In sixth grade, I watched my first crush climb into the ring at a junior Golden Gloves match. He wore shiny shorts and looked cute.
The fight took at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary school gymnasium/lunchroom that also served on Sundays as a place of worship for a new style Mass where a dweeb in a polyester neckerchief strummed guitar and sang pop songs about God while the priest stood beneath the basketball hoops trying to look holy. While not conducive to spiritual gatherings the gym proved perfect for boxing. I remember that it was dark with spotlights that made the contorted faces of the dads crowded ringside look shadowy and fierce as they yelled at their sons.
My boyfriend got bloodied. His eyes wouldn't focused. You could see he wasn't right in the head when the ref stepped in to stop the fight. On Monday morning when the kid showed up to class with two black eyes, I pretended I hadn't seen the fight and asked what happened. I told him his flat nose look cool which was true.
That was pretty much the extent of my experience with boxing until the early 1980s when a freelance writer invited my husband and me to sit ringside with her as she covered a match in Portland, Oregon. She was pretty and quirky and went to a good college. I figured her interest in boxing was ironic. I thought she was quirky and tough, and I went along because I wanted to be quirky and tough, too. But the sickening slam of glove in meaty flesh, the deep forced grunts that followed, the stink of fear sweat, the hock and spit of blood in corner buckets, the jeers of the crowd filled my ears and stiffened my neck and shoulders until my entire head hurt and the muscles of my eyes ached and the lights hurt my teeth and I thought I might puke or run out, and I looked over to see Katherine Dunn calmly focused on the fight, taking notes.
She was not kidding about her love of boxing.
You can read Katherine Dunn's latest piece on Smokin' Joe Frazier in the current issue of Playboy.
She throws a mean punch with a keyboard.