Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fair Fight or Foul?

It was a Wednesday afternoon, December 2nd, 1896, and J.J. Groom and his associate, John Gibbs hurriedly walked across the busy San Francisco street, dodging horses and carriages as they made their way to the Baldwin Hotel. The two men were desperate and were hoping that one of the hotel’s guests would be able to help them out.

Groom and Gibbs were boxing promoters and had arranged for the Heavyweight Championship boxing match to take place that very night between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. There hadn’t been a championship bout since the reigning champ, James Corbett, retired the previous year.

Bob Fitzsimmons
In the closing years of the nineteenth century, baseball was only about fifty years old; the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton had been played only thirty years ago and a new game that was being called “Basketball” was still in its infancy. Boxing, however, had been around as a sport for thousands of years. And this fight between Fitzsimmons and Sharkey was the most anticipated boxing match in the country.

The two boxing promoters had obtained San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Pavilion as the venue for the match, and nearly fifteen thousand tickets had been sold. The only problem – and the thing that had Groom and Gibbs so desperate – was that they still did not have a referee for the fight. They had made numerous attempts to obtain someone to judge the contest, but so far had been unable to get someone that both sides would agree to. After all, not only was there a ten thousand dollar purse on the line for the winner, but as was always the case with sporting events, there was considerable money being bet on the side on each of the two participants; Fitzsimmons being the heavy favorite, drawing three-to-one odds in the days leading up to the fight.

As the two men made their way to the lobby of the Baldwin, they spotted their man sitting in a chair reading the newspaper. They had heard that he was staying at the hotel and were feeling hopeful that they would be able to persuade him to lend a hand with their problem.

He was a forty-eight year old with the unusual name of “Berry” who was currently working as a private security consultant. He had in the past worked as a miner, a gambler, and had even done some work as a lawman. But most importantly, he had officiated at a number of other boxing matches, and he had a reputation as being fearless, cool-headed and honest.

The two boxing promoters laid out their predicament to Mr. Berry. Would he agree to referee the match that evening? After a few minutes of thought, Mr. Berry related that he really wasn’t interested in the job, but he did tell Groom and Gibbs that he would be dinning that evening at Goodfellow’s Restaurant across the street from the pavilion, and if they couldn’t find anyone else, they should come and get him and he would referee the fight for them.

Groom and Gibbs did not find anyone else. So, only minutes before the opening bell was scheduled to ring, they retrieved Mr. Berry from his dinner.

As he parted the ropes and stepped in to take his place in the center of the ring, Mr. Berry removed his jacket to reveal a .45 caliber Colt Navy revolver sticking out of the pocket of his trousers.

San Francisco Police Captain, Charles Whitman, who was watching the fight from ringside, climbed into the ring and informed Mr. Berry that it was illegal to be carrying a weapon in town. Mr. Berry promptly turned over the weapon to Captain Whitman and the fight began.

Tom Sharkey
It was pretty clear to most in attendance that evening that Fitzsimmons was dominating his opponent from the first round. He was taller and quicker than Sharkey, and he had a combination left-hook/right-uppercut that had proved devastating to his previous challengers.

By all accounts, Mr. Berry did a good job with his responsibilities as referee, making sure that each boxer adhered strictly to the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Suddenly, in the eighth round, the two boxers came at each other with vigor; exchanging blows so quickly, and with such fury, that it was difficult to see which boxer was prevailing. Then Fitzsimmons landed his combination left-hook/right-uppercut and Sharkey went down. Fitzsimmons stood over his opponent who was sprawled out on the canvas, “limp as a rag,” as some witnesses described him.

Then referee Berry did the unexpected. He called the fight. Reaching down and grabbing Sharkey’s arm, he raised it up into the air, declaring him the winner. He said that Fitzsimmons had landed an illegal punch below the belt which automatically disqualified him.

The spectators were in an uproar. For his own safety, Mr. Berry had to quickly exit the ring and leave the pavilion before the angry crowd fully realized what had taken place.

The uproar had not diminished by the next morning. If anything, it had increased in intensity and scope. Fitzsimmons’ manager got an injunction against distributing the prize money, and the papers were calling for an investigation to determine if the fight had been fixed. Within a week, Judge Sanderson from Oakland began hearing testimony in the incident. Mr. Berry, who a few days earlier had to appear in court and pay a fifty dollar fine for wearing his revolver into the ring, testified that he was never offered money to throw the fight and that had he been asked to do so, he would have refused. He added that anyone who knew him would not doubt his word.

Finally, on December 17th, Judge Sanderson ruled that the evidence presented to show that the fight was fixed was insufficient and was all hearsay. Furthermore, as it turned out, boxing exhibitions were illegal within city limits and the city supervisors had no right to issue a license for the event. Therefore, because it wasn’t a properly sanctioned fight, it was not something worthy of the courts consideration. In the end, Sharkey was issued the prize money, but his title to Heavyweight Champion was disputed and would have to wait for some future date to be settled.

