Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of Battles Lost and Mayor Bloomberg

Today's headline story in the New York Times focused on the overturning by a state Supreme Court judge of Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to ban super-sized sodas from being sold in certain establishments. But for me, the ruling of Judge Milton Tingling had far more significant meaning. It reminded me, once more, of my brief, and wildly unsuccessful fighting career.

I am by nature a pacifist, and am, not so coincidentally, inordinately weak. I never lifted weights, I could never make a muscle that was noticeable by sight, nor barely one recognizable by touch. While a natural athlete, I was pretty much the equivalent of the 98 pound weakling who was pictured in those old Charles Atlas ads having sand kicked in his face at the beach. Fisticuffs was not my trademark.

Growing up in a distinctly upper middle class neighborhood did not lend itself to many instances where I was forced to defend my manhood. My hands were used for far more gentlemanly pursuits, like holding a golf club or writing a thank you note for the lovely birthday present from my aunt.

My best friend in those years, and still to this day, was of far more fiery temperament, a natural born battler.  He played football, I played soccer. He wrestled, I ran up and down a basketball court. He told stories of being enraged by some slight, perceived or real, and of battles where he took on older and bigger enemies. Bushes were damaged, knuckles were bruised, faces were bloodied and police were called. I wondered what all the fuss could possibly be about.

He called me last evening to advise me of the breaking story involving the Mayor and Judge Tingling. But his purpose was not to discuss the ramifications for the city or for the legacy of its leader. No, he wanted to remind me of my crushing defeat at the hands of Milton Tingling's younger brother.

My unofficial record in taking on another person in battle is no wins and two losses. I would say both would be by TKO, as I never lost consciousness in either instance. However, I still have yet to land my first blow.

I grew up in a corner house about a block from my local elementary school. Kids on the way to and from their appointed rounds would cut across our lawn so to shorten the distance from A to B. Normally, that practice went unnoticed. But one day, when I was in fourth grade, there was a snowstorm that dumped several inches of whiteness everywhere. I was in the middle of an after school play-date with Gerry Feldman when I spotted Robert Epstein destroying this pristine scene, sauntering on the angle across our property and decimating its beauty and serenity. I bolted out the front door, enraged, confronting the taller and beefier fifth grader, berating him for his insensitivity. With one well placed right hand to my belly from Mr. Epstein, I was doubled over in pain.

Several years would pass before my second physical and psychological beating. I was in my next to last year in a school where the grades ranged from seventh to twelfth. Among those in attendance was Milton Tingling, who was one year my junior. And his younger brother, who was then 5 years behind me in intellectual and physical prowess.

I was a member of the golf team, and one spring day was waiting for the coach to take us to our match. I recall wearing a gray blazer, as I believe we were taking team photos that afternoon. I stood in the parking lot near the gym door when Milton Tingling's younger sibling emerged.  The next few minutes are a bit of a blur, almost 50 years removed. My best recollection is that some uncomplimentary remark was made about my attire, and maybe my intended activity. Suddenly I was on the ground, my face reddened and in pain, my ego even redder and in mortal distress. This child, no more than 12 or so, had the audacity and the hands to take down the captain of the golf team. And then to walk away unscathed while I lay damaged in ways I feel well into the 21st century.

If I were to give one piece of advise to the Mayor of New York City, it would be that he should be wary in picking a fight with one of the Tingling brothers. While the Mayor is known for his combativeness, victory is not assured.  He should take it from a renowned fellow pugilist like me 

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