Letter to the Smithsonian Institute: find an old boxing gym being shuttered and put it in the museum. No more genuine slice of Americana, or more endangered. But do it soon. The hardcore gyms are vanishing fast.
They’re shrines. Living archives of boxing — yellowing posters – layer upon layer — plastered on the walls, fight cards, faded pictures of fighters mugging for the camera, biceps flexed, fists clenched; noir slogans: “Your opponent is training harder than you”, “The more you sweat, the less you bleed.” “Train till it hurts;” victors draped with championship belts; bare-knuckled gents in tights and lacquered hair, with names like “Battling” this or “Sailor” that; and anonymous Golden Age brawlers, some standing straight as a spear, others crouching as if to pounce on the camera…And always the icons: Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano and Ali exultant over a spread-eagled Sonny Liston.
A chronicle of American scrappers: Blacks, Mexicans, Irish, Italians…whoever was clawing-up the economic ladder.
For docents, I’d recommend gym rats – ex-fighters, some of them— the gray-hairs and no-hairs with busted beaks and eaves of scar tissue over drooping eyes — road warriors; guys with “the” in the middle of their names: Harry “the Hammer,” Kurt “the Crusher”; the club fighters, tomato cans who’d fight anyone anywhere for a hundred bucks: The guys who fought the guys who fought the greats.
And then there are the trainers. The scholars of the game; the Don Quixotes in quest of the Holy Grail: a world champion. Surrogate fathers with towels over their shoulders; elders whose tough love takes feral youth off the streets and off the needle.
Before the last boxing gym goes the way of the Saber-tooth Tiger, take one apart brick by brick and rebuild it where people can see it. Get all the equipment, too: The wobbly ring with saggy ropes, the heavy bag held together with duct tape, the speed bag yanking loose from the ceiling, the soggy wraps, the blackened mitts and the spit and sweat-smudged mirrors.
Put it all in the Smithsonian. Let folks get a good look at where kids who rankled under lock step reflected a broader society of rugged individualists who created the industrial revolution.
Part of America neglected in history books.