Leopards Don't Change Their Spots
It was in April of 1984, and Billy, Ray and I were sitting in a bar in New Haven, drunk as lords, and feeling and acting stupid. We had gone up to New Haven, with our wives, to look at a lot of fancy and overpriced furnishings from an estate auction. Mercifully, at the very last minute, Theresa and Ellen took pity on Billy and I, and released us from our earlier promise to attend the auction with them. Sandy had ignored Ray's pleading looks until the rest of us were all laughing at him. He really knew how to beg effectively and silently. Finally, she said that he could go with us, but that we all had to stay in the place where they dropped us off until they were through at the auction and came back to retrieve us. We found a bar in my late grandfather's old neighborhood, and they dropped us off on the corner. We promised to be at the bar when they were done with their auction and returned for us. That had been at one o'clock. All of us could hold our booze pretty well, so it was after six before we started feeling or acting stupid.
"I'm telling you that Georgie Turner can whip any man in his age group, professional or amateur, doesn't matter. There's no way Archie Moore could take him if they fought out back behind the bar in the alley." I'd heard of Archie Moore of course, the great light heavyweight, but who in the hell was this Georgie Turner? The guy doing all the talking looked like he was in his late seventies at least. I figured him for just another barfly letting the booze do his thinking and talking. The guy he was telling this to gave him a disgusted wave of the hand and got off his bar stool and walked unsteadily away from him. "Fucking asshole."
Okay, I'll admit it. I have a soft spot for real old guys who are willing to cuss at much younger guys and risk getting their asses kicked in bar fights. This old bastard reminded me of my grandfather who was another feisty bastard, if ever one lived. He had lived for thirty five years less than two blocks from that bar that we were in. So, in his memory, in his honor, and because I was drunk, I told the bartender give the old guy whatever he wanted to drink. Up until the time I had made my offer, he had been nursing a $ .25 draft beer. When I green lighted him with the bartender, he suddenly switched over to Cutty Sark and water. Just to let him know that I was a bigger asshole than him, I told the bartender to keep them coming, all on me, for the next hour. The old buzzard smiled so widely that I could see all three of his remaining teeth. "Did you know John Francis Murphy, he was a conductor for NYNH&HRR.?" (New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road)
"Little bastard, mean drunk, never bought anyone a round?"
"That's him. He was my granpa. Hell of a good man."
"Naw, he was a cheap prick!"
"Well, that too. But who's this Georgie Turner? I never heard of him before."
"He's my boy. A real street fighter he is too. I'm Reggie Turner, retired promoter for my son."
"Never heard of either one of you, so he can't be that much. Fucking Archie Moore would kill him." I told you I was drunk, and feeling and acting stupid He was right about my grandfather, but it wasn't a nice thing to say about a dead man. "How old is your son, and what's he weigh?"
"He's fifty nine, and weighs maybe two thirty. Why, do you want to fight him?"
"Fuck no, but maybe my pop would give him a go if the money was right. Of course, my pop has a few years on your boy so we'd need some odds. He weighs about the same though, but like I say he's pretty old now." My father was sixty four years old, having been born in 1919, and I was just yanking this guy's chain.
"Georgie, get your ass over here, my boy. This gentleman has a proposition for us." I look over to where this old geezer is waving and this human fire plug starts lumbering towards us. The guy looks about sixty years old, so that makes the stated age of fifty nine not too far fetched, but he sure doesn't look like any fighter to me. If his dad had said he was the king of the Coney Island hot dog eating contest, that I might have believed. He walked like a man with bad knees or a bad hip, and he sure didn't carry himself like a fighter, at least not like any fighter I'd ever seen. He was about Billy's height, five nine, give or take an inch, and he must have weighed at least two fifty, maybe more. His belly jiggled to as he approached us. "Georgie, meet Johnny Murphy's grandson. Sorry sir, I didn't catch your name." I shake Georgie's hand and it's soft. This guy's no fighter I think.
"Are you telling me that you think this guy can take Archie Moore? Please!! Now that I've seen him, I'd bet on my pop even if you only give me two to one odds, and he's almost sixty five years old. And that goes for an alley fight too. How much can you raise on Georgie against my old man?" The old buzzard has the nerve to cackle at me and starts rubbing his hands together like he was washing them.
"Would five thousand interest you? I can get more if you want it."
"Hell, for five thousand I'd leave my old man in the damn nursing home. For ten grand I'd maybe consider checking him out of the home and driving all the way back up here. And only then because you insulted my grandfather."
"Okay, ten grand it is then. Here, out in the back. When can you go get him?"
