It was a close call whether the fighters in the ring or the spectators around the beer tents were the more hostile.
I had only night in Dallas, but having spent the morning looking around art galleries and visiting the JFK museum (housed in the old school book depository building), I was feeling that this would be quite sufficient time in the city.
I was therefore very happy to take up the suggestion of my host in Dallas (Jennifer) that we go to an amateur boxing contest to be held at the nearby country club.
She explained to me that her friend, Kyle, was one of the boxers who would be fighting later in the evening. Since it was an amateur event, she also added that an extra twist would be added to each fight to provide further entertainment for the crowd.
Kyle was from near New York, so for the purposes of this bout, he was to be referred to as The Yankee. He was paired against a local man from Texas, to be known only as The Southerner. The historical rivalry between the northern and southern state was to give the contest additional spice.
It struck me that that this was a decidedly one-sided arrangement. I expected the home-grown spectators to be thoroughly partisan - and imagined that this Yankee would be booed and heckled at every opportunity.
We arrived at the country club just before seven in the evening. The club was located in a reasonably wealthy suburb of Dallas, and had swimming pools and several sports fields on the site.
Somewhat at odds with this more formal and exclusive atmosphere, was the entirely relaxed dress code. Most of the men wore shorts and t-shirts (many carrying whimsical comments or colorful designs). Women were fewer in number - but made up for this by wearing more flamboyant clothes - ranging from cut-of jeans to skimpy evening dresses and bikinis. Several members of both sexes also sported various tattoos on their forearms, shoulders and legs.
There were a couple of hundred people already in the country club when we turned up. After having my ID checked, I was given a writstband to show that I was good to be served with alcohol - which promised to be in plentiful supply.
An impromptu boxing ring had been set up on the lawns of the country club. There was also a small stage on the far side of the ring where several commentators were sitting. The event was being broadcast on one of the cable channels, so there were also a couple of men standing by the corners holding cameras for filming - while a giant boom reached out over the ring carrying another camera and microphone.
The evening was being sponsored by Corona, so there were numerous stalls set up on the lawns selling beer. This could be purchased by the single can or, for the more determined drinker, it was possible to purchase an ice-bucket filled with half a dozen or so cans, suitably chilled.
Small pennants and gaudy flags belonging to the sponsors were hanging up in the trees or draped around the iron fences which separated the lawns from the swimming pool. To complete the ambiance, several large electronic speakers had been set up all around the country club, which were pumping out a loud and continual beat of heavy rock music, to create an appropriately aggressive atmosphere.
One of the earlier fights was already in progress when we arrived. As an amateur contest, all boxers were required to wear padded helmets. In addition, the rounds seemed to have been shortened. It was difficult to determine exactly how long the rounds were meant to be, since the bell was almost inaudible and somewhat arbitrary. Each fight consisted of three of these rounds.
As well as having to cope with the punches of his opponent, each fighter also had to deal with the onslaught of sarcasm from the commentators. They kept up a non-stop banter during the entire bout, usually disparaging the abilities of both boxers. One of the commentators was nicknamed The Man with a Laugh like a Telephone. And before he spoke, he would always guffaw raucously - imitating the ringing tone of a traditional telephone.
In between rounds, young women wearing bikinis would parade around the ring, carrying a placard showing the number of the forthcoming round on one side, and the name of a local sponsor on the other.
This ritual caused great excitement amongst the crowd, and cries of "Get that top off" were common. At one point in the evening, one of the commentators on the microphone could contain himself no longer and called out "Aw, come on! Can't someone pull those panties down just a little bit when she goes past?"
At the end of each fight, several girls entered the ring and threw free sponsorship material into the baying mass of spectators. These were usually t-shirts, towels or hats. This was also a popular activity, and many of the audience waved their arms enthusiastically, clamoring for one of the gifts.
Although later in the evening, when beer and boredom had taken greater hold, several of these items were hurled back into the ring with as much enthusiasm as they had at first been received.
