The day he was to fight Ingemar Johansson for the first time, Floyd Patterson, then 24, had three eggs scrambled soft, double order of bacon, double toast buttered, three cups of jelly, tea and Coke for breakfast. Bunyan, a sparring partner he was playing rummy with, had three pork chops, spinach, mashed potatoes, double bread, large orange and tea. I wrote it down in my nickel notebook (and found it there today, irrelevant and passionless as an old shopping list) not for the convenience of history but so I could order it from room service. Patterson was staying at the Edison, a midtown New York hotel where he had been since he left Ehsan's Training Camp in Chatham Township, N.J. the night before, conveyed in a gloomy Cadillac with windows tinted like Coca-Cola bottles. It was the official car of the mayor of Mount Vernon, N.Y., a suburb where Patterson's parents and many of his 10 brothers and sisters live in a house Floyd has bought for them. The mayor was, in a word, expansive, and as Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, once said of someone else, "he used to be a former fighter." The Cadillac was driven by a Mount Vernon policeman who wore a tight and glorious uniform which was much admired. Two Mount Vernon detectives, one Negro, one white, rode shotgun. They were to serve Patterson as bodyguards; that is, they prevented well-wishers from shaking his hand on the theory that some wise guy, gambler, nut or agent of the International Boxing Club, which D'Amato was battling at the time, would try to crunch it. Patterson, like many other prizefighters, offers a soft, gentle, inert and vulnerable hand. It is like shaking hands with an infant or the dead. You have to do all the work.
That afternoon Patterson sat by an open window, flowered drapes billowing at his back, watching an old cowboy movie on the TV as he ate breakfast and played cards. He wore a T shirt with the mythical city of Everlast, N.Y. advertised on the front, and pajama bottoms. Someone knocked on the door: "Knock, Knock for Knickerbocker." It was the secret knock. Knickerbocker Beer had sponsored a radio show from Ehsan's. Floyd always knocked for the commercial, seriously rapping a table with his dark fist. It was Cus at the door. He said the fight was postponed; it had been raining all morning. "Of all the days in the world it has to rain," Floyd said. "Buster, do me a favor and call my mother and tell her not to come down, that the fight's off." Buster Watson was, ex officio, Patterson's assistant trainer. He had a round, shaved, shining head, a sharp wardrobe, which included a plaid trench coat, and a Cadillac he wouldn't let you touch. He said it left fingerprints. "I sure wish I was a pigeon," Buster said, looking out the window. "I fly around and see what's going on." "Can't they hire a man to wipe the seats?" Floyd asked plaintively.
The next day, the day of the fight, we—meaning Dan Florio, Patterson's trainer, Buster, Bunyan, Floyd and I—went for a walk in Central Park. As though Floyd were the Pied Piper, an increasingly numerous band of strangers tagged along. One man asked Floyd how much the seats to the fight cost. "For $5," Floyd told him, "you need spyglasses. For $10 you need regular glasses, but Ingemar and I will look like ants. For $30 you can see the blows but no facial expressions. For $40 you can see our facial expressions. For $50 you get the real blow-by-blow, and for $100, when I get off my stool you can set right down on it." Floyd watched a woman in the park tear up a newspaper she had been reading and leave the remains on the bench. "Evil people," he said. "She tore that paper in half so no one could read it. You'd think people'd grow up and learn, but they don't." As we walked back to the hotel, Dan kept trying to get Floyd to wear his hat although it was a mild day. Dan was more than a trainer; he was a nanny, a major-domo. After he fired the cook at Ehsan's because, among other things, he could only cook meat one way—burned—he and Buster did the cooking. Dan was an obliging, solicitous, tidy little man. He would be in the kitchen late at night wrapping steaks for the freezer. "If I don't know what Floyd's doing," he said, "it rests my mind." On weekends, when Ehsan's was crowded with reporters, Cus's friends and hangers-on, many of whom wanted to be fed, Dan's good nature was put to the test. "This is a hell of a time to make a sandwich when I'm squeezing oranges for the champion of the world," he told a visitor one time, "but I'll do it." Among the visitors was a certain species of person from Harlem Floyd called "125th-Streeters." They were full of flash, schemes, moves, easy confidences, talk and laughter. "They're bad people," Floyd said. One 125th-Streeter, at Ehsan's for the day, insisted that he wanted to throw horseshoes, although Floyd patiently explained that there was no court or shoes, "unless," he said, "you want me to be a horseshoe and throw me." Once when the dining room at Ehsan's was filled with 125th-Streeters, Floyd drove to town for food to eat in his room. Dan took up pot roast on a covered plate, but Floyd petulantly refused it. Cus put some stuff in a bag and joined Floyd for dinner on his bed. "It's just like Kansas City," Cus said. In Kansas City, he explained, Floyd and he couldn't find an unsegregated place to eat so they had "picnics" in their hotel room. "I want to be accepted for what I am," Floyd has said. "If I can't be accepted legally, I don't want to be." Once a guy who was trying to impress Floyd showed him a batch of police courtesy cards and offered to get Floyd some. "Sure," Floyd said, "can you get me one of those for Mississippi and Arkansas?"
