Gilbert, born in Mexico, is a construction worker in the neighborhood. He comes into the bookstore to visit “my mom” he says, as he hugs me. He came in one day to tell me he accidentally sliced though his leg, pantomiming cutting a plank across his lap with the knife continuing to slash beyond the plank. I was amazed when he told me how many stitches were needed to sew it up. “It doesn’t look that long,” I said. He said, “They count the stitches in all the layers they have to close.” Yuch. I didn’t know that.
Gilbert had been a boxer. Now, evenings, he is at the gym as a trainer. He manages and trains several boxers. He visited once with a small slender young man and introduced him as one of his boxers. So now I know what the lightweight category looks like up close. Very lightweight. When I expressed skepticism about his being a boxer, he showed me his arm muscles, and rigid stomach. Never-the-less, I had a feeling that if I caught him off guard, I could easily push him down.
Gilbert has two teenage daughters who, he told me proudly, are planning to go to college. He has a four-year-old son whom he is training as a boxer. “Why?” I asked. He said, “He can protect himself in our neighborhood.” The little boy loves boxing and has won two matches already. He does wear head gear Gilbert assured me.
Yesterday Gilbert visited to tell me that one of his boxers, Francisco Paco Rodrigues, 25 years old, a National Golden Gloves champion before he turned pro, was in the 10th round of a fight and winning, when he stopped the fight because he wasn’t feeling well, was rushed to the hospital where he died two days later of brain injuries. “Paco donated his organs. Everybody loved Paco.” Hundreds of people went to the funeral service. The police came to manage traffic and to escort Paco to the cemetery.
Paco’s death changed Gilbert. He said he has given up training his young boxers. He admits that he saw a drop of blood from his own ear on his pillow, so he knows he mustn’t box anymore. And he won’t let his son box. His son says every day, “Daddy, take me to the gym.”
Gilbert says, “I used to come home from work, eat dinner with the family and go straight to the gym to work with my boys. Now I come home, we eat, and I stay home. I just sit. I am so bored. I am so bored. And my little boy keeps saying, “Daddy, daddy, take me boxing.”