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The Boxer 

This was a fight that took place a little ways back and stays in mind.

It was Thomas Grissom of Bastrop, with a record of 2-11 coming in, against Frankie Gonzales of Houston, 13-1. For $950 and maybe more than the money, the license to sit on a ripped barstool with your friends and be better than them in some way. Or maybe another club in your bag when you're trying to hit an approach shot to a new girl. The right to call yourself a prizefighter.

From the start, from the time the two got into the ring, it didn't look promising. Gonzales looked like Samson with a buzz cut, a young man with a dark focus. Grissom was pale and straight up and down, a tombstone of a guy. He looked like someone's nice brother-in-law who's housepainting now because he got this little girl pregnant. He didn't look like he believed in himself. Then the bell rang and it didn't take long to see that there wasn't a whole lot to believe in.

Gonzales was bringing that left hand to the body every chance he got, and he got plenty. The boxing gloves they were wearing were as red as washed apples, and every time the red of Gonzales' glove found the fair flesh of Grissom's body, the contrast of colors was great and easily seen from the first few rows of spectators. And after the glove went away for a while, you could see a pink pool spreading out on that pale body, as if the glove had left some of its redness behind.

And Grissom didn't have the force to stop Gonzales nor the skill to flee him. Anybody could see that. In fact, Grissom didn't seem to have many of the tools a boxer should have. Except for the heart part. There was plenty of that.

Between rounds, a girl with a tight top and even tighter leather pants would climb through the ropes and walk around the ring holding up a cardboard sign with the upcoming round painted on it. There were four of these girls, and they took turns getting into the ring and sashaying around with a smile and getting whoops and whistles from the crowd. The girls represented some local gentleman's club, and they also represented extreme femaleness in the intervals of all the extreme maleness going on. Once the sex was subtler, more removed from the violence of a boxing show, but no more.

Next round. When Gonzales would get Grissom on the ropes and start hooking to the body, plenty of people sitting near the ring would form their mouth into a little "O," like they were about to blow smoke rings. Ohhh, they were saying, or maybe Ahhh, like they were feeling some small part of the pain.

The tallest of the four girls from the gentleman's club kept watching with a kind of open-mouthed frown on her face, on the verge of being horrified but hoping someone would talk her out of it, would assure her that it didn't hurt as much as it looked like it did.

The song continued in the next round, but some of the notes began to sound harsh, like a beginner at the piano. Even some of those rooting for Gonzales didn't look so happy. It was like your favorite baseball team leading 17-0, and now you just want the game to be over.

The Gonzales punches kept thudding on target. When a bat connects just right with a baseball, the sound lifts something inside the spectator. But when a punch connects just right with a body, the sound sinks something inside.

At last it was over. The loser took his time going back to the dressing room. There were two members of the St. Louis Rams in the audience, Al-Rayir Hakim and Francis St. Paul. They looked over the abrasions on Grissom's face and body, the places where all those hooks had found a home. "Man, we don't put our bodies through that," one of the football players said. "And for plenty more bucks," the other said.

At the end of this, the boxer started a smile. But probably since things of this night hadn't been running so well, the smile hardly went anywhere at all.

After the arena emptied, someone leaving late saw him outside, talking to one of the guys working in valet parking. Looking at him, the late leaver wondered what his story would be when he got back to Bastrop, to his buddies, to his girl? Would he stand in front of a mirror to see what his suffering looks like and be pleased that looking back would be Thomas Grissom, prizefighter?

"You were dead game," the late leaver said as he walked past, thinking that someone should notice and say so.

"I gave it everything I had," the prizefighter said truthfully. Likely so that he could hear it.

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