by Thomas Donovan
Back in the fifties Friday night was usually a fight night. This particular Friday I had a scheduled four rounder at Sunnyside Garden in Queens NY. This was supposed to be a milk run. The guy was an older, over the hill welterweight looking for a payday. The way that works was, the payday knew he was in the ring for some bucks and I was there to climb another rung on the ladder.
In case you think I didn’t feel anything for the payday you’re wrong. There’s a ten year window in the fight game, if you don’t do well in the first half of that, you’re heading toward the payday status. We all knew that, it’s just the way it was. You gave your all for a chance at the big time. So when you stepped in that square circle, you better be prepared. My plan was to get two rounds of boxing in, then put him on the canvas in the third. Evidently he had a plan too.
Every so often a payday on the down side of his career would decide for some reason or other he was going to put on the fight of his life. Maybe his family or loved ones were in the crowd, who knows? Well damned if this wasn’t one of those nights. The fight wasn’t pretty. The first round he surprised me with a head butt and a low blow that the ref didn’t pick up. Round two he kept tying me up and scraping the lacing on his gloves across my brow trying to make the cut from the head butt bleed into my eye.
Caught him with a few good body shots at the end of the second round, so he was hurting and out of breath. I was sitting on the stool in the corner waiting for the bell to start the third round when Mickey O stepped up.
“Hey kid, you give up on your boxing career so soon? Put this clown to sleep and quit dragging it out.”
Mickey O and his brother Jimmy were local tough guys and close friends of my uncle. They owned a bar right across the street on Queens Blvd. A few years back Mickey and Jimmy did a dance with the Woodside Savings bank and were arrested for relieving said bank of a considerable amount of cash. They were never positively identified. No money was ever recovered, so they were convicted on charges of carrying a concealed weapon. Jimmy drew four years of which he served two; Mickey drew six of which he did three.
Funny thing happened. When Jimmy got out, somehow he found a pile of money to open a bar and named it Mickey O’s after his brother. When the gates open for Mickey, he and Jimmy ran the place together. It was a blue-collar joint, frequented by cops, firemen, sanitation workers and railroad men from the Sunnyside yards. Mickey O’s was one of those friendly neighborhood places that still bought back after a couple and never had any trouble.
Anyway, the bell sounded for the third round and I put the payday on the canvas for the count. They raised my hand. I climbed out of the ring and headed for the shower.
A guy stepped out in the aisle blocking my way, poked a finger in my chest and told me, “Didn’t look too good out there pal. Maybe you should have stayed an amateur.”
Every once in a while assholes like this would show up, I pushed him out of the way and kept going.
Dressed and cleaned up, I headed over to Mickey O’s as usual for a beer, which I really didn’t want or need. You see Mickey came to all my fights. So, to not stop at his place after fighting, which was right across the street, would be considered a slight. You don’t slight people who come to all your fights if you have any class.
In local bars like Mickey O’s, there were some simple rules if you want respect and to be welcomed back. Number one, its poor behavior to leave on a buy back, if the bar buys a round, you always bought another whether you wanted it or not. Number two, if you planned to come back to Mickey’s sometime, don’t get sick in the bar. Number three was the most important rule, no fighting in the joint. If you had to, take it on the road. Mickey and Jimmy didn’t want any of their cop friends and patrons showing up on a nuisance call.
The bar was old school with the proper smell of stale beer and spilled whisky. A brass foot rail ran along the bottom of the long mahogany stick. Padded seats with backs lined the bar, none of the newer hard wooden crap. Mirrors and sports memorabilia all around, and over the center of the bar was a huge picture of Mickey and Jimmy with the Manassas Mauler, Jack Dempsey. The photograph was draped with a pair of gloves gifted from Dempsey’s knockout of Louis Firpo.
Half a dozen guys in the place, Mickey was sitting at the end of the bar with a cup of coffee, and as usual Jimmy’s working the stick. I waved to Mickey, Jimmy poured me a beer, I grabbed a chair and sat next to a couple of the locals I knew. They were all congratulating me on the knockout, when through the door came the jerk that poked his finger in my chest back at Sunnyside Gardens. He had two friends with him, spotted me right away and then sat close enough so I could hear all his wiseass remarks.
The guy began talking loudly about the fights he watched that night and of course the only lousy one was my welterweight prelim. He went on about how shitty a fighter I was and he could probably have done better himself. Then he came over, asked me how I was doing and wanted to buy me a beer, I lifted my glass and told him I was only having one, maybe next time, which he took exception to.
