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AT THE APRON explores the boxing world, capturing the lively and action-packed decades in which boxing was the premier combat sport. Mike North, writer, photographer, and amateur boxing official, introduces us to an incredible cast of characters who chose the boxing life-and the arenas where their lifeblood was spent-and invite us to share in their stories, their knowledge, and their passion.
Traffic was heavy as usual but Mike didn't pay any attention to the cars and people that were passing by; his thoughts were of a different time. He turned to look at the old building he was sitting in front of; for just for a moment, he thought he heard the music that once came from inside. He knew that was impossible however, for that music stopped many years ago. As he stared at the doorway he could have sworn that he heard the ring announcers introducing the first fight.
"You must be going crazy," Mike said to himself. Then his thoughts were interrupted by a voice from behind him.
"Who are you talking to old man?" Mike turned to see who was talking to him and came face to face with a small boy on roller skates. "Who are you talking to?" the little boy said.
"I was talking to myself," said Mike.
"Do you always talk to yourself?" asked the little boy.
"What is your name young fellow?"
"My name is Jimmy," the boy replied.
"Well, don't you ever talk to yourself?"
"I don't think so," said Jimmy. "But sometimes my mom talks to herself, but only when she is real mad at my dad."
"And where are your Mom and Dad right now?"
"My mom is right over there, where we live, and she said I could come over here and roller skate but to be careful crossing the street," replied Jimmy.
"Aren't you a little too young to be playing by yourself?"
"I don't have anyone to play with, because my mom hasn't had my baby brother yet," Jimmy answered. "Why are you here by yourself? Don't you have someone to play with either?" Jimmy asked.
"No, I'm all alone nowadays I don't have anyone to play with either. So I just come down here to look at this old building to remember the days when I had lots of friends to play with."
"How come you like that old building? It's been closed for a long time my mom said and she told me not to go in there because there are ghosts in there," Jimmy continued.
"Well, your mom may just be right; there might be ghosts in there. A long time ago I used to go into there a lot that was when I was a famous sportswriter."
"If you were famous how come you sit down here all by yourself?"
"I used to be famous," replied Mike.
"Well, you don't look famous, why were you famous?" Jimmy asked.
"You sure do ask a lot of questions for such a young man."
"Well, if I don't ask questions, nobody will tell me anything," said Jimmy. "How come you like that old building so much? What did you do when you went in there?"
"More questions, you sure do ask a lot of questions," said Mike.
"I don't care," said Jimmy. "What did you do when you went in there?"
"I went in there to watch the boxing matches, and take pictures of the boxers. Then I would write a story, send the story to magazines, and they would pay me money for my stories."
"What kind of stories?" Jimmy asked.
"Stories about boxing of course," replied Mike.
"I want to be a boxer when I grow up, just like my grandfather".
"Oh you do huh? And just who is your grandfather?" asked Mike.
"My grandfather is Sammy Garcia. That's my last name Garcia."
"Not Sammy (Little Guns) Garcia?"
"I don't know," Jimmy said. "My mom said my grandfather use to be a good boxer but that was before I was born. Now he lives at the nursing home."
"I saw your grandfather fight many times right here in this old building," said Mike. "So you're Sammy's grandson. I didn't even know he was still living around here. Is he around now?" asked Mike.
"No, I don't think so know."
"That's OK," said Mike. "I just thought he might remember me."
"Why?" asked Jimmy.
"Because I use to be a famous sportswriter back in those days."
"You don't look famous," said Jimmy.
"OK, don't start that again. And what does someone have to look like to look famous?"
"If you are famous how come you sit down here all by yourself?"
"OK, I wasn't famous I was just popular."
"What's popular mean?" asked Jimmy.
"How come you know what famous is but not what popular is?" Mike asked.
"I don't know," said Jimmy.
"Well, it means that a lot of people liked me," replied Mike.
"If a lot of people liked you, how come you sit down here by yourself?"
"Well, that's a long story Jimmy," said Mike. "See when I first came to California." Just as Mike started to tell little Jimmy his story a voice from a balcony interrupted his talking.
"Is he bothering you mister?" asked the voice from the balcony.
"Who is that?" Mike asked in a quiet voice.
"That's my mom," little Jimmy replied.
"No, he's not bothering me; we were just talking."
"Jimmy it's time for supper, you better come home and eat," replied the lady.
"Mom we were just talking, do I have to come home now?" Jimmy yelled back.
"Yes Jimmy. Stop bothering that old man and come home right now," replied Jimmy's mother.
"He's not bothering me."
"Jimmy! Come home right now."