In the last year and a half I have wondered why it was Floyd lost to Johansson. Was it acedia—torpor and apathy? I remember Floyd asking himself after a workout, "Why did I look the way I did? What was the purpose? Why do I get bored? Oh, my. Even when the competition is not great a champion is supposed to show his hand." And another time: "It was kind of boring today. I been boxing these guys for two weeks. By changing sparring partners it gets more interesting. But then, I might be boring these guys, too. I know what they can do, so I'm swinging wide. I know they can't hit me." "We'll get you some fresh ones," Dan promised, but they never came. Was it, too, a kind of indolence, a kind of compassion and security of soul brought on by the hapless Roy Harris and Brian London, his previous two opponents? "When you're fighting a man," Floyd said once about Harris, "and look up in his eyes and see only flesh...." And about London: "What I heard about London, I thought he would ram, butt, kick, emasculate." Of course, London did nothing but cower pitifully behind his high, red gloves. "You don't feel right beating a man up like that," Floyd said. "Any man that's a human being feels sorry for someone that offers no opposition." A reporter once said to Floyd, "You couldn't have liked yourself after the London fight." "I didn't hate myself," Floyd said. "You were missing too much," the reporter insisted. "I wasn't missing," said Floyd, "when I got my check."
Floyd often mused about money. "I can see 20s, 50s, 100s marching around up there," he said one day, "in rotation. But I won't invest unless I get a piece of paper guaranteeing me a profit, and since they don't do that, I guess I won't be investing for a long time." But though he liked to joke, he didn't like to get hit or to miss. "I never give pain a second thought," he said. "But I hate to get hit. It's not the pain, it's the embarrassment; it even gets embarrassing to miss. I hope, though, I never have to prove I can take a punch." A reporter told him that Ingemar had knocked Eddie Machen out with a blow on the top of the head. "I'll have to look out for top-of-the-head punches then," Floyd said. He took Ingemar, if not lightly, not with gravity either. "There's no such thing as a lucky punch," Floyd told the reporters when they said that was how Ingemar had beaten Machen. "It's only a punch you don't see coming. Maybe I'll get caught nice and good and that'll wake me up."
At Ehsan's, Floyd shared a room with Buster, three portable record players and a portable TV on which, he told us in wistful wonder, "that Mike Hammer really comes up with them." When the arm of one of this record players didn't work properly, Floyd told the repairman, "It doesn't move with any grace." At night, when Floyd served us ice cream and pop in his room, Buster would tell, in his hoarse, inexhaustible voice, stories of involved outrages and foibles, and rock and writhe on the floor in his undershirt, like a beetle on its back, laughing. "I died, I died, I nearly died," Buster would gasp from the floor. On his camp bed Floyd would hold his pillow to his stomach as though, without it, his laughter, like flood water, would burst violently through.