The loud talking and ragging on me went on for a while, so I know it was time to leave before things got ugly. I saw Jimmy whisper something to Mickey, he nodded his head and out of nowhere, Jimmy announced last call and turned the overhead lights on. Now it was only 11:30 and Mickey O’s was usually open until 2AM. Workers on the 4 to mid. shifts were always stopping in for a few after they knocked off, so I was surprised, but hey, it was their place.
The bar cleared out, the loudmouth and his two buddies finished up and got ready to leave. Jimmy was at the door. He let the two buddies out when the jerk made the mistake of walking back to me to spit out some more wise-ass remarks. Jimmy closed the door keeping loudmouth’s buddies outside, threw the bolt and pulled down the window shade. The only people left in the bar now were, Mickey, Jimmy, me, the swamper, and the loudmouth.
I could feel the hair on the back of my neck standing up as Mickey got off his stool and walked over to the fool. This was definitely not good. The mouth was either too stupid or too drunk, to realize how bad things were about to get.
Mickey spun the guy around to face him. Mickey’s was 5 ft. 10 in. and built like a truck. The mouth was well over 6 ft. Mickey looked him up and down and told him, “You must be one tough sonofabitch.”
Turning to his brother he says, “Whatta you think Jimmy? This guy tough or what?”
The mouth, seeing he’s alone in the bar, turned pale and tried to sidle around Mickey, who was blocking his way to the door. Mickey wasn’t having any of that and pushed him so his back was to the bar.
“I know you’re a tough guy because I’ve been listening to your bullshit for the last hour or so.”
Mickey pointed at me, “You’ve been saying some rather unkind things about my friend over there. In respect for Jimmy and me, the kid has ignored you and not scattered your teeth and blood all over my bar. But you crossed the line and now your shitty behavior needs to be addressed.”
I started to say something to Mickey, but he held his hand up.
“Sit down and shut up” he told me. This is my bar and I have something to discuss with this piece of shit.”
Turning back to the mouth he said, “I got one question for you, asshole.” Mickey reached in his jacket Mickey pulled out a pistol and racked the slide putting a shell in the chamber. He then rammed the barrel under the mouth’s chin, “Now tell me slick, just, how, goddamn tough are you?” The asshole’s knees were giving way, but the pistol under his chin was propping him up. I know Mickey’ had his attention though, because the front of the mouth’s trousers was suddenly wet and a pool of water was accumulating around his shoes.
The jerk didn’t answer. His lips were moving but no intelligible sounds were coming out. Mickey pushed the pistol into the guy’s cheek, hard enough to ram his head back over the bar. “Can’t hear you tough guy. Jimmy, can you believe this asshole? Talking shit all night and suddenly he’s a mute.”
The mouth’s legs are starting to wobble and he’s having trouble standing.
“Mickey is not letting up, Alright tough guy, listen to me very carefully. You’re never, ever, to come into this bar again. You got that?” The mouth tried to say something, but the pistol continued to inhibit his speech in more ways than one. “In fact, I don’t even want to see you in the neighborhood, understand?” The mouth nodded his head.
Mickey then stuck the pistol in the mouth’s ear and the guy slumped to the floor, “Now get outta here, you gutless bastard.” The asshole’s was having trouble getting to his feet so he crab walks to the door holding on to the lower bar rail for support. Jimmy opened the door and he was gone.
“Mickey handed Jimmy the pistol, “Ice it, get the swamper up here with a mop, and open her back up.” Jimmy and the pistol disappear. A few minutes later he was back with the swamper who mopped up the piss. Jimmy flipped up the shade, unlocked the door, turned the overhead lights off and the bar was open for business again. He stepped behind the stick just as people started coming in. Mickey walked back to his seat at the end of the bar, sat down and shouted “Goddamn it Jimmy, my coffee’s cold.”
I started to say something to Mickey and he stopped me, “Hey, I don’t tell you how to handle your business in the ring? You don’t tell me how to handle my business in my bar and were going to get along just fine.”
“Works for me” I told him.
“OK kid, listen, you’re solid, I watched you ignore all his asshole remarks. I would have let it go as well, until Jimmy told me he overheard the jerk telling his friends he was going to try and sucker punch you when you weren’t looking. That’s not happening in my bar”
Clapping me on the shoulder, Mickey smiled and hollered, “Jesus Jimmy, give the kid a fresh beer, and get me a goddamn hot cup of coffee for Christ’s sake.”