Noble Art, ignoble son

By Pete Ehrmann on March 30, 2018
Noble Art, ignoble son
The Ring magazine's Wisconsin Correspondent almost killed someone with his bare fists.

I met James J. Braddock when he came to our house prior to an appearance at the local Eagles club where my dad, Art Ehrmann, was a poohbah…

Fifty-three years ago on this date in boxing history, Emile Griffith defeated Jose Stable in a welterweight championship fight, Jose Torres won the light heavyweight title from Willie Pastrano, and the Wisconsin Correspondent for The Ring magazine almost killed someone with his bare fists.

The first two events occurred at Madison Square Garden, the other on the playground of Holy Cross School in Milwaukee, where my victim and I were in the 8th grade. I’d chosen him based on his popularity, volubility and swaggering cocksureness, in all of which I was strikingly deficient.

I had just started sending “The Bible of Boxing” local news about the sport about which I was wholly ignorant until the day, two years earlier, when I met James J. Braddock. He came to our house prior to an appearance at the local Eagles club where my dad, Art Ehrmann, was a poohbah.

“He looks more like a former heavyweight champion of the world than anyone else you ever saw,” wrote W.C. Heinz of Jim Braddock. That fact made such an impression on me upon meeting him that I went directly to the Compton’s Encyclopedia in our bookshelf, took out the ‘B’ volume and devoured every word therein about the sport that produced such men as “The Cinderella Man.” It became my consuming interest.

I had what an older brother called “brute bigness,” but it was offset by such a severe case of what Dr. Rocky Balboa correctly diagnosed in his first movie as “the disease of shyness” that I couldn’t look anyone in the eye.

I signed up for boxing lessons at the Eagles Club. Juste Fontaine, a 1940s lightweight contender, tried to teach me to bounce on my toes and flick out left jabs, for which I was not suited by build and lack of coordination. Worse, he called me “Pork Chop” in front of the other larval pugilists.

My athletic haplessness extended across the board. In team sports I warmed the bench, and when put in basketball games in junk time was as apt to throw the ball at our opponents’ basket as our own. My burgeoning teenage ego needed a boost in the worst way, which is exactly how I went about providing it.

He said he didn’t want to fight, but a punch in the stomach and a slap in the face changed his mind. When he slapped me back, my brain, such as it was, traveled from my head into my right fist, which proceeded to pound him, King Levinsky style, until he’d had enough. It was the post-lunch recess, and I spent the balance of it showing off my boxing stance to an audience of schoolmates too cowed by what they’d just witnessed to show their revulsion.

By the time school got out for the day I shared it, and not just because my right hand was swelling up painfully. My total engrossment with boxing notwithstanding, I was appalled and scared by spontaneous, unprovoked violence, and decided that as soon as I got home I’d tell my mother what had happened.

But when I entered the house there sat my older brother, his right hand in a plaster cast. During his lunch hour at high school he broke his thumb punching a kid in the jaw, breaking it too and getting himself expelled. I decided to keep my mouth zipped, and did so until Sr. Margaret Therese, principal of Holy Cross School, phoned at dinner time to peremptorily summon me and my parents to the convent.

The kid I’d beat up, she told us, had required emergency room treatment for injuries that included a badly contused ear. I had committed assault and battery, she said, possibly attempted murder, and then celebrated it with disgusting posing. Today I’d likely be arrested, but I wasn’t even suspended from school.

After a deserved hour-long verbal drubbing by the heavyweight champion of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, I braced myself on the drive home for whatever Dad would dish out. It turned out to be the worst possible thing, a mere 10 words that shook me more than a punch on the button:

“This has been a great day for the Ehrmann family.”

Up to now Dad had tolerated my obsession with boxing and sometimes used it to inveigle me to tackle chores around the house, as when he once remarked after a blizzard that Big Jim Jeffries had attained his impressive physique by shoveling snow. Now I figured there’d be no more of that, that writing for and even reading The Ring were out, that I was grounded for life and could forget about attending that night’s closed-circuit TV broadcast of the Griffith-Stable/Pastrano-Torres championship double-header at Madison Square Garden. It was at the Warner Theater in downtown Milwaukee, and I’d carried around my precious $4 ticket for weeks.