In Floyd's room at Ehsan's in the last nights before the fight, we were:
1) Mickey Alan, a friend of Floyd's who had been a fighter and who sang, throbbingly, in obscure Queens nightclubs. His photograph, with abundant, romantic hair, appeared in their advertisements in the New York Mirror on Fridays. If Floyd won the fight Mickey was to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show with him. The day after his audition Mickey returned to Ehsan's in a triumphant blue suit he had bought for his TV debut. "I'm on the Ed Sullivan Show," he said. "Hold on," said Floyd, who often speaks like one of the Rover Boys. "Ingemar has to give you his permission. You don't make it unless I make it. You passed with flying colors. Now it's up to me."
2) Michael Giacco, a sculptor from Allentown, Pa. who was doing a bust of Floyd as one of a set of the heavyweight champions. He measured distances on Floyd's face with an immense pair of wooden calipers. He said Floyd's heroic bust was worth $750. "You mean," Floyd said, "that someone will buy my head for $750!"
3) Bunyan, sometimes, Cus and me.
While we ate Floyd's ice cream, Tiger Jones, who also was training at Ehsan's, and his trainer, Jack Friday, silently played rummy in their cottage next door. Friday had lost 50 pounds eating banana sandwiches. He was deflated, partially collapsed like the pale, mysterious rubber balls which were heaped in a bowl, much like a centerpiece, in Ehsan's dim dining room. I often wondered who had played with them. "If you scrape the bananas with a spoon," Friday said, "you get more vitamins." Friday said he had been told to lose at cards to keep the Tiger happy. He had a despairing look because he won and because his skin hung like dewlaps from eating all those banana sandwiches.
The Tiger talked of getting out of boxing and into electronics. "Electronics," he would say, "is the field with the future. Everything in the universe is controlled by electrons. Em not looking for the title any more. I can't eat it. I lost my love." The Tiger liked to talk about his flower garden in Yonkers, N. Y., for which his love was constant. He said he let his four-o'clocks overrun his gladioli so that he had flowers until the first frost. Cus and the Tiger argued why Albert Einstein had worn his hair so long. "At that age," Cus said, "Einstein regarded his appearance as unimportant." "He always regarded his work as more important than his appearance," the Tiger said. He was a minor philosopher in Bermuda shorts. "There are two words I don't like," he once said. "Normal and average. They don't mean nothing."
When a reporter described Floyd's quarters as "dilapidated" and "shabby, "Floyddefendedthem. "I like a little sloppiness," he said. "It's a nice place, conservative." Patterson was dubious, suspicious of reporters. One once asked Floyd to dinner at his home, envisioning, no doubt, a homey off-the-record atmosphere—"where I'll forget I'm a writer and you'll forget you're heavyweight champion." Floyd told me later, "I never forget I'm heavyweight champion of the world. I hope he doesn't forget he's a writer." One morning Floyd threw down a sports section he had glanced at and said bitterly: "Do you solemnly swear to condemn and criticize a man you've never seen? Today you are a reporter."
Bunyan, who had the geniality and contours of a snowman, solemnly agreed. Bunyan weighed 255 pounds, wore a new, high-domed hat, had a black eye under his sunglasses and complained about his feet. "Bunyan," Floyd told him, "you have no respect for your feet." Bunyan admired his hat. "This hat does something for me," he said. "Did you ever see an elephant with a water glass on its head?" Floyd asked me. "I came up here a wild man," Bunyan said, "and Floyd tamed me. But if I don't fight, he beats me to death. Next time I'm going to be a walking partner. But I didn't get this swollen eye from Floyd. I got it from blowing my nose." Bunyan and Floyd argued whether Finland or Sweden was the Land of the Midnight Sun. Floyd said it was Finland. "When I was in Helsinki, Finland," he said, "I slept with shutters on." Bunyan held out for Sweden. Floyd was exasperated. "Bunyan," he said, "if everybody on earth didn't have brains and you did, you'd be crazy." "I treat him like a friend," Bunyan said, "not like the heavyweight champion of the world, but sometimes he don't like that, like when I asked him to get a soda for me in town one day. When he came back he snapped his fingers and said, 'Shucks, man, I forgot.' I know he didn't forget. He was the heavyweight champion of the world. But next time he might get it for me, you know." While he had his bad eye, Bunyan was more a rummy partner than anything else. He lost at cards, too, though he cheated like everybody else. Once Floyd caught him messing with some cards Floyd had put down. "Never reach in another man's pie," Floyd told him. "Wait till he gives you a piece. Many a man has gone to the graveyard that way." "He beats me in the ring and out of the ring," Bunyan said.
