I began my thirty-ninth birthday with some roadwork, just to make room for the impending debauchery. Cardiovascular conditioning has never been my strong point, and I had to stop and walk about nine times during the three-mile loop. Oh well, I thought, it's my birthday and I'll walk if I want to.
Kelly was in my neighborhood after a successful job interview, and we celebrated our twin triumphs with the all-you-can-drink brunch at El Pollito. I held at two bloody Marias, for fear of peaking early and losing steam in the late rounds. My breakfast burrito was yummy.
When I got home, Ethan had some Veuve Clicquot on ice, which saw us through the rest of the afternoon. Alicia arrived at 5PM with assorted cheeses, and Julie did a drive-by with a key lime pie.
The only fly in the ointment at this point was that, due to my insistence on playing Jeremih's "Birthday Sex" on repeat for like an hour, we didn't hear Fresh Direct arriving with the groceries for my wine group's dinner the following night, and I had to ask my landlady to take delivery later that evening. The theme of the wine group was to be rieslings, and I was a little afraid for the unrefrigerated safety of all those sausages and pork chops, but it all worked out.
Wine group would be cancelled due to Nemo. Ethan, Debi, and I valiantly ate all the choucroute garnie.
Ethan went off to the Vanguard to play with Chris Potter; Alicia and I headed out to St. Patrick's High School with a key lime pie in my gym bag.
Three of my team's boxers were due to compete that evening in the 141 pound open class, but two drew byes. In retrospect I think this was lucky. Kareem Walters, who got matched, was the only one who was really in peak condition and hadn't struggled to make weight.
"What should I do in the corner?" I asked Quiro.
"The first round I go in and talk to him," he said, "The second round you are going in."
This was a surprise. Going inside the ring to give instructions is the head trainer's job. I had thought I would just be the peon with the spit bucket. It was very generous of Quiro to put me forward, but was it wise? Taleggio, herbed brie, and drunken goat cheese swirled in my stomach.
As my old trainer Mike used to say, "The anticipation of an ass-whooping is worse than the actual ass-whooping." The lead-up to a boxing match was always the worst part for me: stripping to my underwear in front of my future opponent in order to weigh in, eyeing her across the room while waiting for our bout, making the walk through the crowd to the ring.
The young men I coach are so much calmer and more confident than I ever was. Kareem looked loose and dangerous as he climbed the ring stairs. I followed with Quiro, glad I had opted for sensible shoes. The champagne buzz was now entirely gone, but it would have been in character for me to topple down the stairs. Just last week I tried to walk laterally across a moving treadmill and took a truly spectacular fall.
I thought Kareem's opponent looked small for the weight. He was fighting unattached and appeared to be there solo, without a trainer. I got a sort of sanguine-ish feeling.
The first round was a good one, although Kareem wasn't letting his hands go enough. Quiro was stern during the round break. I successfully held the spit bucket and once again avoided tripping on the stairs.
The second round was more of the same. Kareem dominated, although he was still too tentative for my taste. Quiro and I agreed that he could stop his opponent if he would just keep the pressure on. At the bell, I stepped between the ropes and knelt on the ring floor.
"What are you waiting for?" I asked Kareem. "Get this guy out of there."
I miss fighting so much. I still hit the bags and stuff, but nothing compares to the mind state you enter during sparring or - better yet - a competitive match. But here it was again! That one-minute round break possessed the same simultaneously infinite and accelerated quality I remembered from my fighting days.
Kareem was damp with sweat but did not seem overly winded. I spoke to him with the gently nagging tone of an aggrieved aunt. Every trainer has her own style. Was this mine? Was it effective and highly motivating?
I'll never know. Out of the corner of my ear, I heard people yelling my name and saying something about stopping. I assumed they were exhorting me to tell Kareem to finish things. But the fight was already over. Kareem's opponent had resigned on his stool after the second round, and so my corner instructions were purely rhetorical.
Photo: Kareem Walters. The winner with coaches Aureliano Sosa and Hilergio "Quiro" Bracero.
