It's All In The Game
by A. Charles Corotis


It's All In The Game: A selected Collection of Gay Essays
on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Mnemosyne,
Assayed from the Provocative Pages of
New Jersey's Literate Review Weekly, The Argus

By A. Charles Corotis



Two hours never passed faster than that session in Mayor Brunner's office atop Camden City Hall the other late after­noon. Jersey Joe Walcott was there, and Ange Malandra, the Mayor's ubiquitous, exuberant deputy, came in.

The three had toured Europe together when Joe went abroad to fight Ten Hoff at Mannheim. He wasn't the champ then, but so starved are Europeans for entertainment that he was treated like Pompey returning triumphant from the wars with Mithridates and Tigranes in the East. Everywhere wild, milling throngs besieged him, with shrill shouts of Walcott and Jersey Yoe. Harried police, who implored him to stay off the streets or slip out the rear door of shops and hotels to foil the waiting crowds, found no cooperation in lightening their burdens.

"If they want to see me, they can see me," Joe would say with characteristic selflessness. "What if they did rough me up and muss me up and maybe tear a shirt?" he added with a wry smile.

A shirt in those days was an item for the challenger to the world's heavyweight championship. Now, as Malandra delights in reminding him loudly and often, he wears silk shirts—"Thirty dollars he pays for a shirt, the poor man; I feel so sorry for him . . . don't give me that business about how hard it is to cash in on the title!"

Ange and Joe are pals; the champ takes his incessant needling good humouredly. And neither Ange nor anyone else can begrudge him a dime; he toiled and sacrificed for twenty-one long years in the rough, tough Tartarus of fistiana before he made it, and he deserves all he can get while the getting's good.

'No wonder the kids went crazy over him," Malandra was saying. "The smart guy took three hundred dollars in bright, shiny nickels with him and sowed them like kernels of good will through Italy, Germany and France."

Six thousand are a lot of nickels and a lot of money, es­pecially in Italy, with its devalued currency.

"A thousand-lire note there," Malandra pointed out, "is worth $1.60."

"They're as big as pillow cases," Walcott interposed, stretching his hands two feet apart, then demonstrating how they folded them to carry them in their breast pockets.

"And we handed them out as tips," Ange continued. "They loved us, the rich Americanos. After all, they didn't make that much money in a week. A thousand lire!"

"We'd go into a night spot," Joe recalled gleefully, "and I'd hear the mayor or Ange call out: 'Give them a big one.' That was the signal to pull out one of our folded thousand-lire notes to tip a waiter or check girl or musician. Suddenly over the din of the place a voice would boom out in English, 'Give them a big one.' "

One fiddler was so overwhelmed with the big ones, Joe continued, that he insisted on following them to their hotel and serenading them all night. His favorite number: "Jealousy." "I'll never hear it without going into a mental tango," Joe chuckled.

When they boarded their plane for home, "Jealousy" accompanied them to the airport, fiddling all the while, and shed real tears as the craft bearing away big Joe cut off the supply of big ones.

Most of the Europeans, especially the Italians, are des­perately poor. Mayor Brunner tells of alighting from a plane with two big bags, and being pounced upon by a porter. "Hotel Metropole," he directed.

"One minoot," said the fellow, holding up a finger.

They walked five minoots that sunny, hot May day, and His Honor began perspiring.

"How far?" he demanded.

"One minoot," came the stock phrase, with gestures.

That continued for thirty-five minutes, until a fuming but helpless Brunner saw the welcome facade of the Metropole. What gives the story a touch of pathos is the fact that the porter carried those two heavy bags all that distance rather than take a cab, so he could get a larger tip.

You can imagine, then, the impact of Walcott's nickels on a war-born generation to whom five cents in American coin is a young fortune.

Joe went along with the night-clubbing for laughs—he doesn't drink. He got the laughs, too. Like the night they found themselves ankle-deep in champagne; someone was tipping over the bottles and charging them for it. Expensive floor wash.

Malandra delights in telling one on his boss. "The mayor told us all the way over how well he handles the German language," Ange said. "He got a chance to try it out with an old German couple on the train from LeHavre to Paris. I could see he wasn't doing so well, but he insisted everything was fine."

