"You know, you just can't understand what a legend Bobby Halpern is in this neighborhood. When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be an Iron Duke. They were the immortals, the Roman legions. Everyone wanted to be a Bobby Halpern. How quickly we forget our legends."
In some places Halpern is not forgotten, he is merely past-tensed, a great fighter who might have made it. At Frankie's social club and coffee shop across the street from Bishop Pernicone Plaza, they talk about the great neighborhood fighters, Paolo Rossi and the Viserta brothers and Johnny Rinaldi, who was a terrific fighter until Bummy Davis took him out with one punch, who used to come in and yell, "Gimme a coffee!" and slam the counter so hard the dishes would rattle.
"Halpern?" an old-timer says. "If he didn't get sent away he would have been a champeen, and a good champeen."
Halpern is hurrying down East 187th Street, on the way to meet Larry Morris, whose real name is Viggiano, who was Bobby's manager when he first turned pro 24 years ago. A friend mentions that the police are a bit skeptical about the bars he's been hanging out in, about his chances of staying out of prison.
"Those aren't my places," Halpern says. "I hang out in a bar near 186th and Hughes. They do a little numbers there, that's all. Look, when a guy does a lot of time, who are the guys he's going to hang out with? You have to go back to the people you knew before. The legitimate people'll talk to me, but in their minds I'm still a criminal. Same thing with the hacks upstate. No matter who you are, you're an animal because you've been behind the cage.
"I've had all kinds of propositions—robberies, hijacking. I told 'em to forget it. A guy who does 60 days, a year—we call it the installment plan—he might be ready to look for action. But a guy like me who does a big bit is different. You've given up 17 years out of your life, and you're not too ready to do it again. You know you can't afford to.
"I know time's running out on me as a fighter. But I know I could make some money if they gave me some work in the Garden. That unbeaten guy, Jerry Cooney, a guy pulled out of the fight with him in the Garden. I called Duke Stefano, the matchmaker, and I said, 'How about it for me with Cooney?' and he said, 'Forget it, Bobby, we've got bigger things for you.' "
Later in the day, after Halpern has met Morris, his friend calls Stefano at the Garden.
"I used him 19 years ago. I ain't forgotten him," Stefano says. "I'm going to save him for a shot against Cooney on TV. He reminds me of Bummy Davis, that kind of fighter. I'm saving him for a five-to ten-thousand-dollar shot, one of those big paydays."
The friend thinks about Larry Morris, an old man with a day's growth of beard, sitting in a joint he calls a haberdashery shop, staring out the window. "A white hope, a crowd pleaser," Morris says, watching the late afternoon traffic on East 187th. "Gets into a little argument and he's gone for 17 years. Seventeen long years. My dreams went with him. It's like a person losing a fortune in the stock market."