A note before starting: This piece contains a lot of conversations that took place many years ago. They’re not word-for-word quotes, but they are pretty motherfucking close. The phone answering machine messages are exactly what was spoken.
Mismatch: Doing time with Mitch “Blood” Green
The goal always was to make money. You’re supposed to be able to do that with a 6-and-a-half-foot heavyweight who can—through reputation, striking physical appearance, and a contentious line of bullshit delivered in a distinctive floor-rumbling bass while riding the wave of a street fight with Mike Tyson that briefly put his picture in every paper and celebrity gossip show in the U.S.—draw a raucous crowd made up in equal parts of defenders and detractors simply by walking from one city block to the next.
But Mitch “Blood” Green wasn’t just any 6-and-a-half-foot heavyweight, as I found out the hard way. Admittedly, he had a talent for boxing; he had a talent for gaining attention; he had a talent for getting into trouble.
More important than all of those things, he had a genius for turning every business opportunity into a money-draining fiasco. At some level, Mitch was aware of this. He cobbled together his small livelihood by making sure that nothing big would jeopardize it.
At Barclays Center, April 21, 2018
I was sitting in the press row, watching the prelims. Kelly Swanson, one of boxing’s most highly regarded publicists, called over a hello from the end of the aisle and asked, “So what’s this ‘big story’ you’re writing for Deadspin?”
“It’s a long piece about Mitch Green.”
“Do you think anyone will remember Mitch Green?”
Then she smiled. “The Legend of Mitch Green.” There was some—I said some—ironic affection in her voice.
Still, her question was one I had to take seriously; Kelly Swanson knows what she’s talking about. Mitch Green hadn’t engaged in a meaningful fight since his 1986 loss to Mike Tyson, and hadn’t made headlines since a street brawl with Tyson two years later.
There were good signs and bad signs vis a vis Mitch Green’s lasting impact. Here are a few:
Good sign: Adrien Broner and Gervonta Davis, two fighters perceived as Bad Boys, got much bigger receptions from the crowd than Jermall Charlo, who, along with his identical twin brother, Jermell, really may be, as advertised, “the Future of Boxing.”
Bad sign: Three young guys snuck onto press row and sat on my right. The guy one seat over spent the entire time looking at his cellphone, never once moving his attention up to the ring. Even when Jermall Charlo knocked out Hugo Centeno Jr. with a monstrous combination that brought the crowd to an ear-splitting uproar, my new neighbor’s eyes didn’t budge from his phone. A little later I needed to find out the time, so I asked him. He held up his phone to show me a picture of his naked girlfriend. I pointed to his wrist. He said, “It’s Hugo Boss.”
“No, man; the time.”
It took him a while to find it.
“It’s 10 o’clock.”
I think he got that wrong. There may be issues with contemporary fight fans having short attention spans.
Good sign: What Kelly Swanson said about Mitch Green worried me a little, so after the fight I asked eight people at random—two at the Jamaica railroad station as I transferred to the late-night train to Westbury, so with no connection to that night’s fights—if they knew who Mitch Green was.
“Man, ain’t he the dude fought Tyson on the street?”
“You mean Mitch ‘Blood’ Green? Yeah I remember him.”
“Blood was one crazy motherfucker back in the day.”
Mitch went eight for eight in the name recognition test. The Legend of Mitch Green.
I’d become casually friendly with the former NWA wrestling great Lou Thesz. Lou’s status within his own business was iconic. In a kayfabe world where marks needed to be occasionally reminded that what they were seeing wasn’t a work, he was the ultimate legitimacy token. He was a shooter, a hooker, someone who could stretch anybody, no matter how tough, in a genuine fight. In Japan, he was one of the handful of ex-wrestlers regarded as gods.
It was the early 1990s, and Thesz was freelancing as a talent scout and hiring agent for Antonio Inoki. Inoki had also been an iconic figure within the wrestling business, a semi-shooter himself—albeit one whose bona fides didn’t match Thesz’s. Inoki briefly came to mainstream attention in the U.S. when he infamously engaged in a staged fight with Muhammad Ali that became unstaged somewhere along the way, resulting in 15 rounds of nearly unwatchable dullness as the two combatants warily circled each other, Inoki from a supine position on the canvas while aiming an occasional preemptory warning kick at his opponent’s legs.
