The Last Fight of Laughing Louie Lembitch

Boxing ring photo by Andrew Kochanowski
Boxing Photo © Andrew Kochanowski

Turnin’ on the radio. Turning on the radio to find a sickening voice, scratched and hinting of a faded saccharine luxury. A voice like my grandmother’s in my most golden memories of her, but here, masculine and drawling, rasping periodically in brash excitement. Louis Lembitch is announcing his last fight before retirement. Louie Lembitch, consummate radio man, sports fan; he called the Dodgers games when just a boy in his native Brooklyn. Louie Lembitch had whored his voice out, he’d take breaks from announcing the weather to enthuse about a wedding venue (“Feel like a princess under the marvelous 40-light chandelier”) a piece of cheesecake (“Real cream!”) a local steakhouse (“Take it from a boy from Brooklyn, it’s NY strip!”). Louie Lembitch, reading the news or the box score or the over under in Tulsa, OK, in St. Petersburg, FL, in whatever market was paying and didn’t mind the whine in his voice or the on-air pause as he took a puff from a cigar or covertly swigged his flask. Laughing Louie Lembitch and his beat up but upbeat, broken down but never breaking voice, doing blow by blow at one last fight after thousands. He’d called Robinson and Ali, Hagler and Tyson, he’d called million-dollar purses and small ignoble fights between ugly men who had been paid to lose. Louie Lembitch was narrating one last epic struggle, one last boxing match, because he’d been paid up through fight night and social security and his daughter Janet were taking care of the rest. Laughing Louie spoke one last time, from a small local station in Salt Lake City, where they never quite pronounced his name right. Louis Lembitch spoke, and this is what he said:

“Thanks Bill. This is Louie Lembitch coming to you from Salt Lake City Utah USA where heavyweight champion Gene L.—…sorry that’s welterweight champion. Heh, sorry, that’s flyweight loser. (More laughter.) I’m not sorry, what does it matter? What matters, his weight or his titles? Tonight’s another fight. Two men in a ring, Gene L.— and Jorge R.—, but they move as one, chasing one another, chasing shadows of each other. Like all boxers, they fight themselves, ducking and weaving through a horde of ghosts. Anyway, L.— does happen to be the Utah state undefeated Junior Welterweight Champion; he’s a respectable 28 years old, still so young, but he’s up against the fearsome fighter, Jorge R.—, and R.— is just 19 years old, the age I met my first love, who I never married and who must be dead now, long ago betrayed by me and other men. L.— will defend his championship, his little fiefdom he carved out of weight and geography and victory, and there’s the bell! Two men in the ring, circling each other, and there’s the shadowy third, Referee Alan S.—, who talked to them in the locker room, like a priest performing a rite, expiating the fighters from their conscience, they can attempt murder tonight, pounding away at each other. And there is the vicious jab of R.—! Thrashing away at each other because the ref is there to stop it from getting too bad, their conscience is clean and their punches can kill. Nice body work by the Champ there, but R.— has got him against the ropes! Hear that crowd! That crowd, that crowd I’m a part of, that’s the fourth or maybe, if the Boxers are as I said, one, maybe the crowd is the third person in this trinity, Boxers, Referee, Crowd. This Crowd is cloudy––there’s the bell! A decisive round for the challenger, Jorge R.—! Outcomes the card girl, there she is with the card showing the coming round two, a lovely girl, wonder if she’s Mormon here in Salt Lake City, a girl my mother would have called a Shiksha, what my friends and I would have called a real Shiksha bombshell, all legs and teeth. There’s the bell again! And we’re in round two. The crowd is cloudy, as I said, like my milky white left eye, the crowd roars, but every roar from one side of the arena is met with a boo from the other side, and now they’re booing the cautious approach to this round from both fighters, they’re circling each other, L.— the Champ doesn’t have the reach of R.— and he’s looking for a sure way inside. And the crowd is booing, in their heated passion for blood, for action, for money, L.— seems to feel that disapproval, so he moves in and there’s a one two combo snap from R.— and L.— is reeling! And the crowd is appeased at the sight of––is that? Yes, it is! Blood, blood speckling the light blue trunks of L.—, but which fighter is bleeding? It’s from the bridge of R.—’s nose! The speckling on L.—’s trunks, it’s like the spots of a ladybug, caught in my daughters’ jars and brought to me for inspection and blessing. The daughters who no longer need their father, that no longer speak to him, save Janet, who loves me most. I’m most cruel to you Janet, and I’m sorry I brought you to this fight tonight, to watch these men brutalize each other, as R.— takes a flurry of hits to the body against the ropes and that’s round 2. I’m rambling, I know. My daughter wants me to retire, spend more time trying to talk to her sisters, I say what’s the point, I have you, they can hear me anytime there’s a fight, to hell with the two older Lembitch girls, you love me more than them anyway Janet, and round three begins, not a moment too soon, Janet is talking to my producer and I can only assume they want me to get off the mic, they think I’ve lost it, I’m losing it, maybe they’re right, but I’m not losing it any more than R.—, who seems to be struggling to get back in his stride, L.— is controlling the pace of the fight, getting inside. Now R.— has a cut above the eye, and I’ve collected so many injuries to myself and the young men I watch beat each other, and Janet and my producer seem to be calmer now, that’s good, I never could see her cry, I used to scream at her to stop crying, a grown man angry at a child for crying, can you imagine? I’m watchin’ L.— beat in the head of R.—, but he’s still standing, still fighting, it’s the damn stupid automatic bravery of the boxer, I don’t have that anymore, I can’t keep getting up here, it’s my last fight, I want to go to the lake with Janet and my grandkids, I want to remember that girl I was so damn mean to and forget all the women who came after, R.— is punching for his life, but it’s no good, L.— has him now, his legs look wobbly, but there’s the bell just in time. Me, I have even less time, I’m not losing it tonight, but I’m forgetting things, I don’t remember whether it’s called a straight right or a right cross anymore, there goes the bell, we’re in round 4, R.— looks reinvigorated and L.— looks determined, what a fight! What a fight I had with my girls, over what was it? A will and a wife, and they wanted me to leave all the money to them, but I said I’d leave it all to the wife, anyway, they were right, that wife got tired of waiting for me to die and took off, but I was right. Oof, what a savage left from L.—, they only want my money too, so I spent it all on Janet and her kids, who don’t want anything but me, and R—. is down! The count starts, he’s struggling to his feet, but there it is, the fight is over, and Gene L.— is the undefeated champ! L.— is the champion by knockout in the 4th! That’s my last fight! I’m done! Janet let’s go to the lake, I’ve called my last fight, I’m done…” and then some sobbing, and then turning the radio off.

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