I Wasn’t Exactly Born Tough, but I’m surprisingly sold

In general, I am not big on large logos. Nor am I one to conflate casual wear with gym clothes. Nike and polo are great, but both would be better if they just let the clothes be clothes and not billboards. Also, a track suit isn’t meant for the movies.

Unless you are in the movie playing an athlete.IMG_1053

A long time ago I stopped really worrying about how I looked while working out. This was mostly a function of me realizing I would never get back in to any kind of shape if I wasn’t willing to sacrifice some pride- or dignity. It doesn’t matter which as they both hurt the same when sliced. But this lack of worry was also in part caused by my complete disillusionment with most athletic gear. IMG_1048

I do not like flashy gaudy colors and slogans, this is not my house it is a stadium, I am at best giving it 73%, and there is no way in the world that my level of performance needs the latest NASA technology infused compression top.IMG_1063

With all this in mind, about 15 years ago, I discovered small brand designers, hipsters, and people with taste, who make exactly the type of gym clothes I desired. Streamlined cuts. Functional. Simple solid colors- but with a NASA pricetag.

Enter Elite Sports, and Born Tough.

Same company. Two brands. different purposes.

These are now my go-to shorts for all things athletic. Granted, for me, getting up out of a chair is exercise, and the only thing I’m competing against is cardiac arrest, but this pair is the best thing I have found that moves, covers, and lets me jog without worrying my car key is going to fall out of the pocket. They hit that sweet spot in between John Stockton and Shawn Kemp, and they skip the logo. I’m a grown man and unless I once played for, or now own, a franchise, I generally don’t wear their logo. These are perfect.DA4F26AB-9FFA-4C09-B314-A1E799950F2E

The hoodie is heavy duty, simple, and my favorite- it cuts lower in the back, preventing the normal riding up when bending over. This stooping could be done while deadlifting, crossfitting, or in my case, trying to find that chocolate covered almond that just rolled under the coffee table.Whatever the case, it works for me.

And of course, because this is the world I inhabit, these are regular person priced rather than artisanal handcrafted alpaca wool from the Andean high country priced.


The “Greatest” Thing About Big Mouths and Boxing

One of the greatest things about boxing is that if someone has a big mouth, it is fair to punch said mouth. Muhammad Ali was was historic in both mouthing and punching.chasing barclay

Perhaps it is simply a sign of respect at his passing, or his previous ailment, but I find it interesting to hear what people are now saying or choosing to remember. Everyone loves him. I count myself a fan. I do not agree with everything about him, but I suspect I agree with what he said more than many who now praise him.

First let me say he did Joe Frazier wrong. Ali was out of line and never chose to apologize in person. He was hands down wrong regarding Frazier.20091230_Philly Gym_0015

I wasn’t around during Vietnam, many of those who were still are, so whatever my opinion about Ali’s views on that war take a back seat to theirs. I won’t even offer an opinion here or pick a side.thering

What I will offer is that Ali was not afraid to open his mouth and he took the ensuing punches. He was loud. He got knocked down. He vacated his title. He took his ban. He punched and got punched again. For the most part he kept saying what he thought needed to be said and he accepted the consequences of those words.

I do however, wish more people would remember the actual words he said rather than just the idea that he said things. He said a lot of great things. He did even better things.

Except that whole Frazier thing.

photo credits to John Barclay… mostly.


The Front St. Boxing Club: places I love

I’ve been in love with the place since I first walked up those long steep stairs. You can’t see whats up there and the noises and smells insinuate it is something worse than the street you just walked in from, and the street is horrible.

Posters paper the walls, bags are patched up with duct tape, and buckets hanging from the ceiling keep drips off the mat. The first time I met Frank he tried to talk me into going to Bally’s because its nicer.