Apparently this travesty, despite almost singlehandedly killing off mixed matches for decades, wasn’t enough to discourage Inoki. He requested of Thesz that he find more heavyweight boxers, preferably former champions, who would be willing to come to Japan to lose to him.
Mitch Green had never been a world champion, but Lou Thesz agreed that he’d fit the bill as an opponent for Inoki. Blood had enormous size, he had a distinctive look, he had the big, menacing voice, and he had street credentials that were tantamount to shoot credentials to a gullible public.
I found Mitch’s number and pitched the idea.
“Oh, baby,” boomed the bass, “I would love to go to Japan. They gonna love me over there.”
We hit a snag when I explained what was required of him.
“Man, that’s ridiculous. Mitch Green losing to a little Japanese man? Big Mitch Green? I ain’t gonna let that happen. I got my reputation. ’Sides, nobody would believe it.”
I attempted to bullshit him by saying that these wouldn’t have to be loss losses—that they could be disqualifications or count-outs or other inconclusive endings—but we both knew it was bullshit. Mitch wouldn’t be swayed.
We kept talking, though. At one point he decided that I knew enough about boxing so that I should manage him as a real boxer instead of an ersatz wrestler.
At that stage of my life, I’d already been in and out of boxing for a good number of years, earning my living betting on fights and working as a consultant for various gamblers and gangsters. Managing seemed like a logical step, and managing a high-profile heavyweight, albeit a problematic one, would immediately put me within shouting distance of real money.
In the fall of 1991 I flew Mitch up to Boston so we could meet formally, spend some time together, and work out the details for signing a contract. My lawyer and I picked him up at Logan Airport and we went directly to an elegant if gimmicky restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge. The place slowly revolved so that the affluent diners could get a panoramic view of downtown Boston, the Charles River, Kenmore Square, and Cambridge again. It was a great place to eat if you wanted to spend a lot of money and to make sure you didn’t risk getting stuck for conversation—“Oh look, you can see the State House!”
We needn’t have worried that there would be awkward silences with Mitch. From the moment we met him at the luggage carousel, he was off and running. He looked ready to go running too; he was attired in a bright orange jumpsuit with a gold zipper that went from throat to somewhere below his navel. That zipper would soon be put to use.
We arrived at the restaurant and took the elevator to the top floor. Green already had fans among restaurant employees. He was surrounded by cooks, wait staff, dishwashers, and the people working the reservation counter. The chef came out to let Mitch know that if he wanted anything special all he had to do was ask. “Just because I know how to cook for them,” he laughed, “that don’t mean that I forgot how to cook for us.”
For his part, Blood behaved like royalty returning from exile—everyone was given some attention. Handshakes, hugs, and kisses were dispensed along with various terms of endearment. I knew this was an instance of preaching to the choir, so was curious to see how Mitch worked the rest of the room. How would a demonstrably white clientele, paying top prices for a sedate dining experience, respond to having the living embodiment of “encroaching inner-city menace” in their midst?
It turned out that Blood didn’t care who his audience was; he was going to work the crowd the same way no matter who it was made up of. In this instance that crowd was divided, maybe leaning slightly pro-Green, with a surprising percentage aware that they were getting a unique evening’s entertainment for their money. It was something they could tell their friends about.
Mitch began his performance by standing up from his chair. (We’d been placed more or less in the center of the restaurant, so everyone got a good look at him.) With no preamble, he addressed the diners.
“I want y’all to feast you eyes on what a real heavyweight is supposed to look like.”
With that, there was the sound of the gold zipper being ripped from neck to three inches below his navel as Mitch allowed the jacket to drape around his hips, revealing his entire upper torso. Apparently experienced as an ecdysiast, he seemed to know exactly where the Blue Laws line was drawn; he ventured to it but didn’t step over.
Once he was naked from the waist up, he began an elaborate flexing routine that accompanied his monologue.
“Check out the pythons,” he offered. “Muscles on muscles. If you a heavyweight, this is what you should look like, not like that midget. I want Mike Tyson, Michelle Cicely Tyson. He a sissy, he a homo. I don’t like him. Oh baby, wait till you see what I do with that boy if I get him in the ring.”
