets of downtown Boston. I don't know if it seemed odd to him that, once again back in the Somerville Boxing Gym, in the midst of hitting the heavy bag, his heart stopped and he died.

Does it seem odd to a dog when his heart stops?

Or do you just live and live and live and live, and then die? And from then on be dead.

I was, and am still, an impatient—and poor—learner; it is hard for me to be squarely in the middle of wherever I find myself, although I have often found myself in improbable places where I might have benefited from being entirely present. But, unlike dogs and unlike Jimmy Harrison, I've often often wondered at finding myself where I was. Wondering put me in the middle of nowhere. Late as I came to knowing how to do it, I'm finally sometimes squarely in the middle of wherever I find myself. I learned that from dogs.


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For Ruby & Betty

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