None of those things happened, and on what had to be one of his worst days as a parent my dad drove me to the Warner Theater. When the fights were over I called him and he picked me up and took me home. At their glorious best, Griffith, Torres and The Cinderella Man himself paled next to the man whose seven kids (“…the seven reasons we’re broke and nuts, too,” Dad wrote on one of our annual family photo Christmas cards) called him with affection and awe “BA” (“Big Art”). He was the best man I’ve ever known.

After graduating from Holy Cross that June I enrolled at a high school where nobody knew me. In all the years since I have not thrown another punch at anyone except in the ring, from which I retired with a lifetime record of 0-1.

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  1. chuck runnoe 09:10am, 04/02/2018

    Mr. Ehrmann has complete mastery of boxing knowledge and of the English language. I am envious on both counts.

  2. Bob 09:22am, 04/01/2018

    Great piece, Pete. Funny how all the pieces seem to fall into place. Big Art has a lot to be proud of, as do you.

  3. Pete 06:32am, 03/31/2018

    That would be great, Bruce. Thanks so much.

  4. Bruce Kielty 06:33pm, 03/30/2018

    Pete, I think that I have action shot of Juste Fontaine in my collection.  If you would like to see, I would be happy to email a scan to you.

  5. David 12:40pm, 03/30/2018

    I was bullied by a bigger kid in grade school. One day he punched me in the stomach, I finally got tired of it and hit him back. After that he had more respect for me, from then on he never did it again.

  6. Ollie Downtown Brown 09:56am, 03/30/2018

    Balaamsass… I hear ya. Although I wouldn’t say I was bullied, I have “backed down,” more than once, and I would often feel shame and then later rage at not having stood up to a challenge. I’m sure most of us have been there at one time or another. Of course, as an adult, we realize that now we not only have to worry about broken noses and brain “bramage” from fighting, but lengthy prison sentences as well.

  7. Balaamsass 09:42am, 03/30/2018

    @ODB-Great contribution as always….I will say this though….the kid who was bullied and beat up in the article above fought back. I’m old and decrepit now and the ones that still stick in my craw are the times I was shit on and jerked around (bullied) and I didn’t fight back! I still remember the names of the perpetrators and the sense memory is as strong as if it happened yesterday!

  8. Balaamsass 09:30am, 03/30/2018

    Down in Texas at a townhall meeting on bullying in school a citizen came forward and accused the President of the Board of Education, who was presiding at the meeting of dunking his head in a urinal when they were in the eighth grade! Prez said no way….victim replied “I got witnesses you asshole!”

  9. Ollie Downtown Brown 09:24am, 03/30/2018

    While I detest bullies and bullying, fist fights were a rite of passage growing up in my day back in the ‘70’s. It seems that during lunch recess there was always the chance that you might have to “trow hands” to defend your reputation or honor. Easily the worst part of the school day. Of course, kids would always want to see other kids fight, and instead of defusing the situation, they helped ignite it even more. Telling our kids to walk away or use words to avoid fighting, works about 10 % of the time. The other kid, particularly a bully or someone who looks to build their reputation by victimizing an easy target, will only be emboldened by your actions.  Fights are going to occur in bars, schoolyards, parking lots, whether we like it or not.

  10. Peter 09:03am, 03/30/2018

    Great article. Loved it.

  11. Balaamsass 08:56am, 03/30/2018

    Pope sez the bad ones like Hitler just go pfft and disappear! The rest including pedophile priests who repent get to “contemplate” God Almighty for all eternity!

  12. My Name 08:43am, 03/30/2018

    The kind of story that should be buried in your diary or in some therapist’s notebook. Makes you look like a complete and total bully douche bag. Makes your dad look like an idiot.

  13. Ollie Downtown Brown 08:25am, 03/30/2018

    Was just wondering if your victim had wanted to fight, would that have changed your mind about attacking him?

  14. Your Name 07:31am, 03/30/2018

    Just a bully.

  15. Balaamsass 07:16am, 03/30/2018

    One Our Father and one Hail Mary and you’re good to go! Not to worry any old way….this just in…. the Pope sez there’s no Hell

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