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caution © Robert Sommers 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Boxer



The songs of Simon and Garfunkel have always had a special meaning and importance for me. This song is one of them. I was very poor as a child. When I moved to New York in late 1968 at the age of eleven I had two pairs of pants and they were both full of holes. At that point it was just Buzz and I and our alcoholic stepfather. I took a lot of shit from the other kids over my ragged appearance, as well as quite a few punches from the old man, not always for any particular reason at all.

I moved to the lower east side a few years later with my now single mother, I couldn't afford a coat that first winter, until about mid November anyway. The late October and early November wind and snow was biting cold that year, I can still feel it cutting through me today like a rusty knife. Eventually I obtained a pea coat, don't remember exactly how.

I had an academic scholarship to a prep school but it was sixty three blocks away in the upper east side. Normally I took a subway, the 23rd street IRT was right around the corner, but there were times I couldn't afford it. It was a quarter back then. There were a few times I walked.

The line about the whores on seventh avenue rings true for me because I remember hustling hookers for a subway token in front of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel late one night in order to get home before midnight. I was maybe fourteen at the time. Needless to say, I got street wise very fast. Would often walk the streets of Harlem and Spanish Harlem, taking photographs with my real father's old Voightlander, which I was unfortunately conned out of near Washington Square. Guess I wasn't as streetsmart as I thought I was. Lucky I wasn't killed in retrospect.

Weekends I would sometimes panhandle in Central Park. I wasn't ashamed, I did what I had to do to survive. Eventually I got a job breading chicken for a fast food restaurant. Ghastly work. I would come in at four in the morning and then go to school afterwards. Made a dollar and a nickel an hour, got fired when I asked for an additional nickel raise.

New York is a hell of a city but it is a tough place to be cold, alone, young and poor. Simon and Garfunkel capture the feelings I experienced so vividly as a kid perfectly here.

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