My Inaugural List
I’ve always hated writing. In high school, I negotiated my way out of writing essays. Then, in college, I got my ass thoroughly kicked in freshman English. In survival mode, I tortuously ground out essays, each one requiring half-a-dozen drafts. I could fathom neither classmates who eagerly enrolled in a “Daily Themes” course, nor the “one-take wonders” that could produce eloquent works of brilliance at the eleventh hour seated at a computer with numerous primary sources carefully perched on their laps.
I never liked boxing, either. I ignored the closing of the Ali era, the Leonard-Duran-Hagler-Hearns wars, and much of the Tyson dominance because boxing seemed like a dumb sport. “It’s just two guys trying to pound the heck out of each other – what’s the point?” I thought.
Then I tried it myself.
Now I am a confessed addict, constantly surfing the ‘net for updates and clicking the remote in search of a replay of a D-class fight on cable. Boxing is my obsession, but I still cannot say I like it. My diligence with my training regimen stems from a commitment to myself; not “love.” And I find the profession, not to be confused with the art, to be despicably nonsensical. And yet I have handed in my “daily themes” of sweat, frustration, adrenaline and relief at the gym for the last decade.
And now I volunteer myself to do something I hate about an activity I’m not sure I even like. Why?
The view from inside the ropes is vastly different from the plotlines dreamt up by Hollywood screenwriters and the carefully packaged pre-fight pay-per-view sound bites. There is a subset of fighters who also write, and I will guess they initially picked up their pen to give voice from the fighter’s, rather than the spectator’s, point of view. Perhaps they grew tired of reading re-hyped hype and seeing myths repeated so often in black and white that eventually legend became the “truth.” I hope to add to that collective voice and touch on sights and scenes that remain overlooked in the standard guidebooks to boxing.
I figured if I am going to tout myself as a boxing scribe, I ought to generate a List that demonstrates my insight and analysis of the sport. Unfortunately, I do not possess an encyclopedic mental database of all fighters past and present, so I am ill-equipped to compile a list of forgotten greats, of superfights that never occurred, or, of course, the top ten pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
So I will stick to something I know from the inside out. (And why ten? It seems like such an arbitrary number.)
Top Seven Boxing Showers of All-Time
Jerome Boxing Club, Bronx, NY – This was by far the most frightening shower. I worked out at this dimly gym for months before discovering the shower because it is so well hidden down a dark hallway off a narrow set of stairs. Like the windowless high-ceilinged gym below, the single gender change room was poorly lit. The small shower had feint water pressure and the water was lukewarm. The left side of the shower stall was also the exterior wall of the building. There were cracks and gaps large enough to give me a direct view of a Bronx back street several stories below. The reverse voyeurism while standing naked and isolated out of earshot of nearest human being got the theme from Pyscho going in my head. I rinsed off quickly while reciting the Lord’s Prayer, dressed and rushed back down to the gym floor. After that singular experience, I decided that leaning over the slop sink next to the ring and sticking my head under lukewarm tap water would suffice plenty.
110th Precinct PAL Boxing Gym, Queens, NY – This tiny windowless gym was hidden under the ramp leading from the No 7 train station to the tennis stadium. Be thankful odors cannot be uploaded on to the internet yet. In this single-gender change room, urinal cakes were constantly replaced and fermented locker contents were occasionally blowtorched, yet the smell remained magnificently nostril-piercing. I guess the young men figured they would save their precision aiming skills for their sparring partners’ heads – why waste genius? The lone shower was located at the back of the locker room, past the urinals, toilet stalls and several banks of lockers. There was plenty of space for a bench and chair to deposit one’s belongings. Since it was single-gender locker room, I would wait until all were decent, trundle to the back, and someone would push a locker bank across the opening to the shower area, ensuring privacy for all. There was no light in the concrete shower, which was probably for the best since I was instructed to stand in a plastic crate to avoid making direct contact with the floor. Water pressure ranged from minimal to decent, and temperature ranged from hot to absolutely freezing. Yet I felt safe, secure, and even pretty clean back there. And I didn’t usually have to wait too long after banging on the lockers for someone to come let me out.
