Friday, September 15, 2006

Chicks and Pugs

Manuel Ramos

The Latina Safehouse Initiative will host a literary event on Friday, September 22, 2006, at the Denver Book Mall, 32 Broadway, 303-733-3808. This event, which is open to all, is to help raise funds to establish a battered women shelter to meet the special needs of Latino families.

Local author Lynda Sandoval will discuss and sign her several books, the latest of which is Chicks Ahoy. There is no admission fee for the signing, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a light buffet at 6:30; admission for the buffet is $10. Reservations for the buffet are encouraged, but not required. Please contact Diana at 303-935-6634 for reservations or with any questions.

The food is being donated, the author herself is donating the books, and the Denver Book Mall is covering administrative costs, so ALL PROCEEDS will go toward the Latina Safehouse Initiative.

Mail orders and advance orders for the books are welcome. If you have any questions, please call Nina Else or Pat Grego at 303-733-3808.

Francisco Jiménez's Breaking Through has been selected as the featured book for Napa County Reads, a community-wide reading program. This critically acclaimed book has won numerous awards. It continues the author's fictionalized memoir of his youth spent in the migrant stream and then at various jobs when his family finally settled in one place. As noted in the Napa Valley Register:

"Francisco Jiménez's life journey has taken him from a poor village in Mexico to a professor's chair; from a child searching through trash to help feed his family to an acclaimed author and educator as well as a father, grandfather and husband -- enjoying the prosperity he's earned.

He sums it up with a characteristic simplicity: 'My experience is part of the whole American experience.' " Jiménez will visit the Napa Valley Oct. 11 to 13 as part of the program.


Pound for Pound By F.X. Toole (Ecco)
F.X. Toole is bigger in death than he was in life.

When Toole died at age 72 of complications from open-heart surgery in 2002, his passing was barely noted. After all, Toole only had a lone book of short stories, Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner (2000), to his credit.

Despite the literary accolades Ropes drew (novelist James Ellroy called the work "the best boxing short fiction ever written"), few could augur that four years later one of Toole's stories would become the Oscar-winning blockbuster Million Dollar Baby. Or, that his unfinished novel Pound for Pound— edited from an unwieldy 900-page manuscript — would be published posthumously as a lost masterwork.

What distinguished Toole from other boxing writers was his insider status in the fight world. He had been a boxing trainer and later a cutman, the guy who stops the bleeding between rounds. The white-haired Irishman Jerry Boyd — his real name — worked out of the Broadway Boxing Gym in the California coast town of Hermosa Beach — where he kept his day job separate from his literary aspirations.

This newspaper [San Antonio Express-News] assigned me to write a profile on Toole while he was in town to research Pound for Pound — a tale as familiar as Million Dollar Baby, but with a young Tex-Mex boxing contender as protagonist.

After sitting for the interview, Toole moved on to an impromptu demonstration of his training savvy at a South Side gym where a professional woman boxer volunteered to work out under his instruction.
Unlike the trainer in his original story Million Dollar Baby, Toole appeared to enjoy training the young woman, but still doubt lingered: What was his gut feeling about women in the ring?

If Toole had lived to share in the fame and glory of the Clint Eastwood film, he might have rehearsed an official answer. But on that day, it was the unrehearsed Boyd who answered.

"I've trained women who are good fighters," he said. "They only fight two minutes and wear chest protectors so it doesn't hurt them up there like it does a man. That's the reason they throw a lot of headshots. My point is the bar has been lowered.

"That is not to say there aren't any good women fighters. As much as women may be competitive, I don't like to see women fight and get hurt. We best serve ourselves, our family and culture to whatever gender we're born."

A year later as a book editor, I assigned Toole to review a Dagoberto Gilb collection of short fiction. Later, when I had to inform him that several explicit words in his review wouldn't make the final cut in a family newspaper, Toole wasn't fazed. "I want people to read Gilb, and if my review helps accomplish that — then cut away."

We spoke regularly on the phone and by mail — checking on his novel's progress, his health or talking boxing from A-Z. From time to time, he'd send a chapter from the novel asking for a second opinion on the accuracy of his use of Chicano slang, style and family history.

Toole's Irish gift of gab and strong convictions often made for hard-hitting verbal sparring lessons from the square ring. Since he didn't have cable TV and worked most fight nights, it fell upon me to send videotapes of championship fights. The payoff came with his phone wrap-up of that month's tape.

Two weeks before his death, Toole called to chide me. I had been remiss in sending new fight tapes. When I asked about his health, he recounted instead an incident after his latest medical emergency.

He had asked a nurse for ice cream. "She wouldn't do it. So I told her exactly what she could do with her applesauce and chicken noodle crap."
Later, he unplugged his monitoring device, dressed and left the hospital.
"I drove straight to a 7-11 store and headed straight for the ice-cream freezer for Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. As I shut the freezer, I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass door haze. 'What are you looking at, you crazy S.O.B.?'"

Whether my friend was actually embellishing a true story or whether Toole was floating a new narrative twist remains a mystery. Nevertheless, for the rest of our conversation, he avoided his albatross and my question: Was the novel finished?

Posthumous novels, whether written by Hemingway or Melville, can be a bane or a blessing. Pound for Pound hit bookstores in August to both critical cheers and jeers. In addition, Hollywood announced with great fanfare that a film version was in the works. Meanwhile, book publishers and film producers were vying for rights to a trunk of unpublished work that Toole left behind.

Still, some argue that Toole got a raw deal — that he could have been a contender — that cruel fate denied him one more round, one more edit.

I disagree. The 72-year-old writer and boxing cutman I knew beat the odds when, four years before his death, he sold his first short story after 40 years of toiling at his craft.

"All of a sudden I got lucky. I caught a break because open-heart surgery kept me alive and because I kept punching. I had no guarantee. But you know what? I didn't want a guarantee — that would have taken the fun out. Going against the odds was part of the fun. I want to take that chance and roll the dice — put my life on the line. It's stupid, it's insane, it's unreasonable, but that's what my heart tells me to do.

"You're going to tell me I can't follow my heart?"

Gregg Barrios is a playwright and a former Express-News book editor. As part of Gemini Ink's fall semester, Barrios will teach the one-day seminar Real Life Characters: Biography as Play on Sept. 30.
San Antonio Express-News publish date Sept. 10, 2006


No comments: