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I climbed into the ring and began to shadow box slowly, glad that the big room was empty. A man of about 60, wearing a John Deere cap and holding a little girl's hand, came in. He held the child in his lap and watched with keen interest, no doubt assuming that I was a young hopeful training for a fight. Being the subject of this illusion inhibited me for only a moment, and I began to play the part, quickening my punches and snorting air. The heavy bag barely twitched when I hit it. My left hook always made the canvas ones back at the Westport YMCA and Bridgeport Boys Club swing convincingly. This leather monolith had jerked to an almost horizontal position when Ali worked on it during a TV spot the previous year.
I showered in the sparring partners' quarters and was slouched on the sofa wondering where I could get some food, when a dapper black man of about 30 peered in. He said he was down from Connecticut to film a documentary. The two of us went into Deer Lake to eat at a roadside caf�. We returned at nightfall and the filmmaker suggested that we go to the recreation cabin where Ali's entourage would be gathered.
Cornerman Bundini Brown lined up his pool cue to break the rack against chief trainer Angelo Dundee. Photographer Howard Bingham and somebody else played Ping-Pong. A few other men milled about the room. Off to the side, in a huge leather chair, Ali surveyed the scene. My filmmaker friend introduced me to Dundee and Brown, but he didn't follow up on his earlier offer to escort me over to Ali, instead suggesting that I say hello by myself. I did, thanking Ali for the use of the gym. He nodded, then spoke. "You ain't a fighter are ya'?"
"No," I replied, "I just do a little amateur boxing." The pause that followed seemed an eternity.
"You got any brothers?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "one older in college." Then I continued hesitantly.
"I don't want to stay—I mean, I have a sleeping bag, and I'm wondering if I can sleep in your woods."
Ali didn't flinch. "No. I'll put you in the camper. Come on."
We walked down the dark path without talking. Light shone from a cabin down below where a couple of men were wrestling a mattress through the door. Ali headed that way.
"Ralph!" he suddenly bellowed into the night. "Otis!"