You don’t go to Front St. to get in shape, you go there to learn how to fight.
bags wide screen

My first trainer had a scar, razor thin, stretching from his temple across his nose, down to the opposite jaw. He wasn’t in the greatest shape but never wore a shirt. He made me shuffle step in a straight line, taught me to jab, and gave me a notebook with diagrams of footwork and metaphors comparing a jab to an arrow and a hook to an ax.
in the ring

My next trainer, “Joe Black” approached me after my first trainer stopped coming in. He told me he could get me ready to be the next great white hope, “but ya see the thing is… I’ze charges.” He wanted $50 bucks a month. Frank almost kicked him out of the gym for asking that much, but all these years later Joe is still there.

When Joe went AWOL “pad man” was always there to step in. Working with more than one trainer is a no-no but so is going AWOL. Pad man claimed to be the all-prisons champ and he had a way of making anyone he worked with look like a pro. He did this mostly by slapping the pads against his boxers fists making a loud noise and then shouting, “whooooie! This kid can punch!”DV IMAGE

David Bey made me sign a form when he started training me. His paperwork even had a hand drawn logo up top. It was a pyramid and a third eye sort of deal. He took the Zen master approach rather than the whoop hollering style.

He trained me well enough to win the golden gloves in my first fight. Frank tried to get me to retire after the victory. “You can walk away an undefeated  Golden Gloves champ. Who has to know you only had one fight?”

I didn’t listen.


In that gym I sparred the kid in law school, swung at air trying to hit that one middleweight, and broke my rib getting pummeled by that 300 lb Jamaican. There was that one mystery kid who walked in and just wanted to spar someone, then left with his left eye swollen shut, the light heavyweight with the tattoos who got his lip split, and then the truck driver who split my lip and blacked my eye. I loved it.

Willie Rush sat and watched me train without a trainer for three months before he slid over and asked me who my trainer was. He knew the answer.

We worked together every weekday for a year. He was always there with his stories about Mike Tyson or his days in the local 33 labor union. He wrapped my hands for me and spent hours slapping me in the head with a swim noodle.

He would shout at me while sparring, “Don’t slap him with the hook, hit him with the hook. Bam! Bam! Bam!”

We won our first fight together. It was the first round of the Philadelphia Diamond Belt and my victory forced me into my third match; one more than my original goal of two. The guy had fast hands that got tired by the third round. I hammered him again and again in the third but he just wouldn’t go down. I tried to shake his hand afterward but he just patted my shoulder and gasped for air.

What harm could one more fight and one more week do?

It is hard to get knocked out in amateur boxing. You wear big soft gloves, a big padded head gear, and the ref is intent on no one getting hurt. They stop the fight well before anyone gets in trouble. I never got in trouble, but neither did that one last guy.
straight right

He was better than me plain and simple. He would step in, pop me three quick shots, and by the time I swung or poked a jab, he would be out of reach. Pop, pop, pop… whiff.

Tired of this I just started walking in on him trying to get him cornered. As I lumbered forward he would flurry down combinations against my gloves and head. The ref stepped in to stop it.

He waved us back to action, and the whole previous cycle was repeated, complete with the ref stepping in to stop us. After the third cycle of this pointless match I tried to duck under a wild hook and tripped on a loose part of the canvas. The ref waived his hand above his head, looked at me, and told me I was done.

The kid jumped and screamed like he just beat Ali. The announcer held my opponents arm up in the air and the awarded us both identical “participation” plaques.

I was too tired to take much notice and I guess the other guy was too excited to care.

Willie grumbled that they always try to set him up and that that kid was no beginner. I just went to the locker room.

After I changed into street clothes I lingered around the gym watching the remaining bouts. Standing at the top of the stairs I hear my wife shout from down below, “Hurry up, I’m getting tired of holding this thing.”

I had no idea what she was talking about and schlumped down the stairs to find out. Out on the sidewalk she handed me what looked like a pile of towels. I took it, unwrapped it, and hoisted the champion’s trophy.
officeboxerFrank had pulled her aside and quietly told her to give it to me. He never even told her what it was. When I asked him the next day he said he just thought I deserved it; just wanted me to have it. He called me champ for a minute, but now he just calls me the preacher. The other guys still just call me the white heavyweight.

