My 400th Blog

by John Delach

I published my first piece on this blog on October 16, 2013, three days short of eight years ago. I titled my first offering: An Incredible Story. I dedicate it to James Muri, a World War II veteran  who had passed away the previous February at 94 years of age. First Lieutenant Muri had participated in the Battle of Midway flying an Army Air Force B-26. Lt. Muri and his crew failed to sink or damage any ships in the Japanese fleet and his claim to fame was that he flew his bomber at a low level skimming the flight deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier front to back in a successful effort to escape numerous fighters trying to kill him and his crew. I wrote at the time: “They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing and the wreck that landed on Midway that afternoon tested that theory. The crew countered over five hundred bullet holes before they gave up with half the airplane still to go. Every crewman survived; a miracle in itself.”

For my four hundredth Blog, I offer you one of my favorites, The Poolhall and the Prizefight, first published as a blog in 2014.

The Poolhall and the Prizefight

Dark, dank and dirty, inhabited by petty hustlers, grifters, hangers-on and seedy men of ill repute; the New Ridgewood Grove was a grimy, old-time pool hall located on St. Nicholas Avenue on the Brooklyn-Queens border. It reeked of stale smoke, old beer and decay. The glaring lights above each table illuminated only the green felt surface and the balls in play giving each table the appearance of being a bright island in a dark sea that consumed the players as they moved about to make their shots. Only their cue sticks, arms, hands and fingers guiding the direction of the sticks were visible.

The pool room was  located on the second floor of what had once been a fight arena, a place like Sunnyside Gardens and St. Nicholas Arena where club fighters, newbies and has-beens battled in obscurity. But overexposure on TV during the 1950s killed this bottom end of the boxing trade and the arena gave way to a supermarket. The pool hall remained run by a just plain nasty manager who lived in a caged enclosure, took in the money and ordered the players about. A rummy bar tender served up cheap rye whiskey, brands like Philadelphia, Wilson and Imperial or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in cold, brown, 12-ounce bottles.

Warm, charming, friendly? Hardly! Not this joint. Not a woman in sight and not a good place to find yourself alone or separated from your pack. But it was a thing to do on another dateless Saturday night, an alternative to a movie, bowling or the neighborhood bar. My friends and I, war babies all, were newly minted legal drinkers having reached the age of eighteen. We proudly carried Selective Service Cards, not to prove we had registered for the draft, but as our passports to the closed world of adult drinkers. Our cards gave us the needed valid ID that let us in.

We knew our place, avoided the prime tables and accepted the older ones crowded together in the corners of the room. The ones with rough, worn and stained felt surfaces. The closeness of the tables forced us to patiently wait our turn while players at the table jammed next to ours took their shots. When it was time to buy four beers for the pack, the other three would keep a watchful eye on the gofer until he safely returned.

On that fateful night, March 24, 1962, one of our guys returned from his beer mission to report on the progress of the third in a series of prizefights between Emile Griffin and Benny “the Kid” Paret for the welterweight title. A black and white TV mounted on a wooden platform over the bar was tuned into the channel broadcasting the title fight. I don’t remember much about the early going, but as the rounds progressed, the pool players were drawn toward the bar to watch the fight unfold. We joined the crowd but remained a respectful distance from the center of attention.

I do remember the twelfth and final round. Griffin beat the Kid senseless while the referee, Ruby Goldstein, did nothing to stop the fight. Trapping his prey in a corner of the ring, Griffin hit the by-now helpless Kid in the head again and again.

Why didn’t the Kid go down? Why didn’t Goldstein stop the fight? By the time Paret’s manager threw in the towel, it was too late.

Silence descended upon the poolhall as the KID lie motionless on the canvas. The broadcast didn’t show the EMS attendants sliding a stretcher under Paret or the Kid being removed from the ring and being carried away to a waiting ambulance. The mood in the room darkened as the crowd stood around waiting for something to happen. Without speaking to each other, we knew the night was over and it was time to go. We downed our beers and left.

The next day the papers reported that Paret was in a coma. He died in the hospital ten days later.