What, Nurse? No, of course I don’t mind.
C’mon in, kid. Charlie’s down in PT, but I expect he’ll be back soon. I’m his new roommate. Haven’t seen you here before. You his boy? Thought so. You kinda favor him, around the eyes.
I don’t get too many visitors myself. Your dad won’t mind sharing one of his. Pull up a chair. See that picture on my dresser? That’s me when I was 26. My face doesn’t look like it now ‘cause I picked up a few lumps and scars along the way, but I wasn’t too bad in my prime.
23-16 and 2, with 4 knockouts. And a pair of the quickest hands in the game.
Milt Tyler, pro boxer. Just turned 83. Plus I got trouble with my eyes, so I guess I’m a retired pro boxer nowadays. Good to know you.
I had a coupla nice wins against some real talent back then, but if you ask me what was my greatest moment in the ring, that’s easy.
March 2, 1957 against Bobby Courchesne. Knocked me out in the third round.
I was thinkin’ about movin’ up to welterweight at the time. I’d gone 17-9 as a lightweight. Quick enough, but I didn’t have the wind to keep it up for six rounds, so my manager — Yeah, manager. Andy, he was just the guy that ran the gym, but he could find you fights if you didn’t mind traveling. Those days, I woulda gone just about anywhere for a fifty dollar purse. Anyway, it was Andy found me this bout and told me to think about moving up to welter.
I stayed at Kelly’s Lobster House whenever I fought in Holyoke. The food was good, big servings, too, and the rooms upstairs were cheap and clean. All the outta town fighters used to stay at Kelly’s. Two bucks a night — split three ways if you bunked up with another coupla guys. Cold water sink in the room. You had to be careful who you roomed with – some of these lazy pugs would piss in the sink instead of walkin’ down the hall to the bathroom.
We fought at the Valley Arena. It was an old gas house that was fixed up for fights and music shows. The main arena was pretty nice. Only the top fighters got a dressing room. Most of us dressed in the basement — smelled like liniment and dirty laundry. Marciano got his first pro fight there, don’t know if you knew that.
So the train rolls into Holyoke the morning of the Courchesne fight. I stow my gear at Kelly’s and go out to walk off the long ride. I find a little park and take a few laps, stretching my legs and rolling my shoulders. There’s this girl on a bench eating a sandwich. Dark hair, nice build, and she throws me this great smile, but she’s gone when I come by a second time. Still, there’s something about her I can’t get out of my head.
Kelly’s was a respectable place, understand, a place you could bring a girl and not have to worry. Girls could even go there without men — not by themselves, of course, but with a few girlfriends — and feel safe. I mean there were always guys who’d try to pick them up, but Kelly ran a clean house and kept the riff-raff out. Or at least kept them quiet. I think that’s why he liked to have prizefighters stay there. Anybody come in lookin’ for trouble would think twice once he got a gander at all the muscle.
Anyway, I’m chowing down on a nice thick steak when the door opens and I hear giggling. I look up and there she is — the girl from the park, along with a couple of other girls. And me with only 20 minutes to get to the weigh-in. Not long enough to start up a conversation. Strike two for ol’ Milt, even though she smiles that gorgeous smile when I stand up to go.
I come in at 134.5, better than I expected, and Courchesne is at 133 even, so I figure maybe I’ve got a chance with this guy. I can take all the body work he’ll be able to throw at me — I just need to keep him away from my head. He’s a local boy, lookin’ for a shot at the New England title, so I know the ref isn’t gonna cut me any favors. Whatever I do, I gotta do it on my own.
After the weigh-in and taping up, we get in the ring and I take a look around at the crowd. And there, on the far side of the ring, three rows back, is that same girl. So I dance around a little extra, toss her a salute with my right hand, and she flashes that smile. It’s only the third time I’ve seen it, but it feels like — I don’t know — coming home.
Courchesne’s quick on his feet, so I can’t score much in the first two rounds. He just floats away from the jabs. He’s carrying his hands a little too high, though. If I can get him against the ropes, I know I can work the body, maybe wear him down. He’s not scoring on me, either. Most everything he throws lands on my forearms.
Between rounds, I’m looking for the girl, but I’m sitting on the stool, can’t see that far.
Third round opens and Courchesne looks like he’s starting to feel the heat. None of those places had air conditioning back then, so even in March it was pretty hot in the ring.
So I push in on him, back him toward the ropes. I’m in control, y’see, when he tags me, high on the cheekbone. Not enough to hurt me, but it splits the skin and I feel blood start to run down my face. Courchesne’s got a target to aim for now and he works me backward, his left hand flicking at my chest and my chin and his right pounding at my left cheek every chance he gets.
I tell you, I didn’t even see the right that missed my cheek and caught me on the temple.
You ever get knocked out, son? Voices sound like they’re being pushed through syrup. The pain’s there, but a yard or two away from you. Falling down takes a couple of days, feels like.
So, as I’m on my way down, I see the girl from the park, clear as anything. Her mouth is open, her hands are clenched together, and her eyes are wide as can be. Even though we’ve never said a word to each other, I know. She wants me to be OK. She cares. And, as my shoulder scrapes the canvas and my eyes begin to close, I smile…
By the time the medic got me stitched up and cleared me to move around, I took a look up in the arena, but the crowd was gone. I checked with Kelly to see if he knew who she was. In the morning I went back to the park, just in case. Then it was back home and on to the next bout. Later that year, I made the move to welterweight and fought in Holyoke a couple times after that, but I never saw her again.
There’ve been a few girls over the years. Even was married once for a while. Sometimes I can’t help thinking, “Milt, you old S.O.B., maybe you coulda tried a little harder.”
Water under the bridge, son, water under the bridge. Still, that was one sweet fight.
For more than 30 years Fred Wish was involved in corporate and employee communications, governmental rule making, and writing and revising policy documents. Nowadays he writes — either solo or with his wife, Loretta — magazine features, long and short fiction, and whatever else strikes him as a good idea.