I’m happy with all those names.

Smacking the Ivy Off Each Other

These young men and women will one day, one day very soon, be managing huge hedge funds, litigating at the largest firms, and take their place among the country’s best and brightest.

Last Saturday they spent the night punching each other in the face in front of a cheering crowd.

sign out front

Every year the students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business square off against the law school for Philly Fight Night. The proceeds from the event go to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia, this year they raised $90,000, but that isn’t why people go. We went to watch ivy league kids punch each other in the face.


Missushammas and I sat down with our programs and began picking our horses. Lets see… Matt “American Psycho” Magan 170 lbs. vs Konstantin “the Doctor” Gromov 195 lbs. I pick Gromov. Samuel Rech from Italy vs. Zach Garland from Texas? Look at the picture, Sam is too pretty, and he’s from Italy? Zach all the way. And so it goes on down the line, us predicting winners based on pictures and nicknames. Then the lights go down and the music starts. We are ready for them to rumble.


Fight night is only 60% fighting and 40% dramatic entrances.  As fighters names are called we watched  entourages of dancers, military processions, and skits usually including the fighter knocking out a crowd of mean looking stooges. When the bell rings it is obvious more time went into the entrances than the fighting.

Oh the fighting.cheers

I call it video game fighting. At the bell the two fighters approach each other and begin flailing wildly as if someone is blindly hitting the Xbox buttons as fast as they can. Such fights end in one of two ways, dramatic knockout in the first round, or two fighters exhausted and leaning on each other after one minute of action.

The first three fights were knockouts.bowtie and sparkly

After 8 fights I picked six right, the Mrs. only one. I beamed with pride as I am rarely right when the two of us compete.pink shirtsThe next day I was asked “were there any good fights?” There was one. Do not get me wrong, there were lots of entertaining fights, but those are not the same as good fights. The last bout squared off Mark Wales of Australia vs Giancarlo Albelice of the United States Marine Corps. There were no windmill punches or corkscrew whiffs, but rather heads moving side to side and jabs. Two heavyweights actually boxing. It was beautiful. boxersThe American won. He looked a little less skilled but was much more the  aggressor. This was a vulgar crowd that appreciated offense over defense, power over finesse. And we, my date and I, appreciated it all.tie guy

Never Thrown a Punch

When I say I had never thrown a punch, I mean I had never even been in a playground scuffle. I have lived my life avoiding troubling situations and employing what I tell myself is wit and charm in situations where trouble seems unavoidable. Upon moving to Philadelphia I decided this needed to change.

Perhaps it was one too many runs up the Rocky steps, or the fact that I stand six foot one and two hundred forty pounds, but the city of brotherly love got me wondering how I would hold up standing toe to toe with another man. I opened my journal and inked a goal, “Have two official fights, judged by an official referee.” I figured I needed one fight, just to say I did it, then a second to make sure the result of the first, whatever that may be, were not a fluke. I closed the book and set about learning how to fight.

The first thing I learned was that real boxing gyms are hard to find. My Google search sent me to one disconnected number after another with the only signs of promise being numbers that rang with no one ever picking up. On a lark I called the Legendary Blue Horizon, a North Philly boxing venue, and asked whoever answered if they knew where one could go to learn to box. I got a list of five places that regularly turned out winning fighters and began working the phone. I decided to try the cheapest one I could find, assuming I may need the extra cash for medical bills.

The cheapest was the Front St. Boxing Club.

My first lesson, my initiation I suppose, was learning that the Front St. gym is not on Front St. The second was that one does not just walk in and sign up. The owner, a gentleman who sounded as if he had spent a long life chewing glass, told me that if I wanted to get in shape I should go to Bally’s, its nicer there. I informed him I wanted to fight. I had just turned thirty; he looked at me as if I was crazy, and introduced me to a trainer. My trainer informed me he was the best and had proven that fact as the all state corrections champion. He was not, nor had ever been, a corrections officer.

