Last night I attended an amateur boxing event in Seattle’s Central District. With the exception of some terribly immature college shenanigans it was my first time attending a live boxing event, and it was spectacular.
The CD is a unique corner of Seattle, so very different from the other neighborhoods where most of my friends live and play. Sadly, the Great North-West can often feel a lot like the Great North-White, and my favorite part of last night was the crowd: a tremendously diverse, richly colored mixture.
There were blacks and whites and browns; straights and gays and maybe one or two who are still deciding; families whose children were running about like pleasantly lost puppies; thugs thugging in hoodies and dark sunglasses and over-sized Seahawks jackets; Mexicans chattering excitedly in Spanish, nervously fingering the rosary beads around their necks and eating hot-dogs.
An androgynous DJ wearing a neon-printed In Loving Color t-shirt kept spinning The Message by Grandmaster Flash. A black woman with curled red hair screamed at the boxers in the same tone one usually reserves to indicate the presence of fire or the apocalypse.
There was so much color and character and noise and bustle, all of it good-natured and communal, that for a period I felt like I was no longer in Seattle.
There were a lot of amazing things to look upon: one could write multiple novels, but in lieu of that I’ve decided to put down some of my thoughts in a series of vignettes below. I realize it’s a wordy approach so feel free to jump about however you’d like; if you don’t get through it all in one shot come back and check it out again another time.
As general background: the event took place at the Garfield Community Center on Cherry and 24th. Inside a full-sized ring had been set up and around it there were folding chairs and a set of bleachers. Over the night there were ten fights; each was three rounds long. Two of the fights were between Juniors, which meant the rounds were only 1-minute long; otherwise each round lasted 3-minutes.
Most of the boxers were black or Hispanic, though a few were white. Two were girls, 12-year-olds boxing in the 85-pound weight class. The heaviest fighters were in the 178-pound class. All of the boxers were young, in their late teens or early twenties. At its fullest there were probably a couple hundred people in the crowd, all of whom seemed good natured and appreciative and ready to cheer on their favorite.
Like any sporting event the evening must commence with singing the national anthem. A man at a small drum kit kicks out a beat while a woman at a keyboard knocks out a funky, Stevie-Wonder-esque melody. The crowd starts to loosen and warm; some people start clapping and a few begin dancing. Then suddenly, without warning or explanation, from outside the gym a 25-member all black choir marches in.
They’re dressed in jeans and white shirts and come strutting in slowly, funking to the mood, punching out their arms on the down-beat as if they were boxers themselves. The crowd starts going wild, jumping and bouncing along. As staff hold apart the ropes the choir slowly enters the ring singing a spiritual about fighting in God’s army.
One of the singers, a large overweight woman, trips over the ropes and tumbles onto the mat. But fear not: this is not a novice choir, and no one misses a note, even the woman who’s on the mat. An Asian woman with a t-shirt that says STAFF rushes into the ring and tries to help the lady up. However, as I mentioned the fallen woman is large, so large in fact that she’s not the sort who will be raised by only one person. Others pitch in, four or five of them surround her, and after a few moments struggle she’s righted.
It is the first and only downed fighter of the night.
A young latin boxer named Miguel gets pounded by a young latin boxer named Balthazar. Between rounds Miguel is inspected by the doctor, a white woman in her early 50’s, sharp-featured and serious-looking.
She asks Miguel questions, looks in his eyes and asks more questions. Shaking her head sideways with pursed lips she signals to the referee. The fight is called.
Miguel is young, no more than 16 or 17, and so upset by the decision that he forgets about sportsmanship and tries to walk out of the ring; his manager grabs him and forces him to stay until the announcer has called the results.
In the opposite corner Balthazar raises his hands and dances in place.
A young hippie couple sits down across from me. They’ve clearly just finished getting high and shopping for men’s woven alpaca pullovers in the East Asia department at Value Village.
Though there are plenty of chairs available the girl chooses to sit on the floor between the guy’s legs, and he proceeds to rub her back for the entirety of the night in a motion not unlike a cook tossing a pizza dough: rolling at the waist like a rotating socket wrench, his whole body swaying as his hands turn and spin across her back.
The girl smiles upwards, boyish and goofy, her stoned eyes hooded and dreaming.
In the ring two young boxers struggle and push. They aren’t boxing as much as grappling, each attempting but failing to find enough space in which actually to throw a punch.
Behind me in the audience a man yells, his voice squeezed and nasal and deep-pitched and black, definitively black. I know the color of his skin just from that voice because only black people possess such distinctive instruments.
“Quit slapping him boy. Hit him!“
I’m sitting near a large contingent of supporters for a fighter named John. They all call him Johnny, cheering him, encouraging suggesting advising. Hearing his name repeated so frequently—Come on Johnny! Stay off the ropes Johnny! Hands up Johnny!—I can’t not think of The Karate Kid and am tempted to yell, Sweep the leg Johnny!, but fear their wrath enough to remain silent.
Johnny’s trainer is a stocky, thick-armed, neckless man in his early 40’s who resembles a run-over version of the actor Jeremy Renner. His flattened anvil nose suggests he’s been between the ropes plenty himself.
He tweaks about ringside, veins popping like small rivers atop his forearms and biceps. He does not possess what my first-grade teacher liked to call an “inside voice,” and seems capable of communicating only through yelling, whether to Johnny or his girlfriend or an assistant who stands two feet away.
Johnny is not a consistent fighter. He flurries and hurries and scurries but he’s too far behind and loses the decision. Around me folks grow silent, disappointed, unsure how to respond. Johnny droops his head and looks away. On the steps descending from the ring his trainer punches the air and yells Fuck!
The next fighters are called out.
Beside me sit two young boys, six or seven years old. Like me this is their first boxing match. They’re so excited that their cheeks are flushed fire-engine red and neither of them can stay seated.
