Rocky Graziano, middleweight champion of the world, was born New Year’s Day 1921. Sixty-five years later, in December 1986, at about 4:15 in the morning, he couldn’t sleep. Deciding “not to fight it”, he got up, slipped on a pair of sneakers and a raincoat and went out to get an early newspaper. Rocky lived at the corner of 57th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan and there was an all night newspaper stand on the corner of Lexington and 55th Street, 4 blocks away. On any street, at any time, in Manhattan, Rocky was a familiar figure, for he was usually out of his apartment 15 hours a day, visiting friends, bars, and making friendly conversation wherever he walked.
But, he didn’t expect to meet anyone at this particular time of the morning. With his familiar hunched over appearance and his hands in his raincoat pockets, Rocky shuffled out of his building, shuffled a block south on 2nd Avenue, then turned right to shuffle up towards 56th Street and Third Ave. Midway up the block, he sensed more than saw, that a couple of guys were following him and getting nearer. He removed his hands from his pockets.
Just as he passed the side door of P.J.Clarke’s, a Rocky hangout, a hand grabbed his shoulder as a “tough” voice said “Give me your …OH SHIT!” At the first touch of the hand, Rocky had spun his gnarled right fist with his right shoulder 100% behind it and it was towards the stunned face of the speaker, who had also immediately recognized the face behind the fist just before the fist crushed through his gaping mouth and soon-to-be dislocated his jaw. With haste and without another word., he slammed to the sidewalk. His companion, a step behind, had also instantly recognized Rocky and had used his Nikes to head for Brooklyn.
Rocky, put his hands back in his raincoat pockets and finished his forward shuffle to 55th Street and Lexington, bought a paper and headed back the way he’d come. . A couple of passers by were standing and staring at the limp body on the sidewalk. One was saying, “Probably drunk or drugs, looks like he passed out and fell on his face.”
Two hours later, Rocky and his dog, AlJo, came to visit me. I noticed his knuckles were a little swollen and had been abraded.
He told me the story.
Then, he said, “When this guy saw me, you’d tink I was his dead farder!” Rocky was a Shakespearean character, too.
I offered him some bandages and iodine.
He chose to have AlJo lick his knuckles instead.