I suppose I should have been embarrassed to be both the oldest and most inexperienced person in the place, but I was too excited to even think about it. I learned to wrap my hands, move my feet, and hit the bag. It felt great.

Getting hit in the face did not feel quite as good. Getting hit in the body felt even worse.

My first attempt at sparring was with another of my same experience. Only allowed to jab, we both felt  accomplished as we poked at each other lamely. My lip got bloody and his eye got puffy. I started to think I was pretty good.

I decide otherwise when placed in the ring with an opponent five years my junior and twenty pounds lighter. After two rounds my elbow hurt from throwing punches that hit nothing, and my jaw was sore from him doing the opposite.

I loved it. I began walking a little taller, smiling a little wider. I drove around North Philly and Kensington and felt at home.

The first fight loomed. I drew an opponent that more resembled Manute Bol than George Forman. I could not reach his chin but by the third round I had found his ribs and I won. I felt more accomplished raising my hand in that ring than the day I raised my diploma. The man with the gravelly voice tried to convince me to retire undefeated. I did not.

I won again then fought one more. I retired at two and one.

Now as I tie my tie to go to meetings, or drive past Rocky’s statue, I feel a tinge of pride. I now know something others will never guess. I have the new knowledge that when I use my wit and charm to avoid trouble, that it isn’t my only option… I can always dial 911.

Fighting in Good Company

I introduced Pete as my wife.

A Gentleman's pursuit

Andy just smiled and shook Pete’s hand. Truth is my wife had phoned me at the office some hours earlier to tell me a good friend had been at the hospital all week with his micro-preemie daughter.  His wife called my wife to say her husband needed to get out for a few hours.  Follow that?

I pulled up to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pete hopped in, and as I pulled off I looked over and asked, “have you ever watched boxing live?”

The original Jack Johnson

He had not.  Turns out he had never even seen it on TV.  I guess I hang out with all sorts.

“So who are we meeting again?”  Pete asked as we made our way to the Asylum in South Philly.  “His name is Andy and I have never met him,” was my answer.

Andy, the Mainline Sportsman

Andy is a Philadelphia lawyer with a jones for duck hunting, horse races, and coaching kids lacrosse.  He also manages a boxer.  The two of us found a common interest in defending our oft slandered city from unwarranted digital attacks by a betweeded curmudgeon.  Tonight was Andy’s birthday and he extended an invite for my wife and I to be a guest in his box for the evening’s fights.

Having explained my change in companions for the night Andy just smiled and ushered us upstairs to sit with his other twenty guests.  Good group of guys this bunch.  They did not know me, nor Pete, nor did they care.  Conversation was free and easy and cheering was plentiful.   Andy’s fighter handled his opponent with ease.  Andy handled his guests with ease.  I handled the free pizza and hoagies with great care.

Three cheers, it's my birthday!

Pete said he enjoyed himself.  I believe him, but toward the end of the night it was obvious his mind was elsewhere.  He wanted to head back to his girl.

I didn’t mind at all.  I could not have asked for a  better host, the night was all it promised to be, but I did have to get up early…  I had an “engagement” early the next day.

I'm the one on the car.

Around Town, Night at the Fights

How was your weekend?

In a town where the favorite native son, is a fictional character, there may be a need to defend the idea, or at least explain it.

Have you ever felt helpless?  Hopeless perhaps?  Ignored, discounted, discarded?  So does Philly.

We were once the capital of the United States.  We were once one of the world’s largest cities, a bastion of commerce and opportunity.  Then we weren’t.  It still hurts.

Rocky, the washed up unloved nobody, got his shot and won.  We like to think we could too.  While we have some pride in our local ivory towers, we have a deep love for iron fists.

We threw snowballs at Santa Claus and booed our number one draft pick.  We don’t talk pretty or even clean our streets, but we sure can fight.  We are the adopted home of the high-end gastro-pub, but the birthplace of a good pummeling.

We all think we can win like Rocky did… but mostly we just kinda run around town and feed our turtles.