Near the doorway of the gym, a drifter stood. He had the sunken cheeks and dazed eyes of a man nudged awake all night by a cop's shoe. The building housing the gym seemed deserted at this early hour, a good place to sleep. The drifter wandered inside and curled up at the foot of the stairway. I stepped over him and headed up the steps.
"Youuuuuuuu! Get out of my building!" The scream pierced the stairwell. I looked up and saw Beau Jack, legs spread and braced, fists taut, eyes burning. He pounded down the steps and stood above the drifter.
Groggily the man rose. Now you could see and smell all of his loneliness. It drove Beau Jack berserk.
"Get the f——out of my building! Get your ass out of my building before I put you through the wall!"
"I'm a man," said the drifter, "just like you. Don't talk to me like a dog."
"You ain't no man! Prove it, prove it, prove it!" Beau Jack ripped off his glasses, raised his fists, thrust out his jaw. His chest grew large and small, large and small, like a bellows. "This don 't belong to you! It belongs to me! I'll put you through the wall!"
The drifter's eyes focused. He looked at Beau Jack and saw what it meant to him. He shook his head and walked away.
I accept fate. I began as a shoeshine boy and I'm resigned to end as one. All the good things that happened to me in between have been a blessing. Lovingly he swept the gym after evicting the drifter, while I sat to the side of the ring reading photocopies of the old newspaper stories. This last comment, he made to a writer in 1980.
Every now and then after he had retired in 1955, reporters came upon Beau Jack bent over a man's shoes in a Miami Beach hotel—sometimes at the Fontainebleau, other times at the Doral—and wrote stories steeped in pathos about the sorry fate of the former champion. Cameramen and documentary makers came too. Beau Jack became the stereotype of the penniless ex-fighter, exploited by his managers.
I waited for Beau Jack and asked him how he felt about being robbed so cruelly. He paused, grinned and said, "Mistah, sah, ain't no use bothering about what they done with that money. I don't grieve no more. That being world champion was worth all I done and all they done to me. Mistah, sah, that was just the greatest."