He came to the finale. “Mike Tyson’s runnin’ from me. Don King—Don Queen—is runnin’ from me.” Here he flexed his biceps in synchronicity with his words. “I’m tellin’ you, Mike Tyson is a…”—he pumped the bicep while sliding his voice up to an effeminate falsetto—“ho…”—another pump—“mo!” He then kissed a bicep.
There was a spontaneous burst of applause from the diners and we could hear clapping and whoops of laughter coming from the kitchen. Not one diner had lifted one morsel of food to their mouth during the Mitch Green Show. Not one waiter brought out a plate. Blood had convinced me that he could be sold to the public.
Say Hello to guns
If you’re in the boxing business, depending on where you’re in the boxing business, you’re going to have some involvement, if only indirectly, with guns. Your fighter is going to shoot someone or get shot or have a family member shoot someone or get shot by someone. Your fighter is going to walk into a convenience store in a bad part of town just before it gets held up. There will be territorial gang disputes, confrontations with someone’s husband over a woman you’re fucking, conflicts with shady promoters or road agents over skimpy fight payoffs. You will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’m not a gun person. I believe that it should be illegal for anyone to own one for any reason. Still, like most people who’ve lived their lives largely outside the law, I’ve had gun experiences—have had them pulled on me a few times, although only once for something boxing-related. Technically the gun wasn’t even pulled that time: a mafia member opened his sport jacket to show the gun with which he intended to shoot me if I didn’t quickly fix a problem I’d created.
There have been a number of incidents where guns played a part in the lives of fighters I’ve managed or done business with. Leon Spinks’s son Calvin was shot to death. Freddie Norwood was chased in East St. Louis by gang members with guns. In the nick of time, he made it to the warehouse owned by his coach/surrogate grandfather Charles Hamm. Charles, one of the most peace-loving people I’ve ever met, pulled his shotgun on Freddie’s pursuers, driving them off.
Norwood was again way too close to a gun when he and his trainer Adolph Pruitt stopped at a corner convenience store in Brockton, Mass., so that Pruitt could pick up a little nip after the afternoon’s workout. As Pruitt waited in line and Norwood perused the shelves for a snack, a robber entered the store and pulled a gun on the cashier.
Pruitt laughed when he told us the story the next afternoon at the gym.
“I’m just waitin’ for my little tiger to sneak up behind the guy and knock him out while he messin’ with the cashier,” he said. “I look over to where he’s at, and I don’t see him nowhere, so I figure he’s ducked under a counter, and is gonna ambush the dude. But there ain’t no Freddie. The little tiger had fainted.”
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if it actually happened, but Norwood looked sheepish while Adolph Pruitt told the story to Pat Petronelli and me. And he didn’t deny it.
I even bluffed having a gun once. Heavyweight Fernely Feliz and his setup opponent and friend Brian Palmer (a big Colombian kid whose name was as likely to have really been Brian Palmer as mine was Antonio Cervantes), tried to strong-arm me for an extra $100 apiece just before fight time. We were in the parking lot outside the small arena in Whitman, Mass., where Vin Vecchione ran his cards.
I’d been baited and switched in this way once before—by Bruce Johnson before he fought Mitch Green—and I’d paid the bribe. As you’ll read later, it hadn’t done me any good. I’d learned that if you knuckle under in boxing, these things will never stop happening.
I told Feliz and Palmer that I needed to get the money from my car, but that I was also going to get my gun when I did. They could take the money and then I’d shoot them, or they could fight for the amount we’d agreed to, forget about the money, and I wouldn’t bother going to my car.
They decided to fight for the money we’d agreed to, which was a good thing for me since I didn’t actually have a gun in my car.
The most personal and costly incident for me involving a gun came when Mitch Green got shot just after we’d signed a contract for me to manage him—another example of Blood’s bad luck somehow affording him a lengthy free ride.
I could have voided the contract since Mitch’s injury was serious enough to call into question whether he’d ever be able to fight again. His surgeon, Frank Bunch, speculated that Blood’s leg might have had to be amputated if he he’d waited one more day to have the eight-hour operation that saved it.
