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[ II ]
I LET THE PHONE RECEIVER fall, then watched it swing back and forth on its silver cord, like a man dangling from a vine trap. Which is what I felt like after telling Considine, without thinking it through, that I'd fight Pop. � I called him Pop but not just because he was my father.
No, Pop was the sound of his nose cartilage exploding every Friday night in the ring. Those pops came with such frequency--and so explosively--that the writers, for a time, called him Orville Redenbacher.
Pop was also the sound of his open hand on my face, on those rare cameo appearances he made in our house. Maybe he was trying to make me over in his image, rearrange my face in the manner of Mr. Potato Head, to whom Pop bore a striking resemblance. He came to New York from Ireland at 15 and later fought three bouts as Potatoes O'Grotin. This earned him a two-word mention in the Daily News--"Potatoes O'Rotten"--that he folded up and stuck in his wallet for reasons I never understood. It was practically the only folding paper that boxing ever put in his pocket.
But it wasn't the last time Pop appeared in the News: He spent a year or two sleeping in it, and other papers, in a bus shelter on Canarsie Avenue after I got big enough to fight back and Mom got smart enough to change the locks.
Last time I saw him was a month ago, at the gym. He was looking up at me from Ring magazine, under the headline OUT, BUT NOT DOWN. It was a story about how Pop managed to lose 57 fights in his career--every one of them on points. "The Berlin Wall took 40 years to knock down," the story said, "but Cavanaugh hasn't fallen after 41."
The fact that he'd never been knocked down didn't make him great, just stubborn, with a high pain threshold and a bottomless well of blood. Ring said Pop "splattered more canvases than Jackson Pollock." I asked Doggy what kinda fighter Pollock was, and he said, "Musta been crap 'cause I never heard of him."
To judge by the picture, Pop didn't just have cauliflower ears, he had the whole produce aisle: A cherry tomato of a nose and green eyes shot through with red at the center, like pimentos in an olive. This wasn't a face, it was the salad bar at Ponderosa. "Somebody's gotta toughen you up," he used to tell me every time we sparred, with bare knuckles, in the backyard. But he was really doing the opposite: He was tenderizing me, like a steak.
Steak and salad bars. I'm always hungry after a fight.
"Cheryl Sue," I said, as I grabbed my coat from my locker. "Let's go to Lucky's. I could eat a horse."