I walked into Carney's gym and saw a modern ballet of prizefighters. Men of all shapes with sweaty skin waltzed with heavy bags and tap...tap...tapped over rope to the hip-hop rhythm of desperate dreams.
An old man folded white towels frayed at the edges. A hearing aid sat in his right ear. Slight he was with bent posture and long bony fingers. A long ago flyweight, perhaps; a man who once ruled his world with hand speed and agile eyes.
"I'm looking for Manny," I said.
"Wha?" the old man aks.
"Manny. Manny Weinberg. You got a Manny Weinberg here?"
"Menendez. Where's Manny?"
"In the john I think," a young fighter replyed.
A frosted glass door opens from a men's room . A fat man with a billowing stogey steps out. He was in his seventies, maybe a young looking 85 year old for what I knew. He wore cheap black dress pants with a thin belt wrapped around the widest part of his belly. A white dress shirt with rolled up sleeves draped uncomfortably over a T shirt. His face was round and pugnacious with a pushed to the side nose and a twisted jaw. His broad shoulders told the story of a middle weight who probably once connected with powerful punches. Maybe he roamed the ring back in the day when old fighters thought they bled redder blood. The fat man spoke in a mean, crazy Brooklynese.
"Ramirez, get d'em buds outta your goddamn ears. God damn IPods are ruinin' da fight game, I'm tellin yas."
His blue eyes saw me for a second and then moved to the side. He screams: "Get her outta my gym. Get da't dame outta here an' take her god damn digital camera with her. Marciano didn' let no broads in his gym and wouldn't let no picture taken' in here eidder. You outta know bedder Connelly."
Connelly kisses the blond good-bye and resumes beating a heavy bag with nonchalant punches.
The fat man bites hard into his stogey and stares a me.
"You Manny Weinberg?" I asked sheepishly.
He looks at me sideways like a curious bulldog with floppy jowls and invites me into his office.
The office was small. It wasn't touched by modernity or automated inventions. The desk was wooden, so were the chairs. A single bulb hung from the ceiling. The phone was a black rotary job with heavy cords. There was an Underwood manual typewriter on a splintered credenza. An ink eraser balanced at the corner of his desk. It looked like it had been used within the hour, shavings having fallen on the cracked tile floor.
"Look at d'at over d'er." He points to the room's far corner. "Exercise bands an' god damn rubberized medicine balls. Figthers ta' day, dey got somein' against hard work and cowhide. Once I had a middle weight who'd got his fingers manicured like he's some god damn french poodle."
He sees me looking at an ancient black and white photograph of a handsome figther, fit and taut like he could throw quick, knock-out combinations.
"D'at was taken with an old Speed Graphic. None of d'is god damn digital stuff. They snapped me just before da' golden gloves. Fought outta Benson Hurst as a middleweight. Made it to da' finals but lost to some Mic named the Tipperary Kid or somethin'. Had da' kid on the ropes in da' fifth. He came out in da' sixth round with linement on his gloves. Blinds me, blinds me bad. Then knocks me out."
He gesticulates, shadow boxes with his powerful memories. Rolls his shoulders and asks: "Who's you?"
"The name is Tortelli."
"You's an I-talian? We don't let no god damn mobsters in my gym. We run a clean outfit."
"No, sir. I'm not Italian. I'm an alter ego..."
"Alter Ego, you fight outta' da' Philipines? D'ey got good lightweights comin' outta Manila. Trained one in da' sixties."
"No. See, I really don't exist in the normal sense. I'm the figment of a writer's imagination. I create a blog called the Square Corner. And I'm looking for a new character. Some irrasciable, but lovable fouled mouth, good hearted, but slight bigot kind of guy. And I was hoping you would like to join."
He asks me what a blog is, so I told him as simply and as best as I could. He explodes into a pre-modernist rage.
"Get outta here. I don't wanna be part a no god damn computer screen flipping around some god damn internet. Get outta here before I throws a typewriter at you's."
He snuffs his stogey in a glass ash tray, a final cloud of smoke burns my eyes. I make my retreat, defeated in the assumption that a colourful character could be gotten so easily.
I open the door of the gym when I hear his voice: "Wait a minute, Tortelli."
He turns sideways and screams at a fighter. "Johnson, get that god damn laptop off your knees. Your a bantam weight, not a god damn stockbroker."
He tells me not to go anywhere and steps back into his office and comes out trotting in gleeful steps; he balances the Underwood tight against his stomach.
"I'm thinking maybe even a guy like Manny Weinberg from Brooklyn needs some adventure in his life."
I was glad to have him. Somehow I knew he'd make a good character, his life blessing the yellowing posts of a nascent blog.
"Menendez, get rid of d'at Blackberry or get outta my gym. I'll be watchin' ya', god damn it."