"Ahh," Moore said once, when someone asked what his wife thought of kissing him through the new beard he had just grown. "She's happy to go through the brush to get to the picnic." Now he favors only a mustache and a wisp of chin hair under the lip. Moore forever brings to mind a word that has, regrettably, faded from usage: bebop. That image is abetted by his snappy beret—purple, adorned with a number of souvenir pins—which he has chosen to wear on his bald pate on this day. (It matches his bright-purple argyle sweater.)
But then, Moore was always a man of sartorial splendor. For one weigh-in he arrived in homburg, blue chesterfield and midnight-blue tuxedo, while suavely carrying a silver-tipped cane. On the occasion of one press conference, he appeared in top hat, white tie and tails. He often affected a yachting cap, for the very sensible reason that "it lends the impression that you own a yacht," and for a long time he drove a red Thunder-bird, because, as he said, "I think a sport should have a sports car."
Moore is calmly discoursing on this and other issues, complete with closed eyes and twiddling thumbs, when suddenly the chair shoots back, the eyes open and Instructor Moore is on his feet, the balls of his feet. It is time, he has decided, to teach an innocent the sweet science of the left jab.
Moore is like Johnny Appleseed in this regard, going about the land, educating all manner of mankind in how to jab. But it is also as if Shakespeare had spent his leisure time showing novices how to construct compound sentences, or if Rembrandt had happily advised amateurs on the mixing of paints.
Patiently, Instructor Moore plants the tyro's feet and places his pupil's left arm out on the alert, knuckles just so. He pauses and faces the rookie and holds up his own hands, together, in a triangle, the thumbs joined at the base, the fingers forming the other two sides. It is, he explains, the geometry of how the body should be set when one boxes. "You're on the defensive, but you can be aggressive," he says as he rotates his student's knuckles back to the correct position, from whence they have wandered.
And now he places his hands back in the triangle, then opens them at the top—like a flower blossoming—the fingers slowly separating. "Ahh, but that is where the mystery is," he purrs, "and I cannot teach you that. That you must learn on your own."
And the eyes crinkle up, the face glows, and suddenly Instructor Moore is in motion; he is the Mongoose again—dancing about the room, a purple whirling dervish, jabbing, by the chair, by the desk, by the wastebasket, by the window. Bing, bing, bing. Pop, pop. Dance, dance. Bing, bing, bing. The jabs fire out—lightning. Seventy-five years old, going on. The Mongoose. Jab, jab, jab.
The mystery was always and only the boxing, and how he could love so deeply something that treated him so shabbily for so long, In Them Days. After 16½ years he got his chance at the light heavyweight crown, and he won it, and three years later, after he had conducted his own lengthy publicity campaign, he forced Rocky Marciano to take him on for the heavyweight championship.
"Ahab and Nemesis" A.J. Liebling called the fight. Moore knocked the Rock down in the second round, but Marciano wore the old man down, and after the eighth the referee wanted to call it. "Oh no," the Mongoose said, gasping. "I want to be counted out." The referee, unsure, leaned down closer to where Moore was crumpled on his stool. "I'm a champion too," Moore said.
So Moore went out, proudly, for the ninth, and Marciano pummeled him to the canvas. The Rock retired after that, age 32, unbeaten. The Mongoose, age 39 or 42, boxed for another decade, treating his lady to much more.