Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Lights and Boxing Matches.

Today, like many others around the country I suspect, is 'take the Christmas stuff out of the garage and put it up' day.  I like this day.  I like the process.  I like the whole feeling to it.  We might have to buy some new lights because Angie thinks some of our strings are burnt out.  I don't rememeber that they have, but we'll take a look.  I feel very domestic on this day, swaying precariously up on my ladder as I string the lights around the house.  Very Ward Cleaver. 

We're cooking up a massive kettle of chili to enhance the day's Christmas spirit.  Not that chili has anything to do with Christmas, although I suppose it might if you lived in Mexico City.  Angie has a lot of ornaments, etc., from 'olden days' so I always get little anecdotes and family stories as we unpack the Christmas boxes.  I've already heard them all, of course, but I listen again patiently.  Part of her 'take the Christmas stuff out of the garage and put it up' day is repeating the stories attached to the various ornaments.

Yesterday I had a very productive day with our musical director, Alan Patrick Kenny.  This mammoth song I have in the middle of the show called 'Zero's Confession' is the hardest piece of music I've ever had to learn.  It went well although it's still light years away from performance.  The song, as I've mentioned before, is about ten minutes long and by the time I'm halfway through I feel like I've been singing for an hour.  But we keep plugging away at it.  One measure at a time.

We also worked on two of my 'ballads' with Mrs. Zero (played by a wonderful singer/actress, Kelly Lester).  Kelly is a 'real' singer, as opposed to me, a 'pretend' singer.  She's got an astonishing soprano voice that appears to cover something like seven or eight octaves.  The result is something akin to Beverly Sills singing a duet with Tom Waits.  Nonetheless, strange as it sounds, the outcome is really quite beautiful. 

Oddly, I'm off today.  No rehearsal.  I'm tempted to simply put the score out of my mind and attend to the Christmas stuff.  Of course, I can't do that, and long about 3:00 I suspect I'll plug this music in and start warbling along with it.

Last night I watched one of my new Netflix's called "ALI versus Chuvalo, The Last Round."  As any longtime reader of this blog knows, I'm an amateur boxing historian and revel in DVD footage of old heavyweight fights.  I won't dwell on this because I know that hardly anyone else is a boxing enthusiast but the DVD changed my mind about George Chuvalo, a tough, journeyman contender in the 60s and 70s.  Chuvalo, I think, was a better fighter than I ever gave him credit for.  He, like so many others - Oscar Bonevena, Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle, Cleveland Williams, Buster Mathis - had the great misfortune to come along at the same time as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.  If that had not been the case I think there was a very good chance Chuvalo would have been a champion.  At least for a little while.  But, as fate would have it, he reached his peak as a fighter at the exact same time as arguably the greatest fighter in the history of the game, Muhammad Ali.  They fought in Toronto in 1966, before Ali's layoff, and Chuvalo didn't stand a chance, although he put up a good showing.  Fighting Ali at that point in his career was like fighting a shadow.  He simply couldn't be hit.  The one interesting thing about the fight, however, was that it sort of served as a precurser to Ali's later all-out wars in the 70s with Frazier and Foreman.  Up to that point no one had any idea if Ali could take a shot because, well, he was simply too fast to hit.  But at one point during this fight, Ali comes down off his toes, stops dancing, and goes toe to toe with Chuvalo.  And in the process took a few cannon shots to the head.  To everyone's surprise he was completely unfazed.  Remember, Ali was, at that point, quite possibly the most hated man in America.  Nearly everyone wanted someone to finally and forever shut his mouth.  So here it is, round 11 in a tough 15 round brawl, and Ali stops moving and slugs it out for a little while.  Unheard of.  And lo and behold, as sportswriters shook their heads in confusion, Ali outslugged a slugger.  As Chuvalo himself said, "I realized early on that I couldn't outbox him.  And then about halfway through the fight I realized I couldn't outslug him, either."  He was the first of many fighters to discover this uncomfortable fact.

Many consider Ali's fight against Cleveland Williams in the Houston Astrodome in 1967 to be Ali's greatest moment as a fighter.  And it probably was.  But this fight, a year earlier, was when Ali unwrapped perhaps his greatest gift to a shocked public: his ability to take a punch.  To the observant, five years later when he fought Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden and took Joe's best shots right on the chin without flinching, it came as no surprise.  As the very fine boxing writer, the late Red Smith, wrote after the Frazier fight, "He proved he not only could take a punch, he could take one better than anyone in the history of the game."

And now, if you'll excuse me, my dogs, Franny and Zooey, are staring at me.  I'm trying to ignore them but they're relentless.  It's time for a walk.

See you tomorrow.

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