If I’d known what managing Mitch Green would have cost me in emotional wear and tear in addition to money, I’d have backed out of the deal. I still would have gotten him his operation, which either makes me an okay guy or an absolute chump, depending on how you view such things.
Snapshot 1: Bloody sneakers
It turned out that Mitch Green had not only been shot behind his knee after the Mike Tyson fan who he’d slapped on a Harlem street had retaliated by coming after him with a handgun. The guy, apparently a very good marksman, had gotten off a shot that caught the retreating Blood behind his right heel, where the bullet had then passed through his foot onto the sidewalk. Mitch’s sneaker, which he was wearing when he flew to Boston a number of days later, had a small round hole at the heel, encircled with a thin decorative wreath of dried blood. After buying Mitch new footwear, he gave the sneakers to me as a memento. Twenty-seven years later, I still have them around somewhere.
They couldn’t have done me any good as footwear even if they had been in pristine condition. Mitch, although nearly 6-foot-6, has a size 10½ shoe; hare-like, I wear 13½ gunboats despite being, at most, of average height.
I brought Mitch with me to the four-family building I owned on Broadway in Winter Hill, the area of multi-unit houses in Somerville where hardworking blue-collar homeowners daily passed by places of criminal enterprise controlled by Howie Winter and Whitey Bulger. I found that having Blood accompany me on my occasional visits to unruly tenants went a long way toward producing quick and easy dispute resolution. One look at him was usually all it took to get even the most truculent of them to capitulate.
I’d been called by the police after the double knifing had taken place. Then my tenant, who was the brother of one of the victims, called.
When Mitch and I got to the apartment, we found blood everywhere. It was on the sidewalk outside the house, on the steps leading in, all over the walls, covering the furniture, some even still congealing into the hardwood floors.
The two men had fought with knives throughout the house, then out onto the street, and finished so near death that they both collapsed on the curb. They were now in the intensive care unit of Mass General, and no one was sure if either would live.
I was there to make sure that, lease or no lease, the tenant understood that he’d be moving out immediately. I’d hadn’t known shit about his brother living with him.
We were given details of the fight. As Mitch Green loomed over him, the tenant told us what had happened the night before. It turned out that his brother had a long and violent history of mental illness. My tenant was visibly shaking, and kept saying, “I’m so frightened right now.” He looked small, dark, and frail. I imagined his brother looked that way too until he had a knife in his hand, at which point “wiry” would probably replace “frail.”
The tenant’s brother and a friend had been drinking heavily the previous night, then had switched over to drugs, which led to an argument over who owed whom what for the drugs. Things escalated, the knives came out, and the men wound up bleeding across the sidewalk.
I said, “You’ve got to move out tomorrow.”
He answered, “I paid my rent for the month.”
“Tell him, Blood.”
“You got to go.”
The tenant shook more. I assumed we were finished here.
“I’ve paid my rent.”
“That won’t cover the cleaning costs. I’m not here to argue with you. We’ll be back tomorrow. Make sure you’re gone.”
“I’m afraid of this man,” my tenant answered, looking at Green. “I don’t want to get hurt. I paid my rent. I’ll clean the apartment. When you come back tomorrow, it will look like nothing ever happened here. I don’t have anywhere to go. I’ll make sure my brother doesn’t do anything else. I have rights. I’ll go to a lawyer.”
“Did your brother come here from Brazil legally?”
“No. But we don’t have anywhere to go. If my brother lives, I have to take care of him. Let us stay. Please. I’ve paid my rent. I will clean the house.”
It was time to bring Mitch Green into this.
“I guess you’ll have to explain to him, Blood.”
“He seem like a good dude, Charl. And he and his brother don’t have nowhere to go. He gotta take care of his brother. They won’t start no more shit. They be cool.”
This Solomonic Judgment put me in an uncomfortable position. I could get into a debate with Mitch about wanting to bounce the tenant. The would make me seem indecisive at a time it would be unwise. I could overrule Mitch, which would make him look (and feel) like an underling and a goon. Or I could “see the wisdom” of Mitch’s approach, magnanimously acquiesce, and explain to the tenant that I was letting him stay only because “Blood just vouched for you.” I could then make it clear it wouldn’t be me he’d have to answer to if he betrayed Mitch’s faith.