Bunyan talked about knocking cops down in Toronto where he once spent some time and money. He also told about getting in a dice game for 75¢ and coming out with $299. "I broke the game," Bunyan said. "Those things will happen in an alley," Floyd said softly. Floyd knew all about alleys. He was born in the South but grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, a tough, desolate part of the city. "He was a quiet kid," Bunyan told me. "He never ran with gangs. But he didn't go to school. Where did he go? The movies, I guess, where he could sneak in. Mrs. Patterson, she had a lot of children. Couldn't watch out for them all." Floyd once told us about the time his mother sent him to the store and he got in a fight with a gang called the Fulton Street Bishops. "They hemmed me, man," he said. "They saw I had change. I had a five. If they were going to rob, you'd think they'd rob someone they didn't know. We had a fair one. He win. He hit me 35 punches but I got in two licks. But he win. So, then someone pull a knife. My brother Billy came up and hit him in the stomach. They ran back. My brother Billy was switching a stick in front of their noses. Everybody held their ground. That happened on Kingston Avenue. My goodness! You see what kind of a place Brooklyn is. I'm glad I got my mother out of there."
Floyd also told about a big boy, "a bully," at school who tried to take away an ashtray he had made in wood shop. "The big boys didn't like me," Floyd said. "The little boys liked me. I jabbed him in the belly lightly. He hit me with a right. I remember the color. It was greenish-pink. I leapt and hit him with a left hook, which was my best punch at the time, and poo-foosh, his head hit the concrete." It was a blow Floyd had learned at the Wiltwyck School, a private school for disturbed children, and it was, of course, the forerunner of the gazelle punch. "At Wiltwyck School," Floyd said, "I put on the best boxing show. Not because I was a good fighter but because mine was the most comical. I figured the best way to hit this guy was to fly through the air. He was a little guy who could beat me. The first two times he ducked and I went right over the top rope, but next time I hit him and he was wobbling." Floyd also learned to smoke at Wiltwyck. "Camels," he told us once, facetiously, "is a fighting man's cigarette. Gives you that extra round. But I never had any liquor to drink. I don't like the smell of it. If I did I might have tried it, and then I might have liked it. There was this kid at school, though, who used to spend 15 minutes a day instructing me how to smoke. I didn't like that much, either. That made the kid mad. 'I'm taking my good time to teach you how to smoke,' he'd tell me, 'and you don't go for it....' "
Floyd liked drinking tea, however. Several years ago, when he was going to England for an exhibition, he asked me whether he could get Lipton's tea there. I told him that the British are a tea-drinking people and that Sir Thomas Lipton, who invented Lipton's tea, was an Englishman. "I thought Arthur Godfrey invented it," Floyd said. "He's always talking about it." And he threw up his big hands and laughed at himself. That was at Long Pond Inn in Greenwood Lake, N.Y. Floyd used to train there and teach boxing to Satan, Geronimo, Something Wrong and Philip, which is what he called four 10-year-olds from the neighborhood. Even when he wasn't in training, he would drive up the 50 miles to give them their lessons. One day the boys didn't come. The mouthpieces Floyd had bought them remained submerged, like some elemental marine life, in mayonnaise jars. Floyd learned later that their parents thought he was exploiting the kids and had turned them against him. Floyd is still bewildered and hurt by this. "I kept track of their marks, too," he said. "They gave me their school papers, and every few months I gave a trophy to the best boy: boxing, and how he behaved, too. You know, I told those kids that just because they knew how to box, they shouldn't pick on the kids at school. I remember one day we were all walking along the road to Warwick and this crazy boy came up and grabbed this walking stick away from one of my boys. There was something wrong with this strange kid. He was sick somehow. I looked down at my boy's hand to see if he was going to make a fist and punch him but didn't say anything. If he did, all that I had tried to do wouldn't have been any good. But he didn't, and we walked on talking among ourselves." It was at Greenwood Lake, too, that one winter afternoon I watched Floyd deliberately draw dollar signs on the misted window panes. I asked him why he did it. "So I could see out," he said softly.