As I approached the ring, I saw that the fighters were between rounds, and the commentators were holding forth on the microphone.
- Is that guy being sick? He must have taken a real pounding. Good job the trainer brought along a bucket.
- He's not being sick. He's just spitting out his water. All fighters do that. Haven't you ever been to a fight before John?
The first bout ended with a knockout, and an interviewer immediately entered the ring to talk to each of the boxers. In addition to the honour (and presumably the prize money) for winning the contest, it also appeared that there was some kind of forfeit system in place to be performed by the loser. I initially thought that this would be applied to every fight - but later realized that it was specific only to this fight.
I had no idea how these forfeits had been decided upon, but it must have represented something personal for the two men concerned. The first punishment for the loser was that he had to eat his opponent's choice of breakfast - which comprised a mixture of tuna fish and cheese flavored pretzels.
For the second stage of the punishment, an old Kentucky colonel type, complete with cane and white whiskers, climbed awkwardly into the ring, asked the losing fighter to bend over, and gave him three or four symbolic whacks on his backside with the cane.
- Jeez! This is like some low budget gay porn film or something.
- I wouldn't know Mike. I've never seen a low budget porn film. Sounds like you're an expert though.
The next bout was between a man with bright yellow socks and a man wearing no socks at all. Before the first round began, the man with no socks was asked why he wanted to fight that evening.
- Well, y'know. I've just got through a very bad divorce. And I've been working out in the gym. But I just got to take out my aggression somewhere.
After the bell sounded, albeit faintly, No Socks came out fighting hard and landed a few hard blows on Yellow Socks.
- Wow, John! I reckon it was those socks that got him mad.
- Maybe his wife wore yellow socks too. So he's had plenty to practice on there.
- Woah! Nothing like some domestic violence humour.
- Yeah! That's probably why she wanted a divorce.
Despite a promising opening round, No Socks (and No Wife) could not finish off his man. Since the first fight had been decided by a knockdown, I wondered what would happen in the event of an inconclusive result.
There was nothing so technical as a points decision. The commentators would only voice their opinions on who had won; but they remained divided to keep the crowd interested.
So instead a winner was chosen by popular acclamation. As each fighter's name was called out over the microphone, the spectators were asked to cheer loudly for their favourite. Yellow Socks got some vocal support, but the bigger cheer by far came for No Socks. He had perhaps fought better - but I suspected that sympathies may have been with him on account of his divorce problems.
- Don't spend all that prize money at once, man!
- Hey, Mike. He won't be spending any of that money. His ex-wife is going to get her hands on all of it.
Our friend the Yankee has no chance, I thought. Unless he can knock his man out, there's no way this crowd would declare him the winner.
The next fight was much shorter - finishing with a knockdown early in the second round. This bout was between a business owner and one of his workers. Rather than settle their differences regarding working practices in the courts, they preferred the spectacle and the more historic tradition of a public duel. Since both men, however, were wearing the shirts of the firm concerned, their company was getting well promoted whoever won.
The boss was a thickset heavy, lumbering man - while his opponent was much smaller and leaner. The subtlety of matching fighters based upon their weights was clearly not one of the requirements for Texas rules.
The boss won the fight, finishing off his employee with a well-timed punch on the chin. After landing him unconscious on the canvas, the boss quickly went over to see that he was alright.
- He probably doesn't want the hospital bill on the company insurance.
- Yeah. Or else he's trying to avoid a lawsuit.
- Sure. I hope he's gonna let the poor guy have the day off tomorrow.
- Well, I'm guessing he's not doing much work anyway if he's in a coma.
The vanquished employee was brought to his feet and helped from the ring. Next to enter were two thin and rather puny men with tattoos all down both arms. They were two members of the same music band - and had decided to fight because one was always stealing female groupies from the other.
This contest proved very unpopular - since neither musician had much aggression, and both seemed more afraid of being hit than wanting to land a blow upon his opponent. The crowd began to boo loudly as the pair shadow-boxed carefully around each other - occasionally offering a tentative jab at the other.
