Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dogs and Boxing Gloves

I was going to write about buying boxing gloves, which is quite a trip here, but realized the real reason behind writing about that is a dog.

The one steady place for me to buy gloves in New York is G & S Sporting Goods, way down on Essex Street, south of Delancey, real Lower East Side stuff. It’s still a fairly grubby area, with the Seward Park projects a few blocks south. Walking around there is very much an “old New York” vibe, but don’t let the graffiti and grime fool you. I couldn’t afford a Port-A-Johnny in that neighborhood; most people couldn’t. Manhattan has gone so haywire that even the rare grubby neighborhoods like this are outrageously over-priced. The only people living there on the cheap are in the projects or "20 immigrants in a two bedroom apartment" set-ups, which is true of all white Manhattan now. (And a waste of time trying to explain to anyone under the age of 40 that working-class white people used to live all over Manhattan, once upon a time.)

But G & S is down there, so once or twice a year, I get on the F Train to Delancey and walk down a few blocks. It’s a great old store, only a store-front and storage area in the back, featuring mostly boxing equipment: gloves, head gear, shorts, shoes, bags. And a large selection of baseball hats behind the counter, which I’m guessing are big sellers with the neighborhood kids. And a smattering of other sporting goods that apply to city life: basketballs, baseball gloves and bats, small things like that. Stores like this don’t exist most places in NYC – they don’t exist much anywhere, the kind of small, quiet, neighborhood place where you walk in and deal directly with the owner, who is always there and never a prick.

It’s not that I seek out places like this – it’s just that it’s hard to find good boxing gloves in Manhattan. You can buy shitty Everlast gloves at any Modell’s. Their top of the line bag glove goes for about $45 and just sucks: bad padding, lousy fit, doesn’t last more than a few months. There used to be a good martial arts store by the Midtown South police station in the high 30s where I could get good gloves, but they closed down 2-3 years back. And there’s another martial arts store in the West 40s, but I got bad gloves and service from those folks and won’t be going back. I haven’t tried Paragon, the big indie sporting goods store just north of Union Square on Broadway, but I only like buying jock straps there for some reason, just don’t like the place.

So, it’s down to G & S. I’ve bought some bad gloves with them. Just went through a pair where the left hand, something about the way my hand sat in the glove, my left index knuckle had been fucking killing me for months, literally arthritic type pain. I thought it was an aging issue with me, and my hands in general felt stiff the past few months. Little did I know it was the gloves. I bought a 16 oz. pair of their best gloves, at $65.00, this past visit. Been using them for two weeks now: pure heaven. My hands feel great, knuckle is totally healed, and no more will I buy anything less than their best pair of gloves. It should be a once every 9-12 months visit – I box three times a week, not every day, but I do hit hard, so these things wear out over time.

But what gets me most visits down there is the dog. He wasn’t there last time, which has me worried. But his picture was. It’s this old, mangy mutt who wanders around the store, an ancient dog: fat, white and old around the eyes. Tail always wagging. Kind eyes. Just a great dog for petting and saying hello to. His picture has him in a Mets sweater with matching black Mets cap with blue brim. It would figure a dog like that has a Mets fan for an owner. Usually that’s a woman who’s there, not sure if she’s a relative (wife, sister, or what) to the owner, or just some woman who lives in the neighborhood and likes bringing her dog around there to visit.

All I know is I usually walk in there, and a few seconds later, I’ll hear a scratching on the floor behind me, and there will be that old mutt, wagging his tail shyly and raising his head to be petted. The woman always gives the same warning: “If you pet him, awls he’s gonna’ do is bawk at ya.” Which is true, once you stop petting the dog, he starts in with these nervous little yaps. But she shushes him, and he eventually goes back to his place by her on a chair in the corner.

I always note my interactions with dogs in New York because I miss having one, having always had a family dog back in PA, before the era of cats descended upon our family. Funny thing happened to me though in my early 30s. I started noticing that every time I went home, I would get sick. Not full-on sick – “beginnings of a cold” sick. And I’d sometimes notice the same visiting my friend C in West Chester, PA, with three dogs in the house. I’d later realize I had somehow developed allergies to animal hair – much worse with cats, but still with dogs, too. When I go back to PA now, unless it’s warm weather with open windows, I find myself on sinus medicine after the second day of my visit. I don’t like this – anything that messes with my health I’m against.