"Oh, OK if I have to," Jimmy said sadly. "I have to go," Jimmy said to Mike.
"I know, but maybe we can talk again some other time."
"That would be great, I like talking to you," Jimmy told the old man.
Mike watched as little Jimmy skated into the apartment building entrance. Maybe he will come back down after he eats Mike thought to himself. Sitting back down on the old bench, Mike was all alone again and his thoughts soon focused back on that old building behind him. As he sat and thought about that old building his mind started to drift and he began to remember how it all got started so many years ago.
It has been about six months since Mike officiated at his last amateur boxing show. That day he was checking his Thomas Guide plotting his route to Arcadia. The fights were to be held at the old US Armory about 40 miles from Mike's home in Canoga Park. Mike had had a great deal of experience in amateur boxing as a judge, as a referee, and as a timekeeper. Originally from Missouri, Mike had held a full time job at Marion Laboratories (a large pharmaceutical company) and also ran a small photography business. In his spare time Mike helped run the Lee's Summit Boxing Club. The Lee's Summit Boxing Club was founded by two former amateur boxers, registered with the USA Boxing National Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado and governed by the Kansas City, Missouri Golden Gloves. The club was operated from the basement of Mike's house in Greenwood, Missouri where he also acted as coach, trainer, and sparring partner. Mike had joined the club as a coach after a very short amateur boxing career. In Missouri, there were few amateur officials; therefore, when you attended a boxing show you often held many positions. It was permitted at that time in amateur boxing to hold multiple licenses and the boxing family being small, licenses were very seldom checked.
The freeways were under heavy construction and Mike had to detour off before he came to his exit. Stopping at a local gas station Mike soon realized that he had gotten himself pretty well turned around. Not knowing how to speak Spanish did not help much either. After pointing to the map and some very helpful broken English Mike now had a new route to the Armory. The show hadn't started when Mike walked into the Armory even though he was a half hour late. He had been in contact with a lady named Melody who was the one who asked Mike if he could work that day.
A lady approached Mike and asked, "Are you Mike North? You were supposed to be here a half hour ago. Where in the goddamn hell have you been?" Melody shouted at Mike. This was the first time Mike had ever met Melody and she seemed very pissed off.
"I got turned around due to the construction on the freeway."
"If you plan on working as an amateur official around here you better learn to find your way around or I'll see to it you don't work again."
"Sorry about being late. I'll make sure to leave my house very early next time." What a bitch, Mike thought to himself. This show wasn't even close to getting started there weren't any other officials there that Mike could see.
"Welcome to the show," a voice from behind Mike said. "My name is Sid, I just walked in. I'm one of the referees and judges."
"Oh. Hi, my name is Mike North and I am the new judge."
"You are not a judging today because you're late. I need you to be the timekeeper," Melody shouted at Mike.
"That's OK with me," Mike answered.
Sid spoke up and told Melody, "We already have the timekeeper and you know that Randy isn't trained to be a judge so we need Mike to judge today." With a disappointed look on her face Melody told Sid to review the score cards with Mike. Mike followed Sid and they went over and sat at the table located at ringside.
"She's a fuckin' bitch when she wants to be," Sid told Mike. "Most times I can't stand her but she is good for amateur boxing and does her job very well."
"She seems a little upset because I was late," Mike stated to Sid.
"I don't know why. We are far from getting starting and you're not the only one late; we are still waiting for some of the other officials," Sid told Mike.
"Boxing shows back in Missouri very seldom started on time either. I can referee if you need me too, but most of the time back in Missouri I was a judge."
"No that's OK. I spoke with the other referee just a few minutes ago and he's on his way." Sid told Mike.
"How many fights do we have for today?" Mike asked.
"I helped Melody with the weigh-ins late yesterday and if all the fighters show up there will be fifteen fights," Sid told Mike.
The ring was set up in the middle of the small building with folding chairs placed in rows around the ring. The ring looked like it had been around for years and could have used a good cleaning. There were stains all over the canvas and the ropes were in poor shape. Mike and Sid sat at the small table at ringside and went over the scoring cards; the same kind Mike had used back in Missouri.
"How many fights have you judged?" Sid asked Mike.
"I think around 500 over a five year period," Mike told Sid.
"Wow, that's a lot," Sid commented. Mike explained to Sid that back in Missouri the Lee's Summit Boxing Club would travel to other cities and states for their boxing team and most of the shows would last two or three days with as many as 25 to 30 fights per show.
Sid and Mike talked about how to score a fight and what to look for in an amateur fight. Sid noticed that Mike had a pretty large camera bag with him.
"You have a very nice camera bag." Sid commented.
