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22 OCTOBER 2014

 

My 84-Year-Old Mother Meets . . .


Eleanor Hauser and friends
Eleanor Hauser and friends

By Thomas Hauser

Three years ago, I brought my mother to a press conference at Madison Square Garden to meet Don King. Then I posted an article on SecondsOut entitled (appropriately enough) “My 81-Year-Old Mother Meets Don King.”

Neither my mother nor I expected what followed. There were emails from octogenarians asking for dates. Publicists offered to take us to lunch, so I could write about my mother meeting their fighters. There was even a request for an interview from the NYU student newspaper.

Why the NYU student newspaper?

My article had referenced the fact that my mother was taking a course in global politics at the school’s midtown campus.

My mother is now eighty-four. Each day, she’s out and about. She goes to concerts, theater, movies, and museums. She plays bridge, has an active social life, and still takes a course at NYU.

“New York,” she says, “is like a Disneyland for old people.”

My mother has an adventurous spirit. She thought it would be fun to meet some hardcore, in-the-trenches, boxing people. So earlier this month, I set up a lunch at Portobello’s.

Portobello’s is a pizza place in lower Manhattan. The chicken parmesan is good. But Venice has canals, and Portobello’s has pizza. The grandma’s pizza (cheese, pesto, and tomato sauce) is my favorite.

Anthony Catanzaro (who runs Portobello’s) is a boxing guy. He began in the sport as a mentor to Paulie Malignaggi. Now he has a managerial stake in junior-welterweight prospect Christian Martinez and advises several other fighters.

The guest list for the Eleanor Hauser luncheon included (drum roll, please):

Harold Lederman: HBO’s unofficial ringside judge and possibly the nicest man in boxing.

Craig Hamilton: The foremost boxing memorabilia dealer in the United States and one of the sport’s best managers.

Vinny Maddalone: New York’s most popular active heavyweight.

Paulie Malignaggi: Quiet, subdued. Just kidding. Paulie is Paulie. He’ll also be in the record books forever as a 140-pound world champion.

David Diamante: The ring announcer with the stentorian voice, David now owns Diamante’s Brooklyn Cigar Lounge. In the past, he has worked inter alia as a rock drummer, fry cook, bike messenger, and emcee for Scores East (an upscale adult club in New York).

Don Elbaum: The greatest living American and a quintessential boxing guy. “Let me tell you about my mother,” Elbaum said when I invited him to the lunch. “My mother had an idealized image of me. After I’d been married for ten years and had two sons, she still thought I was a virgin.”

Seven hardcore, in-the-trenches, boxing people

Dick Schaap once wrote, “I hate the sport of boxing. I think it’s barbaric, and I don’t think it should be allowed. But I love the people who are in it.” Dick would have loved this gathering. Think King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Or at the very least, Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin.

The first thing that my mother saw when we arrived at Portobello’s was a sign on the sidewalk outside the restaurant that read, “Welcome Mrs. Hauser.” We went inside and the festivities began.

Anthony Catanzaro knows how to throw a party. And he’s a gracious host. The food kept coming.

Boxing people being what we are, we kept eating.

“My mother was a fantastic cook,” Harold reminisced. “Her name was Fannie Lederman. One time, I invited a friend named Woody Weinstein home for dinner. My mother made a huge brisket and put a platter of meat on the table in front of Woody. He started to take a piece so he could pass the platter around. And she told him, ‘No. That’s your portion.’”

Paulie and Vinny were coming off announcing gigs. Four nights earlier, Paulie had been the color commentator for a fight card in Philadelphia that was televised by Comcast. Two nights after that, Vinny was behind the microphone for the pay-per-view telecast of David Tua versus Monte Barrett.

“I was a little nervous,” Vinny said. “When you’re commentating, you have to think before you speak. But the hardest thing for me was; I’d sparred fifty rounds with Monte, getting him ready for the fight. I could root for him, but I couldn’t let my bias show.”

“Another thing that’s hard,” Paulie added; “if a fight is boring, you have to keep your own excitement level up. You don’t want to lie to the viewers, but you have find a way to break the monotony and keep them involved.”

Why had they become fighters, my mother wanted to know.