As the boxing begins the boys want to cheer but don’t know what they’re supposed to yell. Wisely, they listen to what others are crying out; after a couple rounds these little parrots have figured out how to squawk along in their warbling boys’ voices—Stay off the ropes! Keep your hands up! Get out of the corner! Neither knows what they’re saying, but they’re sincere and giving it their all, and that’s enough for me.
The boys are very excited to root for individual boxers. Unfortunately, neither of them know anything about the fighters and both are having a difficult time reading the program. Luckily, they quickly realize that boxing can be followed like roulette: you pick one of two colors and yell like mad hoping it’ll come up.
After they figure this out each chooses a side—I want Red; I think Blue’s going to win—and then compete with one another with the intensity of their cheering, two tiny-bodied proxies for those taking real punches in the ring.
As the boxers sweat and punch the boys begin to scream, jumping out of their seats and yelling at one another,
We’re winning! We’re winning!
A mixed Hispanic-Native American kid named Memo beats on a kid from a local club. The program says that Memo boxes for a club called Nation of Outlawz. That is not a misspelling on my part.
Memo’s trainer is a squat, fat Native American with acned skin and a wide pancake face. The trainer wears yellow gym shorts, white sneakers and a black sleeveless t-shirt. He has a thick white bandana tied across his brow; beneath this sits a pair of slender wire-rimmed sunglasses that only display the neon pink of their lenses. Down his back a thick ponytail hangs to his waist. Thin, poorly drawn tattoos slink in sad pools across both his forearms.
Unlike others around him who are yelling and cheering, during the fight the trainer does not speak. Between rounds he wets Memo’s head with a sponge. He leans close to the boxer and appears to be calmly whispering in his ears.
As the fight resumes he watches impassively, his face betraying the same excitement he might feel were he to read the phone book.
The fight is over, and rather than wait for the announcement and congratulate his boxer the trainer walks calmly out of the gym. He does not return to the training room to await Memo there. He simply leaves through the back door that leads directly to the parking lot outside. One can only imagine what affairs he was off to tend.
Memo walks through the gym alone, tall and thin and sweating. Having just won this fight he’s smiling wide and bright, his face beaming like a welcoming lighthouse. He walks with confidence and pride, and has slowed his gait and bobs his shoulders in a well-earned swagger. People stop him to offer congratulations, to bump his fist or give a half-hug.
For a moment he’s a king, and I hope he never forgets it.
A huge trainer leads out his boxer. The trainer is massive, the sort of man who causes eclipses. To the lapel of his warm-up jacket his iPhone is somehow affixed. In his ear a black rectangular Bluetooth device sparkles like an oversized earring.
I try and imagine what call he might be expecting, to say nothing about why he might answer the phone while his fighter is boxing. I can think of nothing except that it’s most likely there to convey a sense of status: I’m the sort of man who gets important phone calls at all hours of the day.
That sort of crap makes me want to pull the thing from his ear and step on it as if it were a bug. But as this man is large enough to step on me as if I were a bug, I remain in my seat.
Sitting by himself is a very large muscular man wearing a long-sleeved yellow athletic top. As two boxers flail at one another he yells, There you go! There you go! There you go!
This is all he yells, and he cries it over and over. Throughout the duration of the entire three rounds he stays in his seat yelling, There you go!
The boxers are divided into color-coded corners, Blue and Red. This man is wearing yellow and does not appear to associate his There you go!‘s with either one.
After the match he stands and walks out of the room.
There you go.
In the crowd sits a girl: olive skinned and almond eyed, with the gentle demeanor of a field-grown daisy. There’s nothing fancy about her, only a simple Midwestern everyday plainness that I’m a sucker for, and in the time it takes for my eyes to notice her I’m crushed.
I’d tumbled into a classic example of what fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco terms a Love TKO, which, come to think about it, would have been a topically appropriate song for the DJ to spin. But as I said she was digging that Grandmaster Flash, and instead of Teddy Pendergrass’s smooth soulful sentiments we were stuck once again hearing, Don’t push me/cause I’m close to the edge, an edge that, having now heard it sung about for the fortieth time, I was sympathizing with in a way I’d never before done. At that point I was just trying not to lose my head.
I can’t explain why this girl stole my eye—maybe I’m one of those people who like escaping into their imaginations, or possibly it’s simply because I’m a guy with guy-based hormones—but then again, who can understand the intricacies of a crush?
More importantly, who cares to understand them? Crushes are to be enjoyed, not explained away, and there’s no gain in wasting time over-analyzing.
Looking at her sitting there on the bleachers my mind begins whirling. I start thinking about woodfires and heavy-handled coffee mugs and scratchy wool sweaters, the sound of leaves crunching underfoot and the smells of wetly shoveled earth. I’m thinking about home, rural Michigan, and for a moment I honestly want to take her back with me and present her before my grandmother, and maybe, just maybe, feel like I’ve finally become what she always hoped I would.
There’s something about this woman that reminds me of others I’ve had crushes on. One I vaguely recall from junior high and another from my time in college. Truth is I can’t remember either of their names or any other distinctive details: far too many years have passed and those memories have become ice cubes in my hands. But none of that matters anyway, because all I’m really doing is remembering how it feels to fall under another’s spell.
I don’t know how others live their crushes but for me they feel like a tumbling, as if I’ve tripped over a soft root and fallen into a very warm, welcoming hole. The Freudian-inclined may hear sex in my imagery, but I don’t intend it. For me a crush is less about loins and more about loving, a deep ringing loving that lasts however long it lasts but all the while assures you in the core of your bones that you’re alive.
It’s a powerful thing what a woman will do to a man’s imaginative heart, right there in the Garfield Community Center as young men punch one another silly and children scream on in full-throated delight.