Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Shadow Boxing with Pop

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Shadow Boxing with Pop

Article excerpt

I WAS BORN ON SAINT PATRICK'S DAY and my father had a dream that when I turned six years old I would walk into the toughest Irish bar in town and say in my finest brogue: "My name is Michael Mailer, I'm six years old and I can lick any man in the bar." I wasn't a very tough kid at six and so never fulfilled my father's vision of a prepubescent St. Patty's Day brawl but his lifelong love of boxing and his determination to share it with me formed in many ways the bedrock of our relationship. Boxing was his way of breaking the ice with a young son easily intimidated. He knew instinctively that the best way for me to confront my fears was the knowledge that I could handle my own in the ring, a confidence which would of course extend to the school yard if need be.

And so began my father's tutelage of the sweet science. He would drill me in the fundamentals of the Peekabo style, a boxing language made famous by his friend and legendary trainer, Cus D'Amato, who employed it to great effect with his three champions: Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres and Mike Tyson. It was a style in which a fighter kept his gloves glued to his chin and thus proved difficult to hit while the bob and weave would open the way for glorious assaults.

Often in my pre-adolescent years when I was at odds with my dad he would have me whale away at his belly. I remember how satisfying the feeling was--to punch my father with wrathful abandon and get away with it. It probably saved me years of therapy. In calmer moments when the instruction turned to sparring--he would gently tap me wherever I left myself exposed. On occasion when those taps would sting more than I thought justified and I would protest, he would sit me down and look me in the eye and say, "I'm harder on you than the others because I believe in you the most." Later I was to learn that he would express similar sentiments in one way or another to all of his children.

As I approached my early teens and moved to Brooklyn to live with my father our boxing routine evolved into an ad hoc Boxing Club. A group, consisting of my father, myself, Jose Torres, my cousin, Peter Alson, Jeffrey Michaelson, and whatever friend or visiting dignitary was in town who wanted to get manly would assemble at Gramercy Gym on 14th Street on Sunday mornings. It was during those times that my legendary battles in the ring with my father took place. We would pound away at each other--the young buck striving to prove he had the mettle to dethrone the aging lion who still had a few tricks up his sleeve. …

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