“I watched Raging Bull and all the Rocky movies” Vinny told her. “Then, when I was in college, I entered a toughman contest. It seemed like a good idea at the time. After that, things just happened. I have no regrets.”

“Boxing gave me the opportunity to be somebody,” Paulie explained. “And I’ve made a pretty good living from it. The first fight you have as an amateur is the turning point. After that, either you know you want to be a fighter real bad or you know you never want to do it again. After my first fight, I knew I wanted to be a fighter. The business is corrupt and run by morons. I hate the business. But I love being a fighter.”

Vinny is nearing the end of his ring career and thinking ahead to life after boxing. Toward that end, he’s now part-owner of the Ringside Bar & Grill; a restaurant in Whitestone, New York. It seats fifty with room for thirty more at the bar.

“I’m there every Friday and Saturday from three in the afternoon till four in the morning,” he told us. “The food is good; paninis and salads, nothing fancy.”

Paulie’s ring future is uncertain. Earlier in the day, it had been announced that he’d parted ways with his longtime promoter, Lou DiBella.

Craig voiced the view that Lou had done a good job of promoting Paulie. Paulie voiced the view that he could have been marketed more aggressively.

“The next time you fight, we’ll go out and paint graffiti about you on a bunch of buildings,” David Diamante suggested helpfully.

David’s most visible signature trait is his hair, which he hasn’t cut in twenty-two years. Neatly braided, it extends to his waist.

“Is it hard to wash?” my mother queried.

“Washing it is easy,” David told her. “Drying it is hard.”

Harold asked my mother if she’d ever gone to a fight.

“No; and I don’t want to. I don’t like to see people get hit; not even on television.”

“When boxing is bad, it’s the worst,” David offered. “But at its best, it’s a beautiful sport.”

Eventually, the conversation worked its way around to, “It’s hard for me to believe that my son became a boxing writer.”

“Life makes plans for us,” Anthony (in full philosophical mode) noted. “And they’re not always the plans we make for life.”

At the end of the lunch, Anthony asked my mother to sign a boxing glove. It’s now hanging inside Portobello’s on the west wall next to gloves signed by Sergio Martinez, Mark Breland, and Winky Wright.

Then David offered to take my mother home on his motorcycle. She opted for more conventional vehicular transportation with Harold.

“I like meeting new people,” my mother told me as we left Portobello’s. “It was an adventure.”

And what did she think of the people she’d just met?

“They couldn’t have been nicer. Paulie is adorable; a little cocky but as cute as can be. Vinny is a lovely fellow. David has an elegance about him.”

“What about his hair?

“It looks good on him; it’s a style; he wears it well.”

And the others?

“Craig is very smart. Anthony was a wonderful host.”

And Harold?

“Boy; does he love boxing.”

Perspicacious readers might note that there has been no mention so far of Don Elbaum’s actual attendance at the gathering.

That’s because Elbaum was a no-show.

Shortly after I arrived home, the telephone rang.

“Jesus; I’m sorry,” the greatest living American said. “I was running all over the place. Please, please, please apologize to your mother for me.”

“I’ll be happy to. But I should tell you; the title of the article I’m writing now is “My 84-Year-Old Mother is Stood Up By Don Elbaum”

“Wait! I have excuses.”

“Okay; let’s hear them.”

“My computer crashed, so I lost track of the date. Is that good enough?”

“No.”

“Okay; let me try again. I was kidnapped by terrorists and held for ransom.”

“Don, that’s absurd. No one would pay two cents for you.”

“I know. When they found that out, they let me go for free.”

“Next.”

“It makes me nervous to be around beautiful women. Your mother should like that one.”

“Keep going.”

“I just bought a used car and it’s not registered yet. I was afraid that, if I drove into New York, I’d be arrested. How many excuses is that?”

“Four.”

“All right. I’m running out of excuses, so I’ll tell you the truth. Do you want to know the truth?”

“Absolutely.”

“This is truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I spent the afternoon trying to get laid by a roundcard girl I met last week in Philadelphia.”


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (a novel entitled Waiting for Carver Boyd) has just been published by JR Books. Hauser says that Waiting for Carver Boyd is “the best pure boxing writing I’ve ever done.”


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