I allowed the tenant and his brother to stay for the month. It turned out to be the correct decision. Mitch had guessed right about the guy; I’d been wrong. The next time we went to the house, the apartment was spotless. It was quiet for the entire month. My tenant and his brother didn’t attempt to parlay Mitch’s generosity into more than that. I never sent them a legal eviction notice. When Mitch and I returned at the beginning of the month, the apartment was empty, cleaned to a professional standard, and ready to be rented to new tenants whose arguments, if they even had them, never moved beyond low-decibel verbal ones.
Snapshot 2: Don’t quote me
Mitch Green suffered from a kind of verbal dyslexia. He could tell when he was walking into a tangle of linguistic inversion, but once he started, he was unable to stop and reset.
“I don’t want no one to mistake my weaknesses for kindness.”
“Out of the mouth of wisdom comes…babes.”
“If they fightin’ me, they fightin’ welfare bums, homeless people, drug addicts. No, I mean if they ain’t fightin’ me.”
The Braverman bet
A month or so after I officially became Mitch Green’s manager, I was sitting with Al Braverman in the small office of his antique store on East 69th St. sipping an espresso.
“You don’t think that if he was worth having, Don wouldn’t already have him? The guy is a cuckoo.”
Al Braverman put the accent on the second syllable—cuckoo.
As Don King’s Director of Boxing, Al could get almost anything done for a fighter, and I was in desperate need of having something done for Mitch Green. For me too, for that matter; Green was costing me a lot of money and didn’t seem any closer to fighting than he’d been when I began managing him.
“Charles, you’ll never get that fuckin’ guy in the ring. Believe me, we’ve tried. You know Don had him at one point. We got rid of him.”
“Green says it was the other way around.”
“Who you gonna believe? Don makes these guys more money than they’ve ever seen in their lives. They don’t leave Don. Don leaves them.”
“What if I got him to fight?”
“I’d pay to see you do that. You think you can do something Don King couldn’t do?
“It’s a different situation. I’ll bet you I can get him in the ring.”
“You’re already losing all your money with Green. Now you wanna lose more? What’s fuckin’ wrong with you, Charles? You know, I go around, I tell people about you, I say nice things about you to Don. Then you pull this kinda bullshit, and you make me look like a fuckin’ asshole.”
“I’ll get him in the ring.”
“I swear, I’m gonna take your bet. I’ll feel bad doin’ it, you’re already running through so much money, but somebody’s got to smarten you up. How much do you want to bet? I’ll bet you $10,000.”
“No, let’s really bet. How about 40?”
“You are a bona fide imbecile, Charles. You got no shot at winning.”
I insisted that the bet be made. I could have taken it back, but I didn’t, even after I got a sinking feeling that Al Braverman was right about both things.
The million-dollar turn-down No. 1: Rock Newman and Riddick Bowe
Riddick Bowe was a big, charismatic heavyweight champion who had all the talent in the world. HBO was paying him a fortune for his title defenses. But Riddick Bowe didn’t like to fight. He just hated the ordeal of training, hated dropping weight that would balloon up to nearly 300 pounds between fights, and missed being away from home and his wife and kids.
Bowe’s manager, Rock Newman, a boxing outsider, was disliked by many of the sport’s professionals, but I got along well with him. I sent sparring partners to Bowe’s camp, and had become friendly with matchmaker J.D. Brown—who handled much of the significant boxing business in D.C.—and Eddie Futch, the Hall of Fame trainer. Newman and I would talk on the phone occasionally, and he was very candid about wanting to make his client the most possible money for the least risk. HBO was paying a lot for Bowe’s services, and even opponents like journeyman Jesse Ferguson and the drug-addicted Michael Dokes—both seen as having no hope of beating the champ—wound up being paid nearly a million dollars to get slaughtered inside of six minutes.
I knew Mitch could do better than some of the guys who’d be chosen, and the fight could be sold a lot more entertainingly than Riddick’s dud fights. Bowe was a great, funny talker, a likable guy with an uplifting rags-to-riches story. Raised in the same drug- and gang-dominated Brownsville section of Brooklyn as Tyson, he had never strayed as an exemplar of good citizenry.