Three or four days before the fight, Patterson went home to Rockville Centre, N.Y., another suburb, wearing a straw hat with CHAMP painted on the crown. Bunyan and I went along. Floyd's house is on a corner, so he has two neighbors. "My wife knows this lady here," Floyd said, "and she's spoken to this one but doesn't know her." It was a summer afternoon in late June, and robins' shadows passed quickly as wind on the high grass. A lawn was being hosed next door. Floyd, Bunyan and I assembled Floyd's new power mower. We sat on the patio in the back while Floyd gave Trina, his youngest daughter, her bottle. "Jeannie," he said to his 2½-year-old, "ask Mother for a diaper." Seneca, called Jeannie, stroked her father's combat boots. "Oh, Daddy," she said, "gosh, they're pretty shoes." After she got the diaper she climbed on Bunyan's lap and fooled with his sunglasses. "Don't be so reckless, Jeannie," Floyd told her. "Horsie, horsie," said Jeannie, pointing at Bunyan. Floyd laughed. "That's no horsie," he said, "that's a human being." We had supper in the dining nook, which was papered with proverbs. Floyd cut Jeannie's ham and peered inside her mouth to make sure she chewed it all up. "Oh," said Sandra, Floyd's wife, when she brought the ham to the table, "you're not Jewish, are you?" I told her I was but it didn't make any difference.
Sandra is Catholic, and Floyd is a convert. "I never used to believe in nothing but me," Floyd told me once. "What I could see, I believed in: nothing else." When Floyd went to church at Ehsan's, they wanted him to take up the collection. Floyd declined. "I would have hit the basket against somebody's head," he said, "tripped, fell, spilled all the money."
After dinner Buster came to Floyd's house to take us back to Ehsan's in his precious Cadillac. Nobody said much all the way back: a long, private ride. Floyd slept, sunk in the front seat, his head against the door, as the car passed through Brooklyn, through the late, peculiar light of summer evening. In front of the dark red tenements of Atlantic Avenue children in their undershirts turned grave cartwheels. On the broad sidewalks, under the thick shade trees, was the idle, noisy congress, watching it get dark. Love songs roared with fitful passion from passing cars. The soft air blew across Floyd's still, sleeping, serious head, and the early neon washed his face with many colors. It was as though he were being borne, unrecognized, back through the streets he had come off, passing on a stoop the quiet, stubborn, roaming child who fathered him and sent him restlessly forth. Buster drove past old trees and poverty. Violet twilight lined the sky. As we came into New Jersey the sky was dark, the air under the trees darker yet, and with a new, deep coldness. "I want to live in the country someday," Floyd said. "You live a long, healthy, cleaner life. Life goes slowly. I want to own some horses and have a large family. I want to have a place where I can do everything myself. And whatever my sons want to become, outside of gangsters, I'll let them become."
When we got out of the car we listened to Ehsan's sheep coughing and bleating on the hill. It was night then. We wondered what the sheep talked about. Floyd said they talked about the same things we did. "I forgot to burp Trina," he said, and, in the fortress of his thoughts, trudged up the hill to bed.
Floyd had a way of isolating himself. He kept his watch an hour and a half fast. "My time is the time of my own world," he said. His training camp was never remote enough. "When I build a camp," Floyd once said, "you'll have to drive your car, then take a bus, then take a boat across a river and then walk two miles." He allowed himself few friends, chiefly from a horror of being surrounded by a vaguely parasitic entourage like Sugar Ray Robinson's. Though neither shy nor inarticulate and much more than street-smart, Floyd lived at a reserve, a blued and moody distance: through not wanting to be taken advantage of or used, he withdrew silently, by slow degree, like a snail, into his own interior. He did not sell himself, nor did he want to be sold. "God created only one Floyd Patterson," Cus said. "Cus thinks I'm Superman," Floyd said. "Sometimes I have to run away and shut the door."