- This has to be the worst fight in the whole history of fight night!
- Nah! These guys aren't even fighting. They're just slapping each other with their handbags.
Eventually, half way through the second round, one man fell down. It seemed unclear whether he had been hit or just no longer wished to stand up any more. This brought the sorry spectacle to an end. But despite his victory, even the winner was jeered off the stage.
The master of ceremonies then announced that there would be a short break before the main event of the evening: the long awaited contest between The Southerner and The Yankee. This would be a momentous event he added. A chance for history to be revisited - and rewritten.
While waiting for the fight to start, I wandered amongst the crowd to see what other people had turned up. There were by now just under one thousand people present - though the announcer had multiplied this by a factor of twenty to declare that the official attendance was nineteen thousand.
Most of the spectators were white and male. Though a few were black - and some men had also brought their wives or girlfriends too. There was plenty of beer in evidence too, with ice from the buckets strewn widely over the grass.
The combination of beer and men meant that there were, unusually, long queues outside the gents toilets. This also brought it's fair share of ribald comments from the guys waiting in line.
- Hey! Move along. I'm busting back here.
- Don't get so close dude. I don't want you sneaking a peek at me while I' doing my business in there.
- I reckon we should, like, just go in the ladies. Sure they wouldn't mind.
- I wouldn't touch that beer can man. I think I saw another guy just pissing in there.
- Ahh. I needed that. Better than sex, dude. Better than sex.
Standard dress wear was mostly t-shirts and baseball caps - many of the latter being worn backwards. A few, mostly black men, wore reflective sunglasses. Some cowboy hats were also in evidence.
A blonde girl with fat legs wore a rainbow colored garment with the phrase "Keep Austin Weird" written on it. Other choice t-shirts included the following. A picture of a cow skull above the words "Republic of Texas", "Hike Naked. Add colour to your cheeks", "Is that blood?", a picture of a small bird with the caption "I drop bombs like it's my job", "Vicious without mercy", "Texas Ranger", and a map of Florida shaped like a gun.
At last it was time for The Yankee and The Southerner to fight. The Southerner was greeted by loud and prolonged cheers from the crowd - while The Yankee was booed and hissed. The master of ceremonies began to enthuse the crowd further with a rendition of Dixieland.
After the last strains of "I wish I lived in the land of cotton" subsided, the MC entered the ring to interview The Yankee. When he learnt that he originated from Brooklyn, he started talking to him in a mock Italian-American, wise-guy gangster accent from the Bronx.
- And in the red corner, let me now introduce The Southerner. Born right here in Texas. The land that I still consider to be a separate country. I hope you realise, son, how great the expectations are on you tonight. Everyone here wants you to change the result of the civil war.
But it seemed that the crowd would be disappointed, for The Yankee fought hard in the first round, striking The Southerner several times on the head, though never actually knocking to the canvas.
- I hate to say it. But I have to give that round to The Yankee. That Southerner needs to fight back.
- The Yankee looks to be the quicker man too.
- Well, he's dancing. I'll say that about him. But I think The Southerner has a chance here.
- Yeah. Why's that?
- Well. I just realized. That Yankee has a great big nose.
- Right. Land a few hits on that huge New York schnoz, and it'll be game over.
And the Southerner did fight back in the second round, knocking The Yankee to the deck once, and having him up against the ropes covering up on a few occasions too. He must have taken the commentator's advice - for in the break between rounds a doctor came out to tend The Yankee whose nose was now bloody.
- Ha! That'll teach him to stick his ugly northern face across the Mason-Dixon Line.
- Yeah. Don't mess with Texas. What do you think about states' rights now?
The third round followed the pattern on the second. But despite calls from the commentators - "he's tired", "he's exhausted", "there's nothing left" - The Yankee continued to fight hard. Eventually, by the end of the round, he had received one blow too many, and was given a ten count, slumped up against the ropes.
- You have made history, son. You have changed the result of the civil war. And Texas is proud of you.
