For Al Jones the choice of employment wasn't all that inspiring. To be sure, there were cabbages and beans and peas to be picked. But he had done that and he hated it. Then there was the man who offered him a job in a used-car lot, not as a salesman but as a sponge-and-suds jockey, and who wants to spend a lifetime scrubbing grime from one-owner cars? "You gotta sweep out the office, too," said the man. "O.K.," said Jones, sighing, "give me a dollar an hour and I'm yours." The man came up a nickel to 80� an hour. "Stick your broom in your ear," said Jones, not unkindly.
"I was just out of the Army and I had nothing going for me but this big body [6'5" and 230 pounds] and 20 years of fighting. Just a high school dropout with muscles and meanness, and, when somebody offered me a job bouncing drunks out of a bar, I said sure, what have I got to lose. That's when, man, I really got to fighting. I mean those were drunk people. Full-grown men and every night you had to fight them because they need violence the way other people need food."
"Tell him about the guy you worked with, that other bouncer who got killed," said Pappy Alexander, busily sweeping the kitchen of the duplex he shares with Angelo Dundee's once-beaten heavyweight. ( Jones lost his very first fight, on June 11, 1964, before Dundee began handling him, and is now 25-1-1.)
"I'm getting to that," said Jones. He settled back on a gold couch, eyes closed, remembering. With one finger he followed a range of tough scar ridges around his eyes. "These are my battle scars. I'm lucky I still got a head to wear them on. Every night in that bar was a war; always some drunken bean-picker running out the door to get his gun. Howard, the other bouncer, wasn't so lucky. One of those drunks got a gun and blew his face off."
"A bad thing," Pappy said solemnly.
The small concrete-block duplex is in Goulds, a sprawling, unscrubbed farming community, mostly Negro, squatting in the hot dust alongside of Highway U.S. 1, half an hour's drive south of Miami. Like the paint on the houses, hope fades quickly here. "Don't tell me about any ghettos," said Jones. "This has got to be doubly bad, or at least it was when I was growing up. These people aren't like people, you know what I mean? They are farm laborers and that's nothing. You can tell these people anything, that their eyes are black, that they are colored, that their hair is kinky, and if they're not in the mood to hear that, you got to fight them. It was that way, man. These people have lost themselves; there is no way to reclaim them."
Outside, a brief breeze began scuffing up the dust. A puff of coolness came in through the open front door. A dozen flies followed. "You have got just two choices here," said Jones. "Sweat or bugs. It's a great way to live. You know, for most people it's just an existence, a mere existence. You live from day to day, until, you know, sometimes with people things change. For the worse sometimes, sometimes for the better. Me, I found a way out. I reclaimed myself. I went into the ring and found what life really is. Regardless if I make it as a fighter or not, I learned how to live like a human being."
"I told you he was a nut," Pappy said, softly. "He thinks climbing into a ring gives him better than what he's got. Now who would believe that?"
"Teddy, this is Angelo Dundee. How about getting me a fight with Buster Mathis?"
"Are you serious?" said Teddy Brenner, almost dropping his phone in the Garden boxing office. "You really will fight Mathis?"