Floyd is a sensitive man, full of chimerical or trivial hurts and grudges: like Buster's Cadillac, if you touched him you left fingerprints. Yet in the beginning of a relationship he was rigidly fair. According to a curious system, everyone he met was assigned 100 points, which was a maximum. Then he let each person work out his own level or score, usually much less than 100. "Some people around here are minus," he told me. "They owe me points." But he was artlessly generous. On our walks he would buy us bags of cherries, peaches, plums and line us up at fountains for sodas. It wasn't a big deal. It was, rather, the kindnesses of a friend who had more walking-around money than the next guy.
He was always free and easy with children. After each training session at Ehsan's, the long, shy line of children passed as he handed, out autographed pictures and handshakes. One day, a little boy found his way to Floyd's room, where the champion kept boxes of pictures he had laboriously autographed at night. "Do you want a picture?" Floyd asked him. "How many pictures you got?" the child asked. "You want the television?" Floyd asked. "Truthfully," the child said, "you got any pictures?" "Yes," said Floyd. "Would you like to get it yourself or you want me to get it for you?" "Get it," the child said. Another time a boy and a girl passed him on the road. The boy recognized Floyd. "Althea," he said, "I'd like you to meet Floyd Patterson." "You're kidding me," Althea said. "Can you prove it?" she dared Floyd. Floyd was thoughtful for a moment, and then grimly serious, began shadowboxing furiously.
Ehsan's was founded by Freddy Welsh, the old lightweight champion from Pontypridd, South Wales, and perpetuated by Madame Bey and Ehsan Karadag. Madame Bey's husband was in the Turkish diplomatic service until the sultan was thrown down. Then, like other Turks, he sold rugs. Ehsan, that mild, patient man with the eyes and expression of a water spaniel, came from Istanbul, stopping first at Bensonhurst. Although he was the spindle upon which the past had fallen, he didn't talk about it much, but he did show me his water pipe and the tobacco wrapped in oilskin and told me that in Turkey the strawberries are small and pink and you can smell them a mile away. Ehsan worked among his delphiniums, roses, pansies and bachelor buttons, talked to his sheep and watched television in the dark with Pesty, the cat. Ehsan's sheep bugged Floyd's sparring partners. "All the sheep do all day long is bend down," one said. "If they don't bend one way, they bend the other," another said. The sparring partners—Billy Tate, who called everyone Baby and said peeped instead of saw; Billy Tisdale; Louis Jones, who loved babies and went to the can for holding up an East Side jazz room—were city boys, and when they came down the steep road from the gym, jaunty-stepped in their heavy shoes, paperbacks never to be finished in their hip pockets, they said they were "going downstairs." Tisdale carried for a week a book called The Art of Thinking (there was, mystifyingly, a hardcover edition of the same book around Ehsan's house), but then, at what Florio announced as "the farewell dinner for the sparring partners," Tisdale said he had to be at Harvard in the morning. More mystification. "The boys were good until Floyd caught up with them," Florio said. "We're going to get a beating," one of the boys said. "Do we have to stand still, too? This ain't punch me."
At night, in his papered room at the head of the stairs, Cus D'Amato could hear the sheep talking on the hill, the dogs barking far off, the water falling, falling into the pool. Hilario Martinez dug the pool for his crocodile years ago, and Hurricane Jackson lured the heavy goldfish up from the green bottom with bread crumbs and shot them with his .22. Cus heard, too, the strange, heavy, pitiful boy who carried sardine tins in his overalls and wanted to be a prizefighter, wandering among the fireflies, practicing the parts of speech. "Veronica walks. Veronica sings. Veronica talks," he chanted. "Veronica is the noun and the subject. Walks, sings, talks are the verbs." We never learned who Veronica was. "Sick people create a world of their own, because they can't become adjusted to this one," Cus said sadly.
