Saturday, August 24, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 123: Pete Hamill, Up the Stairs with Cus D’Amato (#63)

Pete Hamill, "Up the Stairs with Cus D’Amato" (1985) from At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing:

Pete Hamill's first story to appear in print was this profile of gym owner, boxing trainer, fight promoter, and etc., Cus D'Amato. I'm not a big fan of boxing--Cus is noted as being a fan of up-and-coming fighter Mike Tyson, who Cus would go on to train, and we all know how that turns out (Tyson: good at boxing, bad at life)--but if Raging Bull left me anything besides the mystery of Jake LaMotta's participation in a movie that makes him look so bad, it's the idea that human personalities and conflict can make even boxing interesting.

In Cus's case, the big conflict seems to be that eternal bout: principles vs. money. According to Hamill's profile, Cus kept by his principles, which was good for him--and not so good for his fighters:
Certainly he was on the moral high ground, but the terrible thing was that his personal crusade also hurt his fighters.
We’ll never know how good Patterson and Torres might have become if they’d been fighting more often, battling those fighters who were controlled by the IBC and the Garden. Certainly Torres would have made more money.
As you can see, even though Hamill is a friend and admirer of the subject, he doesn't--ahem--pull his punches on this topic. Cus may have been free to follow his principles, but principles come with a price-tag--a price that other people sometimes pay. As for Cus, he earlier notes that he was able to keep to his principles because he didn't want things. Which gives us a great roller-coaster ride as we see what things Cus didn't want:
“The beginning of corruption is wanting things.
That's a good line--let's get that on t-shirts!
You want a car or a fancy house or a piano, and the next thing you know, you’re doing things you didn’t want to do, just to get the things.
He's got an almost early punk vibe: down with cars, houses, pianos--just give me a cot in the office and my principles.
I guess maybe that’s why I never got married.
Wait, what's that now?
It wasn’t that I didn’t like women. They’re nice. It’s nice.
Wait, "they" seems to refer to women--who are nice. But that "it"--what exactly are you talking about, Mr. D'Amato?
It’s that women want things, and if I want the woman, then I have to want the things she wants. Hey, I don’t want a new refrigerator, or a big TV, or a new couch. . . .”
And that's where Cus D'Amato draws the line: women are nice, but man, they want couches and stuff.

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