Anyway, when they reached Stuttgart and stopped at a bar, Ange told Brunner, "Okay, here's where you take over."

George, his confidence evidently shaken by his experience on the train, offered the conventional, "Shpiken English?"

"Ja, ja," the waiter nodded while Malandra made derisive sounds and scoffed, "So you speak German— Shpiken English— some German!"

Brunner ignored him and ordered, "Dry martini."

Back came the waiter and placed three drinks in front of him.

"What's this?" asked George.

"Drei Martini" replied the waiter, and counted them out: "Ein, zwei, drei."

Well, German-speaking or not, Brunner was well re­ceived there; they called him Ober-burgemeister and Malan­dra Burgemeister. The two thus salute each other in mo­ments of levity now.

But it was in Switzerland that Brunner really came into his own, his fame eclipsing Walcott's. They visited George's mother's folks, whom he never had seen. The town went wild at the visit of the mayor of an American city who has Swiss blood in his veins. They really trod the royal carpet, and consumed eight-course dinners, by far the best food of the whole trip. Italian food was a disappointment to them— "We get better spaghetti right here in Camden," Brunner insists loyally.

Malandra took over the ordering in Italy. "When in Rome eat as the Romans eat," explained Walcott sagely. But Ange admitted ruefully that Alfredo's famed spaghetti turned out to be baked macaroni with butter sauce. "Gene Leone wouldn't dare serve it," he said.

The Swiss were so determined to do everything up in a big way for Brunner that they wouldn't let him take the regular flight to Rome because it stopped at Geneva and took two and one-half hours. Nothing but a special non-stop trip would do for the American mayor of Swiss ancestry. So with great ceremony George was bundled onto a special plane. Enroute to Rome, it flew hither and yon so his hosts could point out spots of interest in Switzerland or France or Italy.

"It was non-stop, all right," Brunner said, "but it flew all over Europe."

Elapsed time for the regular two and one-half hour run: eight hours.

Malandra never had been up, and vowed he never would. But they hustled him onto a plane at Zurich and he received his baptism of flying 30,000 feet over the Alps!

"I was trying to say my prayers and the mayor was trying to cheer me up. He kept telling me, 'Look how pretty the Alps look below us.' Those jagged mountain peaks below us, and he called that cheering!"

But it was mainly of Rome that they talked, where they had an audience with Pope Pius and visited the landmarks of antiquity. They had a Jewish friend in the retinue who made it a habit to saunter into their room every morning promptly at 7:30, no matter how late they had been up the night before. Friends of Mayor Brunner know he doesn't go for that early rising. Leave the early worms for the early birds, is his philosophy. Anyway, this particular 7:30 a.m. found Abe, clad in bathrobe and slippers, rousing the others. "So what's for today?" he asked.

"Today we better buy souvenirs to take home to our friends," suggested Malandra.

"What kind of souvenirs?"

"In Rome, religious souvenirs, what else?"

"Good, I'll go with you."

"What will you do with religious souvenirs from Rome?" demanded Malandra.

"Listen," said Abe, "do you think I have only Yiddisha friends?"

"And," concluded Ange, "he bought more than any of us, and took them all to the Vatican and had them blessed by the Pope."

As every fight fan knows, Walcott won his bout at Mannheim. But not only do the Germans forbid taking money out of the country that is earned there, they ration your spending, at the rate of seventy-five marks per person per day. They used up what they could, and later Joe went back with his eldest son and spent two months there. But he still has seven thousand dollars worth of marks deposited to his credit in Berlin.

He'll be going over again soon, on an exhibition tour. Before he leaves, though, he wants to start a program of lasting value to kids. Joe is intensely serious on this subject; his affection for youngsters is genuine and something truly noble. If he can use his prestige and influence to help the small fry and steer them in the direction of good citizenship, harnessing their energies along proper channels, he will con­sider the whole long, difficult, often tedious twenty-year grind worth while. He's most sincere about this—he's absolutely crazy over children.

"I want to do something for your boys," he said. "What can I do?".

"Just write them a note," I suggested. "They'll get a charge out of that."

He's the same kindly, courteous, good-natured fellow 1 knew in the early 30s, gentlemanly, deferential, unaffected by fame, a credit to his race and to a game that sorely needs weighting on the credit side.