I'm blessed to be part of the best team in New York. Atlas Cops and Kids has won the NYC Golden Gloves team trophy three years running, and this year looks to be no different.
Aureliano Sosa, one of the main factors behind our competitive success, congratulated me on, as he put it, popping my cherry.
"But you should have hit him," he said. "He would have stopped that kid sooner."
I'm not sure I have it in me to hit my boxers. It's probably a good thing I'm just the conditioning coach. I gratefully rejoined my birthday entourage, and we carved up the key lime pie.
It must be said, speaking objectively, that my birthday entourage consisted of the four best-looking people in the room. Alicia, speed skating champion and Pilates instructor, has long been my fitness role model. Debi is mid-sabbatical and looks like a bronzed surf goddess. And what can I say about Oona and husband that is not already captured on her magnificent blog?
The best and most embarrassing part of the night was when the boxers and their families sang Happy Birthday to me during a round break in one of the later matches. The decibel level was impressive.
Photo: Debi Cornwall
Certain of my yuppie-oriented acquaintances have expressed distaste for the pugilistic arts. I always tell them that, by and large, the people I've met in boxing are kinder, wiser, and more peaceful than the people I've met as a yoga teacher.
I think it's because, in the ring, primitive emotions are fully experienced and exorcised. In yoga, you might imagine you have mastered things (anger, fear, disappointment) that you've really only repressed. I call this condition "premature transcendence," and it's responsible for a lot of the passive aggressive behavior you see at juice bars and vegan restaurants. Boxers are never passive aggressive. They're too tired out from all that real aggression.
After the Gloves wrapped up, my birthday entourage headed out into the snowy evening. We located a nearby bar using advanced Internet techmology.
The joint was called The Wicked Monk, and initial signs were inauspicious. The interior was styled like a church, the music was set to ear-shattering volume, all the customers were tubby frat boys, and my hopes and dreams of getting an order of mozzarella sticks were shattered by the dire news that the kitchen had closed.
If I was known for one thing as an amateur boxer, it was my refusal to quit, even when getting my ass handed to me. I dug deep over the next seven rounds, and The Wicked Monk soon became my favorite bar. DJ Andy, although impossibly young, was spinning all the hits of our high school years. The depression I had been feeling about the first wave of memoir rejections faded. I felt swaddled with love. I also felt a little woozy.
(Was it really seven rounds? Debi claims it was, submitting as evidence the fact that she took two rounds off and still managed to taste all five flavors in the "Cocktail Bitters Traveler's Set" that was my birthday gift from Mr. and Mrs. Oona.)
In a spectacular, eleventh-hour act of menschy-ness, Mr. Oona now disappeared for fifteen minutes, reappearing with hot mozzarella sticks from the diner down the block. Sadly, it was too late for such cautionary measures. Although I am forever exhorting my fighters to stay hydrated and eat properly, I'd just consumed seven shots of Maker's Mark, neat, after a dinner of key lime pie. The damage was done.
The next day Mr. Oona submitted the following multiple choice question to the group:
Alicia, Debi, and I took a car service to various points in Brooklyn. Our driver was actually named Lancelot, and he let me feel his hair. Lancelot rolled down the windows because he claimed that the alcohol fumes rising off our three bodies were enough to skew the results of his breathalizer test should he be stopped by the police. I'm pretty sure I could have talked down any patrolman who stopped us, though, seeing as how every item of clothing I wore read "Cops and Kids." Lancelot tried to get each of us, in turn, to either kiss or date him, but we demurred.
Back home, I was overjoyed to find that Ethan had taken in the Fresh Direct boxes and put the perishables in the frig, thus freeing me up to lie on the shag rug and watch the ceiling rotate. He'd been waiting up for me after his gig. He looked tired and a little bit worried about my shag rug technique.
"Can I do anything for you?" asked my adorable fellow Aquarian, who turns 40 on Monday.
I told him to go to sleep. There are some wounds that only time can heal.