Gleason’s Gym, Brooklyn, NY – With separate male and female change rooms since 1984, Gleason’s Gym weighs in as a heavyweight. Since renovations in 2000, both the women’s and men’s showers have three heads. These are open stall style, so if you are squeamish about getting naked in front of others, you will have to shower in your underwear. The floors are covered in gray tile, and the walls are white tiled above head height. The lighting, water pressure, and temperature are excellent, and soap is provided. There is a bench to rest one’s shower accoutrements and the area is cleaned on a daily basis. This shower is relaxing enough to hold a conversation with a friend or give oneself a mini-spa treatment; condition, shave, exfoliate, etc., and many women store a trove of their favorite toiletries in their lockers. I have no idea what the guys do on their side.
Wild Card Boxing Gym. West Hollywood, CA – This single-head shower is separate from the men’s and women’s changing rooms and well away from the toilet. It is shared by both genders. There is a small ante area to keep one’s change of clothes out of range of the water, so one can enter and exit the shower fully clothed. The stall itself is very spacious, and the showerhead is placed high enough to accommodate the tallest of heavyweights. The floors and walls are covered in white tiles and are bordered by a Martha Stewartesque blue stylized boxer motif. The water pressure and temperature are excellent, the shower is cleaned regularly and soap is provided. My favorite feature is a small window located high enough to ensure privacy but large enough to provide natural lighting. As the sun streams in just before sunset, there is a lovely dramatic glow on the white tiled walls. I feel very safe and clean, and almost feel like lingering.
Astoria Boxing Gym, Vancouver, Canada – To access this gym, located in the basement of the neon-signed Astoria Hotel, one must enter through an off-sale liquor area and turn abruptly to the left just before the bar entrance, then head down a steep and narrow set of stairs. This low-ceilinged, windowless gym is permeated with the unique scent of stale sweat on leather combined with old beer infused with cigarette butts. It is actually an interesting combination and not that unpleasant. There is a separate female changing area, but the lone shower is in the men’s area. Fortunately, the single toilet is located down a hall well away from the gym floor and changing areas. The shower stall is small and looks rather old and scary but the water pressure and temperature were enough to get the job done.
Connie Bryant’s Gym, Harlem, NY – Once located in the heart of Harlem, this tiny second floor gym had picture windows overlooking Fifth Ave at 125th Street and a large single-gender change room with plenty of lockers. The shower, however, was in a completely separate dark closet-like space with a single showerhead. There was no way to keep one’s change of clothes from getting wet, so boxers were forced to traipse back and forth to the change room swathed in a towel or their birthday suit, in plain view of everyone in the gym. Which is why I never used it.
Crunch Gym 38th Street, Manhattan, NY – Owned and run by a nationwide fitness club chain, this gym offers the most luxurious shower facilities of all. Because the third floor boxing facility is located within a health club, most of the clientele are here to burn calories and build muscles, but there are legit amateur and pro fighters that also train here. Since it is walking distance from MSG, this gym is often used by visiting pros for their final pre-fight workouts. This is the only facility I know of that provides coat check and towel service along with an opportunity to spar. As one would expect, the locker room is spacious and clean. The individual black-tiled stalls provide privacy, excellent water pressure and temperature, and are cleaned frequently. Soap, shampoo and conditioner are gratis. The sauna is an added plus, when it is working.
Any top ten list is sure to include both boxers and brawlers. Some of these showers are as ugly as a droopy-eyed, pug-nosed, scar-laden banger, and a few are as baby-faced as a fleet-of-foot technician. No matter; the best part of any grueling workout is the shower afterwards. As long as there is at least a trickle of water to rinse off a fighter's back and close the pores, the shower got the job done and the fighter can exit the gym smiling.