A Voice From the Past
Short Fiction Story by JC Scull
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When I got up from bed at nine Saturday morning, I noticed a text sitting in my cellular that read, “J — I called earlier, but your phone went into voice mail. Call me back…urgent! H.”
That was the message from Hanna, one of the few women boxing judges I have ever come across. Tough babe. Curled up nose, jet black hair and brown eyes. Back a bunch of years ago we used meet at Andy’s Tavern on 9th Ave. and East 19th St. Not too bad a looker then, specially when she wore high heels with a pair of tight blue jeans and a low-cut blouse.
One thing for sure; a body that was solid as a rock. I am sure she still holds her own, even though I haven’t seen her in about 12 years. We’ve kept in touch by emails, a quick call or an occasional text. Usually nothing more than a holiday greeting or to catch up on things.
The word ‘urgent' sounded rather ominous, so I thought I’d give her a call right away. As usual, she answered her cellular within the first couple of rings. As soon as I heard her say hello, I said, “Hey Hanna, this is Jay. What’s going on?”
“Hey, back at you Jay. Thanks for calling back right away. Get ready for this. Vicks VaporRub died three days ago in the joint,” she said all that in one breath. This was the same matter-of-fact tone she always uses. You’d think she would be a little more somber, but that wasn’t Hanna’s style.
Vicks VaporRub was Victor Gomez, a well known pug from the neighborhood who ended up in Rahway for robbing a liquor store and in the process, accidentally shooting and killing his partner.
Back when he was actively trying to make a living out of boxing, he’d gotten that nickname because of his penchant for rubbing the stuff all over himself before getting in the ring. People knew he was on his way as the smell of eucalyptus oil preceded him. Of course, the fact that his first name was Victor and most people called him Vick this particular sobriquet made sense.
Back some twenty years ago, I not only knew him from around the neighborhood but also met him in the ring twice. Once in an unofficial club match that Johnny Malloy, the owner of the 100 Deuce gym put together. The other, about two years later, an eight round North American Boxing Federation sanctioned bout in the welterweight class.
The unofficial bout at the Deuce was a Saturday morning promotional Malloy usually put together in order to advertise his place and make a couple of bucks on the side. There were always a few side bets wagered, plus he would charge three dollars for admission. Not too many people would show, with the exception of some of the kids in the neighborhood plus some of the regulars, but the side bets were what Johnny was after.
In both cases I came out the winner. Vicks was pretty much unprepared for both fights, plus truth be told, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In the first place he was obstinate and extremely visceral; he fought with his gut not his brain. Needless to say, he never had a strategy.
In the first bout he ran out of gas in the fourth round and gave up. The second time we met on the canvas, I noticed right away, he was a little soft around the middle. That gave me a good target to go after. To top it off, he was cross-eyed from the time he went into a whorehouse down by Riverside and in true Vicks fashion tried to manhandle a prostitute and then headed for the door without paying her.
She chased him down the street, caught up with him, and shot him between the eyes with a .22 caliber pistol. The bullet hit him on the forehead right above where the nose begins. In medical terms, this area is called the glabella. Fortunately for Vicks, the angle of the bullet, combined with the small caliber, was such that it literally bounced off.
He spent a couple of days in the hospital, but that was about it. Except the gunshot made him cross-eyed for the rest of his life. I am not entirely sure about the science behind his strabismus or cross-eye condition, but suffice it to say that was another weakness I could exploit when we met on the canvass the second time. Basically, I switched to southpaw so that I could jab and move to the right, to where I thought his vision was not the best.
The strategy seemed to have worked. Vicks VaporRub did not come out at the bell on the fifth. He had swung wildly for four rounds and hardly touched me. I, on the other hand, punished the left side of his face, and whenever he tried to go for a right hook, I castigated his liver with body blows. Of course, he was also severely out of shape, again. All the partying and boozing had taken a toll on his body.
Most people think boxers are not all that smart. That if they could do something else they would. Not only that, they figure getting hit on the head a few thousand times cannot possibly be conducive to the maintenance of healthy brain cells. Well, this is true. Avoid getting hit as much as possible. That was always my strategy. My approach was always to get on the bicycle — stick and move — don’t stand around waiting to get hit. Counter punch only after you have proactively and efficiently slipped punches. These are the things Johnny the Tulip used to tell me to do in order to keep my face intact. Believe me, the Tulip knew his stuff, and I am a good listener and quick learner.
The reality is that the smart boxers outperform the rest. Boxing is a real science. That’s why it’s called the “sweet science”. When on the canvas, fighters are looking for the perfect balance between hitting and not getting hit. They have to be smart enough to analyze their opponent in order to formulate and implement a strategy. Even if a fighter has a brilliant manager that does a lot of this for him, he has to be able to process the information and execute the action plan.
Some boxers are naturally street-smart with outstanding situational awareness. The moment they walk into the ring they begin to assess the crowd, the opponent, his managers, even the third person in the ring — the referee.
They are also passionate and determined. They have heart and are fearless. Qualities that often time transcends all else, even impeccable training. But boxing is not only about intelligence and physical prowess. It is also about finesse, ring positioning, footwork, swagger, breathing control and courage.
When two pugilists are in the ring, they are performing an intricate dance of anticipation, emotional control, reflexes and muscle memory. In the ring, boxers innately deal with a sport full of paradoxes; rage versus patience; tactic versus instinct; power versus subtleness; exuberance versus respect.
In the ring, time stops. When you are in the zone, the action around you becomes as a film in slow motion. When this happens you can anticipate your opponent’s moves. The mentally strong boxers are dispassionate and understand you don’t need to hate the man on the other side of the ring in order to destroy him. And when you can get into this mental state of mind, it becomes much easier to do what needs to be done.
These are some of the dimensions of boxing no one taught Vick. Fighting for him was strictly a way of making a few bucks. I am sure he had potential at the beginning. When he first showed up at the gym wanting to be a fighter, his street-kid swagger might have signaled his capacity to take as well as dole out punches.
Unfortunately, there is a lot more to boxing than merely being a tough guy. It takes intensive training. A fighter must build endurance, strength, agility and speed. Most importantly, boxing principles. A boxer must be able to slip punches, utilize the various strikes ranging from hooks to upper-cuts to straights and crosses. Finally, a pug needs a good manager and trainer.
I am sure Vick did not get a sufficient dose of this type of training. It is also possible his manager did not see him as a viable candidate for the higher ranks of the sport and used him as a guy that would fill in when needed. Someone that could be put up against a boxer who had greater potential. A journeyman if you will.
Although I was not close to Vick and had not heard of him in decades, I was curious as to how his murder had gone down in jail. So I asked Hanna to provide me with more details. She said:
“Jay, I am really not sure how it happened. All I can tell you is that his sister Hortencia called me Wednesday to give me the news. Apparently, he got shanked by one guy who was in for murder and doing life. You know, the type of character who has nothing else to lose. What are they gonna do to him, anyway. Keep his corpse in jail another forty years after he croaks?”
Originally published in LetterPile.
JC Scull occasionally writes short stories and flash fictions. Some short stories are of a historical nature. Others are pure fiction. View more of his work at https://medium.com/@jules000120
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