Although he was never officially found guilty of being involved in fixing the fight, Mr. Berry was never fully vindicated of any wrong doing. Furthermore, the story had been reported not only throughout California, but across the country by the Associated Press. He became a pariah and as much as thirty years later, his name became a synonym for “crooked referee.”

Not able to bear the ostracism that the un-forgetting and unforgiving public bestowed on him, Mr. Berry eventually moved to Alaska and only returned to California years later.

It’s funny which events history decides to hold onto, and which events slip into obscurity and out of the collective national conscience.

Although hurt and humiliated by the incident that first brought him into national scrutiny in 1896, most people today don’t remember the Heavyweight Boxing Championship fight of December, 1896, or Mr. Berry’s part in the scandal that followed. Instead, they remember an earlier incident from his life; a rather insignificant incident of only local importance. It happened more than fifteen years earlier when Mr. Berry was working as a lawman in Arizona. It was a mere thirty seconds of history in the town of Tombstone, when Wyatt Berry Earp got in a little scuffle behind the OK Corral.


Friday, February 5, 2016

This Is Why My Wife Doesn't Let Me Answer The Phone...

Some of my younger readers may not know this, but there actually was a time in the not too distant past when not everyone had a cell phone. The early model cell phones weighed about five pounds each and made you look like you were holding a shoebox up to the side of your face. Not everyone had the stamina for that. So in order to talk to someone, you had to call their home phone, and most people had answering machines to take messages when they were not at home to take the call.

The story that I am about to relate takes place in just such a primitive time. The emotional scars that I suffered from the ordeal still glow pink with the blush of humiliation every Valentine’s Day, but my therapist has assured me that “the only way to get over it is to get through it.” For $150 an hour, you would expect more than insipid platitudes from a licensed therapist, but whatever…he’s the one with the degree, so here I am about to spill my guts.

This probably ranks up there as the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me, but I am buoyed up by the realization that I am still in mid life and still have a good number of productive years ahead of me in which to engineer even more embarrassing situations.

It all started because our answering machine decided to go on the fritz. This necessitated us actually having to answer our phone, which my redhead, Tami, has made clear to me on more than one occasion that I am never to do! (You will understand shortly the wisdom in this).

I was home alone. It was the Monday before Valentine’s Day. The phone rang so I picked up the receiver.


“Hi. This is Doctor ‘blank’s’ office.”

Now, there are a couple of things that you need to be aware of before I go any further. The first is that I knew that I had an appointment the following day with my dentist, doctor “Bonder”. The second is that I had completely forgotten that my redhead had made an appointment with our veterinarian, doctor “Ponder”, for our dog’s annual checkup. I don’t want to belabor the point, but it is an important one. The dentist is “Bonder” with a “B”, and the vet is “Ponder” with a “P”. Now, back to the phone call…


“Hi. This is doctor “Ponders” office. I just wanted to remind you of your appointment tomorrow at ten a.m.”

Now, because I had forgotten about the appointment with the vet, and was fully mindful of my appointment with the dentist, I heard her say “Bonder”, not “Ponder”. Therefore, I thought I was talking to the dentist’s office, not the veterinarian’s office.

“I have it written down on my calendar,” I said. “I’ll see you then.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” she replied.


We said our goodbyes and then she added, “Oh, there is one last thing. You will need to bring in a stool sample.”


There was a long pause before I asked, “A what?”


“We’ll need a stool sample,” she repeated.

“That’s kind of an unusual request, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Not really,” she assured me. “It’s actually quite common.”

“REALLY!” I was incredulous! It had been a while since I had been to the dentist and I had to admit to myself that I had not kept abreast of the inroads made in dental technology.

“Well, I suppose if you really need it,” I said. “But how do I go about … uhm … collecting the sample?”

“The easiest way,” she said, “is to do what most folks do. Slip a plastic bag over your hand and just pick it up. Then turn the bag inside-out and there you have it…no mess.”

I assured her that I would be there the next day, with the required sample, and I hung up the phone.

The next morning I set about to collect my sample. I am not going to go into the details. Believe me; you will thank me for this. There are a couple of things that I need to mention, however, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

First off, when I talked to the receptionist I failed to find out exactly how much of a sample they required. I wanted to make sure that they had enough to do whatever it was that they were going to do with it. Fortunately, I had had a huge dinner the night before, so I put forth my best effort and pretty much filled a gallon sized Zip-lock freezer bag. I chose this particular conveyance because of its size and because they have a place on the side of the bag where you can write the contents and the date. I figured that having this information on the bag would keep it all scientific looking.

The second point I want to bring up is more a matter of personal preference than anything else, and it has to do with the actual method used to “capture” the sample. Plastic bag or no plastic bag, I was not about to pick up anything with my hand. I said that I would spare you the details, and I shall. Suffice it to say that I shudder to think what will happen to me if my redhead finds out what I did with her salad tongs.

