If I can be said to have two homes, they're New York and Philly, and on this day, the former inspires in me a nostalgia for times I never fully experienced, a minor sadness I can shrug off, a relief born of a larger terror averted -- whereas the latter has shaken me up in the here and now without any of the ease granted by the passage of years -- or a stroke of luck.
Philly: I spent a good deal of college not on campus but in the converted warehouse now called 2300 Arena. I've seen guys fold up and crumble, like moths-turned-to-powder by a closed fist. Those were years complicated by ill-health and a tremendous confusion about what had happened to the person I once thought myself to be. I don't jump at every chance to return. I skipped last night's card at 2300 -- I figured headlining bantamweight Christian Carto would win without much of a trial anyway.
At 3 am today, I read the write-up of John DiSanto -- the man whose web site on the city's boxing history was bible and textbook to me, whose presence ringside remains a tremendous comfort, especially if we have occasion to discuss old films.
"The stunned South Philly crowd went silent," he wrote.
I turned belatedly to the Facebook broadcast, which proved eerie watching. In the first round, Woodsy -- kind, big-hearted Michael Woods on the mic -- noted Carto's risk-taking by refusing the offers of national promoters -- by betting he'd receive better ones in time.
"You're sacrificing some safety...It's a gambling play. I like it."
Two minutes into the second: It was silly how Carto got caught -- how with one punch his Top Rank dream might've been trashed -- not that I blame him. That would be fair but brutal. Unfeeling. This was KO-as-cold-existential-reminder -- we're all a misstep away from the edge.
Dude was facing a southpaw -- and he overthrew, inadvertently twisting into a lefty stance. Rather than switch back with caution, he attempted the reverse of his feet and weight as if alone, in front of a bedroom mirror, with no one present to disrupt him.
Carto had half-completed the change and was squared-up when foe Victor Ruiz dispensed the universe's harsh, inflexible judgment. A left to a kid not positioned to evade it. Man down. Night over. Promotional deal almost definitely withdrawn.
When you're made to pay for a single slip, that's not justice (where's the court's clemency -- its compassion?). This game we play may be more electric for being absolutely unforgiving -- but don't tell me that when the kid is in my psychic corner -- or, really, vice-versa.
It is about Carto. And he can come back. But there's a lamentation even in the way we phrase that -- to what dark corner has he been dispatched that we make his return so perilous-sounding?
New York: This is a weekend of cognitive dissonance.
Thin-skinned Kevin Durant went off on the media the other day for focusing on NBA free agency instead of its play. To me, it echoed complaints in other parts that everyone's a critic -- now more than ever, in large part due to social media. And we'd be better served as a society if far more people simply watched and listened -- observed -- reporters included.
It's an argument I'm utterly sympathetic to, even if Kevin Durant is an unappealing petitioner (I once told the Yormark twin who runs RocNation Sports how Durant's move ruined the NBA, and his response was such weak doublespeak I feared he'd be enraged merely by seeing his own words printed -- not that such fear stopped me).
Anyway, I wish I spent more time in deep observation and meditation myself. And yet this weekend especially, I long for more cacophony -- more criticism -- specifically from a semi-educated, always-painting-the-town-red press corps.
I think of all the institutional memory erased by the myriad journalistic firings the past decade, particularly the way Tribune, owner of New York's Daily News tabloid, dispatched half that newsroom last July.
The occasion is the anniversary today -- the 71st -- of the Feb. 9, 1948, death in Queens of then-renowned New Yorker Burns Mantle (actually, Robert Burns Mantle, in full, but he went by his middle name).
The fact we all know about the Mick but you've never heard of his surname-predecessor on the city scene bespeaks the aforementioned loss of knowledge-and-ink-steeped rampaging article-oinkers.
I'd bet a couple bucks -- I don't have more -- Tribune execs haven't a clue. Which is more than a shame -- if you're gonna destroy a place for economic reasons, shouldn't you at least learn who built it?
Of course, in the real world, econ affords corporations neither the time nor rationale for such romantic study-- the sadness of that unavoidable fact is why "Up in the Air" was written, why capitalism will always have the whiff of evil such that its watchers can't help but promote modifications, if not outright replacement, despite all other systems seeming to suck worse.
My aim is far less ambitious. To speak simply of a no-longer famous man. Burns Mantle was a drama critic, first in Denver in the 1890s, then in Chicago in the aughts, and, finally, starting in 1911, for New York City papers. He was the theater critic for the New York Daily News from 1922 until 1943, when, upon retiring, he passed this message onto his successor:
"The glory of dying in harness appealed to me until the harness began to chafe."
This long tenure isn't itself what made Mantle a folk hero to the Broadway bunch and general readers. It was that from 1920 until his death, he compiled a book every year of "The Best Plays."
He began this endeavor in the same year Michelin released its first restaurant guide, 60 years before the first Zagat was edited and an eon before Google was even an idea. Oh, and ages before Yelp asked you to rate your nursery school, Burns Mantle had the novel idea of ranking plays on a four-star scale.
For attending every opening night, for recording his impressions for the masses, he became an authority so beloved that upon his death from stomach cancer, the rival New York Times, in its deck (sub-headline), dubbed him the "Dean of Reviewers Here."
Judge Mantle's words for yourself -- here's the lead from his article on the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932:
"There is no describing this new Radio City Music Hall with superlatives. It is bigger than that."
I came to know of Burns Mantle in a roundabout way -- no theater pun intended: His death, while not early for his era, came from a stomach cancer that recalled for me the moment I got the phone call a decade ago that my best childhood friend was now suffering from the same. I hadn't been in touch with the friend on a regular basis for years. I was, in fact, caught up in an internship at the Washington Post that involved an editor who outright said she didn't like having me around.
But when a mutual buddy alerted me to this old pal's plight, I suddenly went numb to my surroundings -- everything was quiet or blurred to me but my own aching gut -- I felt immediately (and prematurely) the keen loss of someone I hadn't realized just how much I truly, without reservation, loved.
I probably thought of my friend everyday for the rest of my time at the Post, which is to say, it preoccupied me, not that I was some incredibly faithful friend (I tried to be when I could, but we were in different cities, and he was being treated and often unable to have visitors anyway).
It is sheer luck -- my own as much as his -- that my friend made it through that period, that the treatment worked, that I watched James Harden drop 48 on the Lakers with him last month, a decade later.
It's no empty musing to think it could have gone another way -- maybe in a parallel universe in which the outcomes differ, Christian Carto never gets caught by a shot while switching. The margins are so thin in this life.
So I feel some justice in roping Burns Mantle back in -- in giving him the posthumous column inches he ain't receiving elsewhere. We have nothing but each other.
Yes, there's perhaps too great a degree of elevation here. To quote the opening line of 1932 Best Picture Oscar-winner "Grand Hotel": "People come. People go. Nothing ever happens."
But there's tremendous hope, to me, in the idea I can snatch from history's dustbin scraps. Can show you that the Daily News's slogan long before the cuts came was "Best Fiction In Any Newspaper" and its earliest daily edition -- known as the bulldog among scoopsters and their readers -- featured an actual bulldog illustration in the top-righthand corner:
We all fall down eventually. Last night it was the unexpected and unfortunate turn of Christian Carto. He should get what help he needs to stand again. The best critics recognize their most soulful subjects, and having opened themselves to connection, wield words like outstretched hands, as a means of support.