"I never go anywhere without my cameras," Mike said. Mike had just gotten a new leather camera bag and never traveled anywhere with out it.
"What do you do for a living?" Sid asked Mike.
"When I'm not at a boxing show I am a wedding photographer. That's why I am not available every weekend for judging. Wedding photography pays the bills and during the week I photograph real estate."
"You know I have been looking for a photographer to go along with the articles. I write for a small boxing magazine. Would you be interested in taking pictures of professional boxing for my articles and getting paid for it? I can get you into professional boxing shows for free with a press pass," Sid explained to Mike.
"How does that work?" Mike asked.
"I can give your name to Rusty Rodes, the owner of Western States Boxing Magazine, and ask him if he would bring you on as a staff photographer. Most of the time I go to the Monday night boxing shows at the Great Western Forum" Sid explained.
"I would love to take pictures of boxing; it would be two loves coming together, boxing and photography," Mike told Sid.
"Let me get your name and phone number after the show and I'll contact Rusty this week. I'll give you a call after I talk to him," Sid told Mike.
"That's sounds great I'll be looking forward to hearing from you," Mike told Sid.
Mike and Sid went on to work the boxing show that afternoon and saw some very good amateur boxing fights. Melody had calmed down and was very friendly by the time the show ended. Melody was the head official and the one who added up the score cards after each bout.
"Your score cards look pretty much on the money," she said to Mike.
"You and Sid scored each fight the same. I like it when judges are consistent in their scoring. Hey, can you work the Blue and Gold Tournament coming up in a couple of weeks in Baldwin Park? The show starts on Saturday and the finals are on Sunday," Melody asked Mike. The Blue and Gold Tournament was a big show in amateur boxing and Mike was glad he got asked to work this show.
"It's great that Melody asked you to work this show." Sid said.
"Are you going to be there?" Mike asked Sid.
"Yeah, I worked the show last year. They need a lot of officials because they have two rings going at the same time. But I'll talk to you before that and let you know what Rusty says about you taking pictures."
"When is your next fight as a writer?" Mike asked.
"In two weeks at the Forum. Hopefully by then you can take pictures."
"That would be great. I can't wait. I have never been to the Forum before." Mike told Sid.
A week and a half had passed when Mike got a phone call from Sid.
"I talked to Rusty and he wants you to give him a call. He said he thinks he can work something out with you for taking pictures."
"What does that mean?" Mike asked.
"It probably means he can't pay you much money but I told him I needed you to take the pictures and you are a great photographer," Sid told Mike.
"You have never seen any of my pictures. How do you know how good I am?" Mike asked Sid.
"Anybody who makes a living at photographing weddings must be pretty good."
"Well, that's true. I do photograph a lot of weddings."
Mike called Rusty that afternoon. Rusty explained that he could make arrangements for Mike to take pictures at the Forum but could only pay him twenty dollars plus the cost of film and developing. What Rusty needed was a 4 X 5 black and white photo that he could scan and copy into the magazine. He also needed Mike to identify each photograph with the names of the fighters and the location and date. In addition to this Mike needed to mail the pictures ASAP to him in Reno, Nevada where he lived and published the magazine. All of this for twenty dollars plus cost but Mike didn't care about the cost; just getting involved in taking pictures for professional boxing was very exciting. Rusty gave Mike the name of the press manager at the Great Western Forum and told Mike to call him in a couple of days before the show.
Mike called the number that Rusty had given him and spoke with the Forum's press manager.
"Yeah, I got your name from Rusty. The show starts at 7:00pm but we ask all press writers and photographers to get there an hour earlier. Go to the South gate and I'll have your name on the parking list for working press. Enter the Forum at the press entrance where you see the blue canopy. After you get inside ask for me and I will give you a press pass. But I gotta tell you, you are going to have to sit in the back upper bleachers, I don't have enough places at ringside. Those are reserved for the bigger newspapers and magazines. You will need a telephoto lens and preferably a small monopod to shot from. I'll need to see your equipment when you get here. I don't waste my time with nonprofessional photographers."
Mike had no problem meeting the equipment requirements having lots of photography equipment in his possession but he was troubled over which kind of film to take. Mike calls Sid and asked him if he knew what kind of film the other press photographers were shooting.
"I'm not sure," Sid told Mike.
"Well, I am going to take a couple of different kinds and later I can push them in the tank when I develop them."
"I don't know what that means but it sounds like a good idea. Hey, when you get there find the pressroom and I'll meet you there," Sid instructed Mike.
Excerpted from At the Apron by Michael North Copyright © 2011 by Michael North. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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