I arrived at the dentist’s office promptly at ten o’clock, sample in hand. For the sake of propriety, I had placed the Zip-lock bag into a brown paper bag. Keep in mind that this is Valentine’s Day. I knew that it was Valentine’s Day, but I never really thought much about it. Besides, it is not really that important of a day. The really important day is the day after Valentine’s Day. That is the day that all of the Valentine’s chocolate goes on sale for half price at Wal-Mart!

I walked into the dentist’s office and up to the receptionist’s desk. “Good morning,” I said cheerily.

The receptionist was early twenty-something and very pretty. She was playing up the whole Valentine thing to the hilt and had the office and the lobby decorated with red and white and pink hearts and cupids.

“Good morning,” she said, and smiled up at me as I signed the patient register, “and happy Valentine’s day!”

“This is for you.” I said, as I handed her the brown paper sack. 

Her eyes got big as saucers and she exclaimed, “More chocolates?”

Apparently, a lot of their patients thought it would be a good joke to bring a dentist chocolate on Valentine’s Day. But I thought that she was making a joke. So I said, “Yep; the best kind. I made them myself.” Then I gave her a little wink.

What happened next was like a nightmare. Smiling, she opened the bag and reached in for her “chocolates”. Her smile was quickly replaced by a look of utter repulsion and horror. The color drained from her face and she dropped the bag on the counter. She looked at me and yelled, “What kind of sick joke is this?” Then she started yelling, “Doctor Bonder, Doctor Bonder!”

The next moment, Doctor Bonder and several other people ran up from the back rooms where they had been working, and the receptionist starts accusing me of being a “sick freak”. One of the other women who came running up to the front when the receptionist started screaming (I think she was a hygienist) led the receptionist to another room to try to calm her down.

I was totally dumbfounded by the whole scene. I had no idea what her problem was, or why she had freaked out the way that she had. I spent the next five minutes trying to explain to Doctor Bonder about the phone call that I received the day before. At first he looked like he was about to call the police. Then, all of a sudden, he asked me, “Do you have a dog?”

Puzzled, I said that I did.

“Do you take your dog to Doctor Ponder on Twenty-Third Street?” he asked.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks! I remembered the appointment with the vet! “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD,” I thought to myself. Beads of perspiration broke out on my forehead as I realized my mistake.

He started laughing and soon was doubled up, laughing until tears started rolling down his face. He was joined by the others who had run out with him to see what all of the commotion was about, as well as the six or seven people who were sitting in the lobby and had witnessed the whole scene.

When he had somewhat composed himself, Doctor Bonder explained that they had had problems before because of their similar sounding names, “But nothing like this,” he said, barely able to contain himself. He assured me that he would explain to the receptionist what had happened and that there would not be any problems.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally turned to leave, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from there as I could. However, before I reached the door, I heard Doctor Bonder say, “Please take this with you.”

I turned around and saw him holding the sample bag at arm’s length. This started a whole new round of laughter throughout the reception area. I hastily grabbed the bag and left as fast as I could.

I was absolutely mortified as I made my way to my truck. After getting inside, I just sat there for several minutes. I kept saying over and over again, “It was the vet who wanted the sample! It was the vet who wanted the sample!” It became my mantra as I pulled out of the parking lot.

Now, please don’t judge me for what I did next. Remember that I was in shock. I had just had the most humiliating experience of my life. All I could think of was that it was the vet who wanted the sample. I had an urge that was akin to self preservation to put this whole thing right. I figured that if I could get the sample to the vet, then I could deny that this whole episode had ever taken place.

Before I knew what was happening, I had pulled into the parking lot of the veterinarian clinic on Twenty-Third Street. I took the sample inside and handed it to the receptionist. My redhead had just left with our dog, Pudge, not two minutes before I arrived there, the receptionist informed me.

“How did you get here so fast with your dogs stool sample?” she asked.

That’s when I snapped back to reality. I was thinking clearly again. The fog of my earlier humiliation had lifted and I was facing a brand new humiliation, because I had just handed the receptionist my sample and she thought it was the dogs! 

I fought back the urge to scream and run out of there as fast as I could. I had to keep my head. I couldn’t ask for it back. That would be too weird. And I certainly wasn’t going to tell her the truth and relive the whole ordeal I had just gone through. So I said the only thing I could think of at the time.

“Tami left without this,” I said, “so I thought I would drop it off.” I told her good bye and headed out of there as fast as my legs would carry me.

When I got home and told my redhead what had happened, I thought she would wet herself, she laughed so hard. Her idea of sympathy was to call her family back in Wisconsin and tell them all about it.

As a result of my little misadventure, I am once again forbidden from ever answering the phone. We are also looking for a new dentist and a new veterinarian. For obvious reasons I can never show my face in either place ever again.

If you want to look for the silver lining in all of this, there is a positive note that I can end this on. The veterinarian called the other day and informed me that I am free of tape worms and other intestinal parasites! That is always good to know.