My latest piece has gone up at "The Broad Street Review." It comes with an eye-catching, full-color photograph, and trims of material where the editor found his interest wandering. You can find it at
If you can tolerate the bloated, drousiness-inducing original, I have copy-pasted it here:
Since completing cardio-rehab, six months after open heart surgery, my routine had been thirty minutes of health club cardio- machines three days a week, alternating with three days of less cardio but two sets of light weights. I would have done a seventh, but the therapist said, “Give your body a day off.” The heavy bag hung in the corner, a six-foot apple.
I only several decades rust to scrape off.
In 1951, the summer after 4A, a family vacation made me two weeks late for Camp Omega at the West Philadelphia J.C.C. (now City of Conquerors Church). When I arrived, my friends, a scholarly bunch, whom my left jab had regularly punished – well, annoyed – corner to corner, across my living room, egged me into the ring with Georgie Reuben. He was several inches shorter, six months younger, a wise guy, but one of the better athletes upon the playing fields of Henry C. Lea Elementary, and his father, it turned out, had focused his education on more than long division. In the words of the sage of the squared circle, Joe (“Yussel the Muscle”) Jacobs, “I shouda stood in bed.” My friends cheered when the counselor raised Georgie’s arm.
It stopped my meteoric rise up the rankings.
The cardio- machines are in one room, with bar bells, press benches, and TechnoGym equipment in another. But to lift, I walk to a different building, which houses the aerobics studio and Pilates. In my room, personal trainers massage clients, correct their Downward Facing Dogs, run them through TRX drills. The more martial have trainees punch and kick the bag.
The weights in this room range from one to ten pounds. In it, I do not feel diminished by – and am not tempted to compete with – people grunting, sweating, hoisting their way through bigger numbers. That some of those working with ten pounds are women, while that effort remains a gong my recovery has not yet let me ring, does not disturb me. It is within contemplated reach. Acceptance, I remind myself, is a good thing.
I enjoy my work-outs. I appreciate my progress from five-pound weights, to six, to seven. I recall when I could not lift the orange juice. I like seeing my body tighten and muscles build. I remember when my skin strung slack and grey over bone.
I kept an eye on those at the heavy bag though. I liked the “THWACK” when a blow landed well.
I went on line: “How to throw a jab?” “How to throw a hook?” “How to throw an uppercut?” I took notes on three-by-five cards about foot placement, hip rotation, angle of arm at impact. (I realized I knew none of that.) I studied myself in full-length mirrors. (Why, I wondered, is this man smiling?) I watched You Tube videos: Manny Pacquiao; Joe Frazier; Bob Foster, a light-heavyweight champion, whose build was closest to my own. At 6'3," we stood eye-to-eye, though, at 175, he had fifteen-pounds on me. (I observed Foster carry his left low for extra power and decided I would.)
I experimented with gloves. I had an unpadded pair, purchased years before when the elliptical machine had given me blisters. They covered the palm and striking knuckles but left the fingers free. They sounded good against the bag but afforded scant protection. (Hands, I knew, broke easier than heads.) The club had twelve-ounce gloves that secured with a velcro strap. They were a spiffy blue, but I did not like having to worry if they would be available. Then David Hoffman, of the 59th & Walton Hoffmans, who’d sparred in East Bay gyms for decades until his back went, loaned me sixteen-ounce, lace-up Everlasts. (Great gloves!” the most militant of the trainers said. “They don’t make them like that any more.”) I liked her approval; and, once David explained I did not need to find someone to tie the laces but could stuff them inside, I felt ready to rumble.
I hit the bag on weight days. I still had the jab. I added a right hook. Soon I had a combination. My left hook, however, incapable of denting cream cheese, disgraced my Harold Johnson/Lennie Mathews/Bennie Brisco Philadelphia roots, and each of my uppercuts threatened to fracture a wrist. (David counseled, if I continued to throw it at a heavy bag, I would, at least, sprain one.)
The process offered the possibility of, if not mastery, improvement. At my age, this was not nothing. What was more, given the unlikelihood of the endeavor, it was something to get a kick from. My smile broadened; my step bounced with each outing. It was silly; it was purposeless; but as I had once learned to craft sentences that resonated, I would now craft punches that stung. Do that enough, I reasoned, with pace and rhythm – without tripping over your exuberance or feet – and you will have beauty. The bag even allowed the expression of rage. In each sharply expelled breath and snapping blow, I struck against a friend’s malignant tumor. Or another’s damaged frontal lobe. Or my own stent-dependent arteries. Take that, Fate, you bastard!
Though no blows were coming back, I did not consider the experience fatally diminished. Danger circled with the bag’s swivel. The anaerobic effort took me past the comfort zone of the steady treadmill. My pace, whether flat-footed or on toes, threatened to carry me into a warned-against exhaustion. After each flurry, I backed off, caught my breath, steadied my underpinnings. I worried I would push my heart too far. I recalled the chest pains that did not quit. Before I could complete a round, I told David, it would be either me or the bag crying ‘No mas!’” “We’ll train you like Sonny Liston,” he said. “You’ll end it early, or go out on your stool.”
Joyce Carol Oates has written “that life is a metaphor for boxing – for one of the bouts that goes on and on... you and your opponent so exactly matched it’s impossible not to see that your opponent is you.” Defend yourself at all times, Oates instructs, for you rarely see the blow that fells you. For someone who has been dropped, whether by an incoming right cross or his own bodily short-coming, the challenge is to rise, shake off the cobwebs, resume with joy and vigor the contest. Fear is never again absent, but knowledge, depth, and profitable vision can be banked from the experience.
One afternoon, following an appointment with my cardiologist, my wife catches me studying the YELP reviews of King’s Gym. Its East Oakland neighborhood is dicey, its bags taped, its building worn cinder block; but Andre Ward, an Olympic and professional champion, trains there. “Don’t even think about it!” Adele says.
I figure, Stay focused! By 2016, the Super-Senior Maccabiah Games, a middleweight with your reach is a cinch to medal. Unless you draw Georgie Reuben early.
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.