I suggested to Newman that Green could be the black hat to Bowe’s white, the nightmare to Bowe’s American Dream. The two men were the same size, crosstown rivals—Green from Jamaica, Queens, and Bowe from Brownsville. Brooklyn—in a New York showdown; so it would be easy to set this one up mostly in the laboratory.
There was the problem of Green not being rated in any sanctioning organization, but Rock had an answer for that.
“What if we do Riddick’s next fight in Madison Square Garden, and put Mitch on the undercard against some scrub he’s guaranteed to beat to get himself into one of the ratings?”
“That’d work,” I said. “We could get a little confrontation going in the ring during Riddick’s post-fight interview.”
It seemed like a great idea to everyone except Mitch Green.
“It don’t make no sense, Charl. You a very intelligent man, but you actin’ like you stupid. I don’t need no tune-up to beat Riddick Bowe. That man could never beat me.”
“It’s not a tune-up tune-up, Mitch. It’s a fight to get you into the ratings so that they’ll let you fight for the title.”
“Man, I was rated number six when I fought Tyson. And they stole that fight from me. Mike Tyson never beat me. Don King beat me.”
“Man, the past is the past. Let’s think about your future. Let’s get you rated, then get you a fight with Bowe.”
“Bowe ain’t never done nothing. Who’s he beat? Sanitation engineers, school bus drivers, volunteer firemen, substitute teachers. This is ridiculous.”
I could picture the promotion. Green was already saying all the right things. Then he started saying all the wrong things. It was a theme I was to become familiar with: The How Much is He Getting Cutoff. Mitch saw himself as the “A” part of any promotion he was involved in. The other guy could be Riddick Bowe or Mike Tyson—it didn’t matter. The attraction was Mitch “Blood” Green, so the worst that was acceptable was purse parity. There was nothing I could do to sell him on the idea that making a million dollars, winning the fight, and then controlling the percentages for the rematch was the way to go. I could never tell whether my promising Mitch that he’d win the first fight against Bowe sounded believable; I know it didn’t to me.
Snapshot 3: Clothes make the man
Although Mitch Green’s personal wardrobe leaned toward the conspicuous—something he was able to get away with spectacularly—he also had a good eye for more conventionally refined attire. I had been talked into buying an expensive, full-length winter overcoat under the theory that it was good for business to present a certain appearance. When Mitch first saw it, he eyed it carefully, straightened the shoulders and the drape, pinched the fabric between thumb and forefinger, and pronounced judiciously, “Oh, Charl, this a lovely garment.”
Much to my surprise, Mitch Green was not averse to our going out to eat at vegan restaurants. He was cool with my not eating anything that came from an animal. He really liked Buddha’s Delight in Boston’s Chinatown.
“Man,” he’d say, “This is good food. There ain’t no meat in any of this? This taste like chicken.”
“No, that’s tofu.”
“Well, it’s good. I like it.”
Buddha’s Delight was on Beach Street near the corner of Washington, the part of Chinatown that going through a dispiriting and largely unsuccessful process of reconstruction. It was situated at the exact spot where Chinatown ended and the Combat Zone, a legendary hooker and strip club oasis, began. In my youth, I’d spent a lot of time in this part of town, both professionally—strip clubs used to use live music—and recreationally, so I missed the way it had been. For the most part, the hookers had been pushed out by the cops, but the area was still derelict, the woman replaced by panhandlers and the homeless. You were still approached on every street corner by someone looking for a little money, but now you weren’t being offered anything in return.
One afternoon, a beggar, swooping in on us, recognized Mitch Green, who was still on crutches after having been shot.
“Oh, shit. Is that Mitch Green? You Mitch Green, ain’t you?”
“Live and in color, baby.”
“What you doin’ in Boston, brother? I thought you was from New York. How come you in Chinatown?”
“We gonna eat. This place don’t have no meat.”
“Man, I need some meat in a sandwich. Some of that Korean barbecue they have around the corner here.”
“You should try this place, man. They got good food there. It tastes just like meat. I keep asking Charl if he’s positive there ain’t no meat in the food.”