"I turn around and I find that I am an old man," Cus said once. "I want to accomplish something before I die."
I turned and saw him lying on his bed, splendid in gold pajamas and complicated black velvet slippers, holding the real estate section of the Sunday Times above his head as though to keep out the rain. He would soon fall asleep reading it.
"You have," I said.
"No," Cus said, "I'm just trying. I want to leave a scratch on this old stone before I leave it, like the soldiers in the war. They didn't know what to do, so they left their names all over the place. It all must end, the good and the bad. Cosi √® guerra." He told me that meant this is war or this is life. He said it was the same thing.
To soothe him I said, "Everything will be different in the morning." "Everything's exactly the same in the morning," said Cus.
"Little did I think I'd be manager of the heavyweight champion of the world," he said another time. "When I was 14 or 15 I shook hands with Jack Dempsey. I put my hand under my armpit and lined up all the kids in the neighborhood. 'Line up,' I said, 'and shake the hand that shook the hand of Jack Dempsey.' I didn't wash that hand for a week."
"I never dreamed I'd be in this position," Floyd said once. "Golden Gloves. Olympics. Who am I to complain? I became the heavyweight champion. It makes you happy to know that you're on their minds. I'm gracious and proud to accept it. That you're even on their minds...even if I never become good or great. I never thought I'd have that chance. I'm not a great champion. It's not that I haven't had sufficient fights. I haven't had the sufficient fight. Even if I do I won't be accepted. There's always going to be an excuse. I have to live with it and I'm satisfied. There'll always be something in the way. If I had fought Marciano before he retired they would have squeezed something in."
Although a fatalist, Floyd has no business with the stars. Cus is a No. 9 Capricorn, and Floyd is a No. 5 Capricorn. This meant something to Mrs. Cooper, who used to read to Cus out of an astrology book in Ehsan's dining room where there was a stuffed wood duck on the mantel with a Band-Aid around its bill. Mrs. Cooper had been a mistress of ceremonies or the leader of an all-girl orchestra, something like that; her husband did the Knickerbocker show with Floyd. "Capricorns are the taskmasters of the universe," Mrs. Cooper told Cus. "Capricorn is the goat. He moves slowly but surely, and if he falls he learns by his fall."
But if Floyd and Cus were both Capricorns, they were certainly not the same. "Floyd answers questions so simply and directly," said Cus, "they cannot get him wrong. I can't do that. I answer questions at great length so no one can misunderstand me. But I lack the diplomatic approach. I sound like a broken record." Floyd said: "With grown-ups you have to choose your words carefully so you don't mispronounce anything. That's why when I have to make a speech I say little and get to the point. Cus should've been a preacher."
Like most of us, neither Cus nor Floyd likes the way he looks. "I am not a handsome man," Cus said one day, touching briefly his magisterial face, broad and Roman with dark, rapid eyes. "So if a woman approaches me, I'm flattered. But I can't go out with her. I don't know who sent her." He also said he wouldn't drink at a bar, fearing someone would plant a marijuana cigarette in his pocket, or ride the subways because he might be pushed in front of a train. "Tyrone Power," said Floyd, "now there's an exceptionally handsome man, even with a long rabbi's beard on like I saw him in some movie." Another time Mickey was looking at a snapshot of Floyd. "It makes you look too serious," said Mickey. "What do you mean, I'm too serious?" Floyd said hotly. "Don't you think I'm serious?" He grabbed the photograph and studied it intently. "If I looked like that," he said, "everything would be all right." "But you do," Mickey said. "It's you!" "Your salary is raised," Floyd said. On another walk, when we had asked directions, a man told Floyd all he had to do was to follow his nose. Floyd laughed. Later we asked him why. "If I followed my nose," he said, "I'd go straight up." Although his hands were his trade, he must rarely have looked at them, for he had long nails like the Dragon Lady. "My goodness," he said the day he finally noticed them and began cutting them onto the floor. "I just cleaned this room," Mickey said. Floyd cut them in the wastebasket. He also said he had five gray hairs. "My wife found them," he said. "She didn't like them. She pulled them out."
