trainer in boxing today," says 89-year-old Ray Arcel, the man many experts
consider the greatest trainer of the 1930s, about Mr. Futch.
"I am in
boxing, but not of boxing," that's what Mr. Futch says.
No, Mike, he's
not an Eddie, never really was. He's Mr. Futch. The kind of man that boxers
don't curse in front of. Father of four. Grandfather of eight.
Great-grandfather of nine. Seventy-seven years old. Manager of four fighters
and trainer of 10. Retire? you ask. For god's sake, his oldest daughter,
Yvonne, the one who's 58. moved into a retirement community a few years ago,
and she doesn't even bother to ask him about it anymore.
I found him
sitting in his house in a chair beneath a bust of a Greek warrior. Mr. Futch's
head was tilted back so that the light shone on the two furrows in his forehead
that ride up into his hair. Around his half-closed eyes were the shallowest of
wrinkles—feet of a crow that landed lightly and left. High cheekbones from the
Indian blood on his mother's side, face full-moon and mocha and astonishingly
smooth. We started to talk. No matter what we spoke about, he would cross his
arms in front of his chest and say, "This prompts a story...." A smile
came to his mouth and eyes, whether the story was happy or sad—I guess the two
kind of run together when a man, for nearly eight decades, has lived. He kept
pulling off his glasses, the ones that are usually half-cocked because the
temple pieces don't seem to quite make it all the way down over his ears, and
kept smacking his lips together as if every little detail of the story,
relevant or not, was plain delicious.
You know all the
old boxers, Mike; you've studied them. You would have loved sitting where I
sat, morning till dark, for those three days.
But, you see, the
conversation wasn't just about boxing. Mr. Futch has been a poor man and a
millionaire. Mr. Futch has baked gingerbread cookies and tied socks around his
little girls' eyes so they would learn to inhale Christmas morning. Mr. Futch
has traveled the world. Mr. Futch has been a room-service waiter, a road
construction worker, a playground director, a bricklayer, a jackhammerer, a
spot welder, a sheet-metal worker, a post office clerk, a man. As he was
talking, my eyes fell on a framed letter from one of his daughters. It
Just a note to
let you know I've been thinking about you. Two weeks ago while crawling home in
heavy traffic on the 605 freeway, I marveled at a most spectacular view of the
mountains, which set off a kaleidoscope of memories.... Sitting in the car at
lunchtime at the playground, gingerbread men and boats made of walnut
I think that
these are the things, the foundations of life, that make people become who they
are. I learned to appreciate many things in life due to those things you
exposed me to, but above all I appreciate and love you and thought it would be
nice to let you know instead of just thinking about it.
Your second daughter, Sally
As I was reading
the letter, Mike, I thought of how one father left when you were still inside
your mother, and how another one, the one who taught you to box, died. At the
same time, I was trying to listen to a story the old man was telling, when, in
the middle of it all, Mr. Futch paused because a paragraph written by an
essayist named Elbert Hubbard had just come into his head.