“I dunno. Maybe I try it sometime.”
I was frantically trying to signal to Mitch not to invite the guy. He was clearly homeless—which would make the owner of the restaurant unhappy—and demonstrably not clean.
I knew I was too late; the guy had recognized Blood, and now he was going to be rewarded for his perspicacity.
Green turned to the panhandler. “Wait till you taste this shit. You ain’t gonna be able to tell the difference. Charl, let this dude come with us.”
The owner and staff at Buddha’s Delight were used to my bringing in an unusual assortment of guests—Mitch Green, G. Love, who I was managing at the time, fitness competition winner and adult film performer Leigh Ann Cyr, certain crime figures, and a retinue of downtown lawyers serving various purposes—but the homeless guy was met with a reproving look, a look that started with him but ended with me. We had only recently reached a détente over Green, whose big voice, tendency to demonstrate punch combinations, and obsession with taking off his shirt wherever there was an audience had initially put us on the verge of being asked to leave despite my lengthy friendship with the owner, a dignified Vietnamese exile.
The most ragged member of our party asked, “Why you on crutches, Blood? You break your leg?”
“Some ignorant nigger was bein’ a knucklehead, tellin’ me all this nonsense about how I couldn’t beat Mike Tyson. So I give him a little slap, just a little tap on his face that knocks him down. The motherfucker gets up and runs away like a bitch, then comes back and shoots me in my leg when my back is turned.”
“I would’a lost my leg. I went to the Harlem Hospital, but they sent me home. Then it got infected and I couldn’t put no weight on it. It a blessing that Charl brought me to Boston to have Doctor Bunch—I call him Doctor Punch—save my leg. Man, they had to put all these motherfucking pins in my leg. That’s why I can’t start my comeback yet.”
“So the leg is all fucked up?”
This was Mitch’s cue to lift the left leg of his warmup pants above the damaged knee, proudly exhibiting the half dozen bolt-like pins that were holding the split femur firmly in place.
It was a formidable injury, but our newfound friend wanted to assure us that he still had some cards to play in the hand.
He raised his ragged shirt to reveal his sunken ribcage. The knife damage there was extensive.
“Few years back, I was carryin’ on with this girl I knew was married. She lied to me and told me they was split up, and I come to her place one time and the dude was waitin’ for me. Motherfucker stuck me as soon as I put my foot in the door. She was right there, and didn’t warn me or nothin’.”
Up came Mitch’s shirt. During his teen years, as a leader of the New York street gang The Black Spades, he’d been ripped wide open by a piece of jagged pipe during a turf fight with a rival gang. In the process of beating the shit out of a truckload of adversaries, Blood had been unaware of any damage done to himself until long after the massacre was concluded.
Not to be outdone, the mendicant had one more bullet hole to brag about. He had to lower his pants to do it, but that held no terror for him. It did, however, cause a respectable looking couple eating a few tables away to look at us askance.
In his booming bass, Mitch said, “I hope we not bothering you. We just lookin’ at war wounds.” He dropped his voice and solemnly added, “You a very pretty lady.”
The couple at the other table both said “thank you.”
I was tired of our new friend, but he wasn’t done yet. He needed to tell us about how he’d gotten shot in the thigh.
“I got this one when a guy said I owed him money,” the panhandler cried, genuine pique coloring his voice. “I didn’t owe him nothing. He was all cracked out, and he forget that I already paid him. Funny thing is, later on he remembered.”
“Ain’t that a bitch.”
“Yeah, well, believe me, I got him back. I placed a ’nonymous call that got him popped. Man, you right; this food really is good.”
“I told you it was. There ain’t no meat in it.”
“You sure? It tastes like meat.”
It was time to cut him loose. I could live with his having ordered more food than everyone else knowing he wasn’t going to have to pay for it, but the anonymous call to the police pushed things over the line. In the places where I lived and did business, you never went to the cops about anything. We were on one side. Cops were on the other side.
“Okay,” I told him cheerfully, “we’ve got to get moving. It was nice talking with you. I hope you enjoyed your meal.”
“Where y’all goin’?”