But what to do. I’d say at this point in my life I’d rather go petless and healthy than get a dog or cat, and deal with constant sinus issues and the medications that go with them. Besides which, the landlord is staunchly anti-pet. Which is OK by me. Cats are surely out, and I can’t figure having a dog in a studio apartment with me at work all day – just doesn’t seem fair or right for the dog.

So when I get a chance to pet a dog, I’m on it. On the street when I’m sweeping. In a dog-friendly bar. Man, there’s nothing like having a good dog around when you’re getting drunk. They somehow “get it” that you’re getting inebriated and tag along for the short, joyous journey. I have good memories of taking my own dogs for walks after dark back home, the night air in the cemetery, the dog over-joyed to be out and about, the feeling of no one else around and the quiet. This was especially good in winter when everyone gets cabin fever and needs to get out. You can’t walk cats, just not the same thing.

But seeing that tired old hound in G & S Sporting Goods always reminds me of my second dog, Butch. The first, Smokey, was a big black Collie mix, and I learned dogs are on some higher plain as I’d abuse the shit out of that dog as a toddler (tail yanking being the worst), and he only nipped me once or twice, sensing I was a small child and treating me as such.

But Butch was special. Look at him. Nothing special. It was how he came to be. My mom grocery-shopped at the Acme, at the bottom of town in Ashland. The store is still there, save it’s changed hands and is now Boyers, a slightly rundown local chain market. (New Yorkers, think C Town.) The memory is stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, but it’s there in some gray cloud I can’t pull it from, the night we found Butch. It felt like winter, must have been 1970 or 1971. Don’t think it was snowing, just cold.

This doesn’t happen as much back there, but back then, people used to abandon animals in the parking lots of places like this. Of course, it takes a real scumbag to do something like this, but I can assure you, this type of thing happens all the time all over the world. People simply dump off their domesticated pets somewhere where they can’t find their way back home and leave them to fend for themselves. Just the worst kind of shitbag people you find in the world.

Well, one winter night, Mom was at the Acme, and saw this tired old dog in a cardboard box by the ice bins. Shaking, cold, afraid … clearly abandoned. An older dog, too, which made no sense. But Mom could tell you tons of things about this topic. She’s helped out a local no-kill animal pound that is constantly over-flowing with abandoned pets, just never enough room to keep them around. The place is never less than capacity – been that way for decades. So when we were growing up as kids, Mom would always be taking in strays, which would invariably show up in the neighborhood, and she’d feed them with food we had for the family dog, invite them into our home for a few days, and usually give them to this local pound she favored over the SPCA which quietly euthanized dogs and cats it no longer had room for. (This is a terrible thing, but happens all the time … just a hard reality of strays and the assholes who abandon and don’t properly spay pets.)

She saw Butch, left for dead on a winter’s night in a supermarket parking lot, and she brought him home. Immediately, we could sense the dog was loving and a wonderful pet. He looked like shit: beat-up, tired and lost. But we took him in. And he turned out to be that one dog I’ll always remember above all others, maybe because of the timing (Smokey was around before I was born, so Butch was my real childhood dog). But he was just the kindest dog. The one after him, Duffy, was a sparkplug, a bit of a wild dog in comparison, but that was also because he came around in our teen years, and we treated him like a nut, so he responded accordingly. Not a bad dog … just not as good as Butch. (Duffy was so excitable that if I would say “Wanna” … that fucking dog knew I was going to say “wanna go for a walk” and he’d get nuts. The ecstasy that dog would go into when I finally got around to pulling out the walking leash …

I briefly described his passing in a previous post about Grandma – just a terrible early morning that is burned in my mind. But it’s worthwhile for me to remember the whole story, Mom pulling this doomed, poor bastard from certain death and giving him a safe, loving home for the rest of his days, which was only about three or four more years from that night. May seem like goofy, sentimental nonsense to some people, but think about it, not everyone does this. I know when I see strays walking the streets around here, I let them be … because I just don’t have the time to coax them back to the apartment, feed them, and put them up for X number of days or weeks before I can move them on (to what would probably be certain death at a city pound). I did this once with a three-legged cat in a very cold Bronx winter (recounted here), but that was a one-time only thing I just couldn’t avoid. A three-legged cat abandoned in the Bronx? Shit. How much harder does it get than that?

So I think about a lot of things when I see dogs on the street, and the mutt down at G & S in particular. Things that are gone, or on their way. And things that still hang around, against the odds, but I’m glad as hell they’re still with us. Especially when it comes time for me to hit things and not ruin my hands.

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