Cus would tell me, before he put out the light, of the illusion of time, the fallibility of the senses and the expanding universe. On his dresser, alongside a packet of delphinium seeds he had bought for Sandra after admiring Ehsan's, was the ABC of Relativity by Bertrand Russell and The Undiscovered Self by C. G. Jung. He told me that he had had his brother drive him to Mount Palomar when Floyd was in California training for the Harris fight. "Nobody ever knew where I went," Cus said, "but the observatory was closed. I couldn't get in."
On his night table were these books, Rocks and Minerals, Trees, Photography, Sea Shores, Fishes, Weather, Birds, Insects and Flowers, in a neat pile which he would fuss with and align as he talked. He had bought Reptiles and Amphibians, too, and given it to Floyd. I once asked Floyd why he liked snakes. "Because they're so rare," he said. "Well, not so rare but because they're different from all other animals. I like their swiftness and sharpness." He also told me of a dream he had. "Bunyan was in it, too," he said. "Bunyan was simple. He was catching snakes by the tail. 'What are you doing, man?' I said. 'That's no way to catch a snake.' One snake, he had it by the neck and was choking it. And was I mad." Floyd told me how snakes catch frogs and how they eat them. "Snakes are unhappy when they don't eat," he said. "I put a medicine dropper down their throat to feed them. But if snakes don't eat, best thing throw them away." I often asked Floyd whether he had dreamed of fighting Ingemar. He said no. But he dreamed a lot about fighting. Once, when he had walked miles to a Negro barber so he could have his hair cut for the fight, Floyd fell asleep in the chair. He awoke with a violent lurch. "I dreamt I was throwing a right hook," he said. He would tell us how he used to fall asleep on the subway, years ago, going to Cus's gym. When he awoke, he said, he found everyone staring at him. Finally, he realized that he had been throwing punches in his dream. The day before he fought Ingemar, Floyd told me of a dream he had had. He said he was home after the fight and everybody was happy. "It must have ended all right," he said.
Floyd had a great sympathy for animals. Once, on a walk, I found a dragonfly on the grass and gave it to him. He put it on the back of his hand and regarded it with fascination. Then he put it back on the lawn. "It's ill," he said and walked on. We were standing in Ehsan's garage one time out of the rain when a wasp flew in. "He's trying to get out of the rain," Floyd said, swiping at it. "I want to catch him before he puts his pin in me." He also called wasps "IBC beetles." But Floyd was frightened of moths. When they fluttered palely in his room at night, he would run, panicked, about the room, hiding his head in his hands, then take a can of Gulfspray in either hand and stalk them apprehensively. Mosquitoes bothered him, too. "If you kill one," he said once at a rummy game, "a million come to the funeral." Bunyan, who was playing in the game, slapped at his arm. "I scared that one to death," he said. "I missed him, but he died anyway." When I wanted to take a walk on the road that night, Floyd wouldn't let me go. "The cats come down from the mountains at night," he said. "They already carried three people away."
Then one day it was over. The official car of the mayor of Mount Vernon pulled up to Ehsan's. "The party's over," Dan said. Beer cans were heaped in front of the gym. The ring was empty, soiled by shuffling feet and rosin. The ropes sagged with the turnbuckles loosed in the early, shabby light. On the old leather rubbing table were two taped water bottles, a jar of Vaseline, abandoned. I watched as they packed. "Well, this is it," Floyd said, looking back into his empty room: black wire hangers, mattresses, a full wastebasket.
As we left Ehsan's, Bunyan called out to Floyd: "When you're home tomorrow night lounging in your robe, I'll want you to know I'll be rousing. I mean, I'll be rousing." Of course none of us who walked with Floyd, or ate his ice cream, were.
The day after the fight, while eating his lunch in a delicatessen across from the Edison, Cus said that Floyd would be the first man ever to regain the heavyweight championship. His lunch was lox and cream cheese, Greek olives and French fries. This time I wrote it down for history.