I was going to drop Mitch off at his place, then go home. I could see that he was about to invite the guy to hang out with him. Luckily, when I put my foot down about something that seemed important to me, Mitch respected it. We might have had issues if I hadn’t gotten to that stage, but Blood was always pitch-perfect in hearing when I’d reached my limit. He jumped in.
“We got shit to do, dude. You think we got time to do nothin’ all day? We got business to take care of.”
Then, as an afterthought he added, “Charl, give the man a few dollars.”
Snapshot 4: On the lawn
Two cops had already arrived by the time I got to the house I owned in West Newton, where Mitch had long been living rent-free in the top floor apartment. My own home was two miles away in Newton Centre—putatively the safest city in the U.S.—but the Newton police station was only a dozen blocks from Mitch’s place, so I didn’t have time to handle the situation. Mitch’s downstairs neighbors, my tenants, had called me in alarm, then called the police. Green had been screaming at his two girlfriends. Things weren’t going as well with them as he’d hoped. He was still screaming at them on the lawn while the cops tried to calm him down. The women, still not fully dressed, looked shaken. My tenants were watching from their apartment. The neighbors in the surrounding houses were watching from theirs. Mitch tried to get the cops to understand his outrage.
“They said they was gonna do it, goddamn it. Why you think I fly them here? They two pretty ladies. They told me they liked each other. You can’t just stop right in the middle.”
A home away from home: Rikers Island and PC
Unlike most members of its population, Mitch Green loved going to Rikers Island, the site of New York’s largest jail complex. He never went in for long but would occasionally do stretches of a month or two, during which time he took the opportunity to lift weights, do calisthenics, and engage in a running monologue of self-adulation that was backed by a Greek chorus of sycophantic jailbird underlings.
Blood was a major celebrity at Rikers—as treasured a presence with the guards as he was with the inmates.
“Man, you gotta see me there,” he’d tell me. “All the inmates, all the gangs, all the guards, it’s like ‘Yo, Yo, Yo, it’s Mitch Green. Oh shit, it’s Blood. Big Mitch. Lookin’ good, baby.’ Charl, I tellin’ you, I’m the King of Rikers Island.”
He loved the accommodations.
“Man, it’s beautiful. Don’t nobody bother me. I get to rest up, get lots of peace and quiet. And the food is good, man. Three meals a day, all you can eat. The guards bring me extra, bring me desserts. I can lift weights, do push-ups. I get into good shape in prison. And I got this little cooler where I can keep my Kool-Aid.”
“Does anyone box?”
“We do like slap boxing. Just see who got the fast hands. Not real boxing boxing. But it helps me stay sharp.”
Mitch assured me that I too would thrive at Rikers.
“Man, when you get in, you see how you get you respect. They be askin’ you questions. They gonna ask about their cases, ask you to listen to their tapes, ask you if you manage them in boxing when they come out. You do good in Rikers, Charl.”
“I don’t plan to ever be sent to Rikers, Mitch.”
“No, you don’t plan to. But nobody know the future, Charl. I’m just sayin’ if you wind up there, you’ll do good.”
My lawyer, David, had been listening in. He was a young blond-haired guy from Cleveland—overweight, with a face that easily flushed. Before coming to Boston to work for a small, exclusive law firm, he had been part of the Fox legal team, specifically Geraldo Rivera’s attorney at the network. When his feelings were hurt or something melodramatically heartwarming occurred, he sometimes couldn’t keep from crying. Even with all that going against him, he felt it necessary to enter the conversation.
“Charles isn’t a lawyer, Mitch. He wouldn’t give good legal advice. How do you think I’d do?”
Green looked incredulous. “How would you do, Davit? Oh shit, you’d be PC.”
“It protective custody. Punk City. You wouldn’t last a hour, Davit.”
“I could do the inmates a lot more good there than Charles.”
“Davit,” said Mitch with great gentleness and patience, “You don’t know how to talk to people. You definitely don’t know how to talk to niggers.”
“Yes I do. Of course I do. I know how to talk to you, don’t I?”
“You can only talk to them Roy Innis niggers, Davit. You can’t talk to no real niggers. You can’t talk to the brothers on the block. Trust me, man, you be instant PC when you go in there.”