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.”