The Yankee was still receiving attention from the doctor and tried to leave the ring without further comment. He was not allowed to escape so easily.
- So what do you think about the South now?
The Yankee still seemed a little confused and concussed. Trying to regain some composure and standing with the crowd, he could only say "Well, I just love Texas" before climbing out of the ring with the doctor.
It was now dark, but the entertainment for the evening was not yet over. Large spotlights lit up the stage and lawns as the next two fighters were brought into the ring. The announcer went over to one, a tall man in a blue tank top, and asked him to explain why he was there.
- We've been friends since we were seven.
- So why do you want to fight him then?
- Well. He's always been like competitive. But he always beats me at everything. But I reckon I can beat him here in the boxing ring.
- So, if you're best friends, how many times have you seen his penis?
Tall Tank Top seemed unsure what to say to this question.
- Hey, it's just a question. No need to be embarrassed. John here on the mike with me is my best friend. And I've seen his penis a thousand times.
Tall Tank Top still remained silent, so the MC went over to the other corner to interview his opponent - a small wiry man in a white t-shirt.
- So you're best friends. Anything you can tell me about him?
- Yeah. He has a small wiener. Small and kind of fat.
- Guess this is what got you guys so competitive in the first place!
Tall Tank Top must have been angry at these words, for he came out of his corner whirling his long arms and pummeling away in the direction of his friend - though more often than not he connected with nothing more solid than air, as his opponent nimbly dodged the swirling fists.
- He could do some real damage with those long arms of his.
- Right. If he could actually hit something with them.
White T-shirt was knocked to the ground once, but managed to survive until the end of the round.
By the second round, though, Tall Tank Top was beginning to tire visibly, and his friend started to gain the upper hand, landing several blows on his body in quick succession.
- He's taking forever to throw those punches now. He's leaving himself wide open.
As the round ended, Tall Tank Top was breathing heavily, bending forward with his hands on his knees to recover his breathe. Even after the break, he was slow to climb out of his chair, and still panting hard. After a flurry of punches from White T-shirt, he covered up and shied away, turning his back on his opponent.
- You see that. He doesn't want to fight. He turned his back right there towards him.
- Must be just like being seven years old again. He'll be bending down next for sure.
But Tall Tank Top did not give in. He gained further time to recover after the fight was temporarily halted when White T-shirt's gumshield got knocked out. Although barely able to move across the ring at times, he refused to give up. He survived the final round, but seemed almost unable to find his corner, as he staggered in exhaustion around the ring.
The crowd was almost equally divided between those who recognized White T-shirt as the better fighter, and those who thought that Tall Tank Top had shown good fighting spirit. After two calls for a public acclamation, it was impossible to decide a result. A large proportion of the spectators began to chant for 'One more round!"
- We'd love to have one more round. And I know you would like it too. But looking at Tall Tank Top over there, I reckon that would be classified as cruel and unusual punishment. And Mr Obama won't let us do that no more!"
Eventually the result was declared by the referee. He showed no sympathy for Tall Tank top, and announced that White T-shirt was the winner.
Further fights were scheduled into the night, but some of our group wished to go out to a local bar to commiserate with the defeated Yankee - while others wanted to turn in for an early night.
As I was leaving there was a fight in progress between The American and The Mexican. The Mexican did not seem to be very popular with the crowd - but by no means as unpopular as The Yankee. The announcer went over to interview him before the contest began.
- I'm sorry Mr Mexican. But I have to ask you this. It's a new law. What exactly is your immigration status?
The Mexican seemed unwilling to provide any kind of answer to this question, so the announcer continued on a different subject.
- So what tactics will you be using to fight The American?
- It's called the American shield. It means that he has to knock me out to win. I'll never give up. I'll never quit.
- So Mexicans never quit. Is that right? Apart from the ones I employ to do my garden, heh? I don't know why. Seven dollars an hour seems a fair wage to me.
I left before the fight ended, so I did not learn whether The Mexican or The American was victorious. The crowd was cheering loudly as we went - so I guessed they were clearly enjoying the contest.
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