It is not a new
story, but it serves to illuminate the curious unreality of Miami Beach, where
Floyd Patterson will defend his heavyweight title against Ingemar Johansson
Monday night. A guest at the Hotel Fontainebleau—pronounced Fountain Blew in
Miami—asked a bellboy the way to the ocean. "I'm sorry, sir," the boy
replied, "but the ocean is closed."
In this whimsical
setting, Floyd Patterson has trained diligently. He has been working out at the
Deauville (pronounced Dough-ville, as in Splitsville or Laughsville)—a hotel
which, behold, has an ice-skating rink in the basement and no mortgages and
whose doilies carry the legend that the Deauville is, inalienably,
"dedicated to the attainment of happiness."
happiness, if not Ingemar's, Patterson has been sparring in the Napoleon Room,
Section 3. This is a free-form auditorium with ghastly brass chandeliers and
cork walls. It might better be named the Proust Room. Floyd and his sparring
partners wear T shirts with musketeers on them, the emblem of the Deauville:
the d�cor here is free French. But Floyd is not galled. He even endures the
broad in the sunsuit who parades the aisles carrying a poster that proclaims
both the number of the round and the fact that the Ritz Brothers are appearing
in the Casanova Room. "This is a vacation spot," Floyd says wistfully,
"not a place for business." He adds, almost apologetically, "But I
came here for business."
After his workout
and a cup of tea from an elaborate service, Floyd walks slowly down Collins
Avenue through the languorous dark to his rented house. He collects the
unfamiliar leaves of tropical plants from the gutters and wrenches fronds from
palms. "I'm going to send them home to my wife," he says, as though you
had asked an idiotic question. Nature, evidently, is harder to attain than
happiness. Here are the blue balloons of Portuguese men-of-war washed up on the
tide; the snips of hair which the pastel artists cut from tourists' heads so
that the color can be "faithfully reproduced" while the subjects are
learning to cha-cha-cha at poolside or going to Mass at the jai-alai fronton.
Floyd in Miami Beach is, as in W. B. Yeats's startling vision of the force of
actuality, like a real toad in an imaginary garden.
Now 26, Floyd is
also a new, dominant man. He has changed powerfully and radically. "I used
to be on the outside looking in," he says of his castoff self. "Now I
am on the inside looking out." It is a vantage which pleases him. "I'm
grown up now. I am a little more hard." Not that he ever allowed himself to
be taken advantage of. Years ago, he says, before he was married, he took a
girl to the Apollo Theater in Harlem. A group called The Orioles were on the
bill, and when they had finished their act the leader wiped his sweaty face
with his handkerchief and flung it into the orchestra. "You know what was
extraordinary?" Floyd asks. "My girl finished third in the race for
that handkerchief. But you know what was even more extraordinary? When she got
back to her seat I wasn't there." One day Floyd asked a friend this
conundrum: "What is the most powerful license plate there is?" After
the friend had guessed "No. 1" or one's initials, Floyd said, "No.
It's no license plate at all."
change was rung in the solitary deprivation of the year between his first fight
with Johansson, which he lost, and the second, which he won. "I make the
decisions now," he says. Indeed, he has assumed the executive stance, the
command voice. "Don't bother me with details," he told the cameraman
who films his sparring sessions. "That's why I have a lawyer." His
employees have learned to respect him as he flexes his new authority. Even
Julius November, his attorney, is sweet and submissive, hovering like some
huge, pale butterfly, in Floyd's company. A friend told Floyd that in certain
countries there is a king, who is merely the titular head, and a prime
minister, who holds and manages the power. "Yes, yes," said Floyd
quickly, "now I am the king and the prime minister, too."
As for Cus
D'Amato, whose shadow, like the moon, used to eclipse Floyd's sun—he lives in
the same house as Patterson but Floyd neither knows what he does nor seems to
care. Not that the old bindings of love and loyalty have been totally broken,
but the roles of father and son appear to have been subtly reversed. "I
tell Cus," Floyd says patiently, "that some of the people he knows have
been using him and taking advantage of him, but he doesn't listen to me. My
eyes have been opened."
What does Cus do?
He is ill upstairs in his room—it may have been the smoked salmon. Or he goes
to the Fontainebleau, where Beau Jack, the old lightweight, shines shoes and,
emotionally, shines Jack's shoes. "Is that good publicity for the
fight?" Floyd asks. D'Amato comes frequently to training and then sits in
the back and does not visit Floyd. November, however, comes lordly to training.
"I'm happy to present to you the attorney for Champion Patterson," is
the astonishing announcement.
fight is doing badly at the gate—an informed estimate says it will gross
$550,000 in a hall scaled for almost twice that much—it is certainly not
Floyd's doing. He has thoroughly charmed and won the Beach. He treats his
battered sparmates compassionately, autographs almost endlessly, stops
shadowboxing and bows low so a little girl can take his picture, greets and
chats engagingly with passers-by. One afternoon when Johansson failed to appear
for a public workout in the Convention Hall, Floyd pleaded with Trainer Dan
Florio that he be allowed to go two rounds so "the people wouldn't be
disappointed." Floyd apparently is satisfied that the seating has been
integrated in Convention Hall, where the fight will be held. He had forced the
promoters to post a $10,000 forfeit that would be payable to the NAACP if the
attendance wasn't integrated. Now he is going to donate that sum to the NAACP
from his share of the purse. Of course, he remains apprehensive about his
unfamiliar role as a Negro in the South, although in many respects Miami Beach
is closer to Seventh Avenue than Peachtree Street. But it is still the South,
and Floyd is anxious and, understandably, a little forlorn. One night he bought
a handful of picture postcards from a rack outside a store and prepared to pay
for them with a $5 bill he held in his other hand. When the white saleslady
asked Floyd how many cards he had selected, he, bemused and unsettled, handed
her the bill to count instead of the cards.