"Visiting days are Sunday. How about Sunday around three in the afternoon? I have to have him checked back in before seven." Now, while all this bullshitting is taking place, Billy and Ray are just sitting back enjoying the whole show. Neither one has said a word so far, but they are drinking and smiling. Ellen picks that moment to come walking in to fetch us. "How do I know you really can get that kind of money Reggie. Forgive me for saying it, but you don't look like a man with much in the way of resources."
"Fred, come here!" He's waving at the bartender who comes right on over to us. "Fred, who owns this bar?"
"You do, Mr. Turner."
"That's right, I do, don't I? Georgie, run into the back and bring me the sack from the safe. Hurry it up too, because we don't want to keep this lovely lady waiting do we?" Ellen is standing close to me by then, and is sniffing at me to see what kind of booze I've been drinking, and trying to get some idea of how much as well.
"Jackie, are you ready to leave yet honey? Teri and Sandy are hungry and I have to pee bad." Left unsaid is that the bar we're in is a real shit hole and there's no way she's going to take a pee in their rest room. Reggie understands, and doesn't seem at all offended by her words. Georgie comes waddling back carrying one of those canvas bank bags and hands it to his father. Old Reggie unties the string and takes out four packets of hundred dollar bills, and then he fans through each packet to show they are all hundreds. I'm guessing there is twenty thousand dollars there, if they are five thousand per packet.
"So Jackie, I've shown you mine. Now, if you bring your father here next Sunday at three, we'll go out in the back and I'll lay you twenty thousand to your ten thousand that Georgie can whip your own sweet papa. Do we have a bet?"
"Well Reggie, that depends. The truth is that dad has gotten to be a bit of a pacifist since he turned sixty or so. We'd have to kind of talk him out of retirement, and that would mean quite a few drinks. How about they each drink five shots of Four Roses with water back, say one shot every two minutes, before the fun, and then we've got a bet?"
"I like the way you think, Jackie. Five shots it is then. To show my good faith, I'll even let you check out the hooch and drink that first shot down yourself before you pour. We have a bet. I look forward to meeting your father." He and I shook hands solemnly on the bet.
The next few minutes were spent trying to get everyone loaded up into the car, so we could get over to a restaurant, and Ellen could go take a pee. She kept asking questions about the bet, but I told her to wait and I'd tell all of them the story while we were waiting for our food to come.
We stopped at this roadhouse right before you get on the expressway to go back home. The food was okay, but the restrooms weren't up to Ellen's high standards. Still, she was apparently able to manage things well enough. After we ordered, Billy and Ray decided they wanted to tell the story about what I'd been up to at the bar. It happens that Ellen and Theresa were both fond of my grandfather too, and they could see how what Reggie had said about him might have been offensive to me. Ellen had also seen Georgie, and when I told her that I had bet that my father could take old Georgie in a bare knuckle street fight in back of the bar, she didn't doubt that he probably could. Her problem was in seeing why I'd want to let him risk trying it.
"Jackie, your father is going to be on Social Security and Medicare in six months. Don't you think he's a little old to be going out and picking bar fights?" I couldn't believe she'd say something so mean. He might have been sixty four, but my father still believed in his skills as a brawler. The fact that he hadn't had a real bar fight in four or five years had more to do with my mother keeping him out of bars than with any reticence on his part.
"Ellen, I promise I'll just talk to him and see if he's even interested, that's all. You're probably right, and we'll all have a good laugh about it." I looked in the back seat at Billy and Ray, but they had both passed out already. I had to spend the next hour and a half listening to an item by item report on that damn auction. By the time we got to Billy's place I was sober and had a bad headache. We dropped off Billy and Theresa and headed back out for Ray and Sandy's house. They had left my parent's in charge of their children, not a good move in my humble opinion, but they were their kids, and it was none of my concern. When we got to Ray's house my mother was asleep in Ray's den and my father was sitting in front of the television in their living room with a high ball glass in one hand, and was drunkenly trying to read the TV guide which he held outstretched in the other. Sandy found the kids all asleep up in Ray and Sandy's bedroom. They had put themselves to bed.
After seeing the shape my father was in, I decided against bringing up the subject of a money fight with him right then. I did tell Ray to make sure that he told my father to lay off the booze, at least until I had a chance to explain the proposition to him. Ellen and I drove home and I had to listen to her telling me how venal I was, and about how I'd sacrifice anyone for an extra dollar or two. That just wasn't true. About sacrificing anyone I meant, but my father wasn't just anyone, and besides, I thought he could take Georgie. Sixty four wasn't that old anyway. Wasn't it my father who had told me that you were only as old as you felt? I really believed that he'd welcome the opportunity to strut his stuff in front of an admiring audience again. Besides, at two to one odds, I'd have let him take a shot at Archie Moore. It wasn't like he hadn't ever taken a punch before. The man was an accomplished and renowned brawler, and we owed it to the memory of my dear departed grandfather anyway.