RIP Gleason’s Gym Pillar Bob Jackson: “He Was A Real Good Person”
The gym truly is a New York institution, and the proof comes when the tourists come in the door, from Germany, Ireland, Italy, pick a country, people from there have trekked to the DUMBO fight factory and made a visit to the joint part of their NYC junket.
Bruce Silverglade handles the reins now. Bobby (Gagliardi) Gleason, to Ira Becker, to Silverglade–and Bruce is beloved. Consistently classy, he is a rock, a constant, fair and lightly firm, he has the deftest touch with all manners of people. It's necessary…hello, can you picture the range of types of people who go to Gleason's Gym circa 2020? Hedge fund dandies to persons who should be on meds, but neglect to take them, Silverglade shows the same unruffled demeanor in interfacing with each, and all in between.
These days, the interfacing isn't being done at the same rate, or the same manner. Silverglade has been upping his tech game, like so many of us, by demand, not choice. On Monday, March 16, at 8 PM ET Gleason's had been shuttered, part of the NY State Governor's request to curtail gatherings of more than 50 people. That was a body slam to movie theaters, bars, restaurants, boxing gyms. You could argue that Gleason's should have made the cut, but Bruce complied.
He made sure all his trainers would have a shot at keeping up their income, knowing full well that NY landlords may not all be immune to coronavirus, bu they are to sob stories. There would be no rent forgiveness gestures forthcoming….
“I'm in the mountains, there's twenty acres, there's not a neighbor for miles,” Silverglade tells me on the phone, from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona. “My only contact with anyone is when I go down (to town) for food.”
Here's a wonderful tidbit for you, which will surprise, dismay and delight some people who think of New Yorkers as exotic animals. Neither Bruce nor his missus cook. Like, at all. They get food at the deli, or a pizza joint, or a restaurant. Yep, all the time. We talk about it, he swears that all told, when you tally it up, outlay and time spent shopping, schlepping, cooking and cleaning, he comes out ahead the way he does it.
Back to the new reality…Silverglade didn't need to be informed or reminded, he's in his 70s, but enjoys the “grind,” and knows that the retirement life wouldn't be for him. This self imposed at home stay in Arizona confirms the fact. The house has wireless, it's not like he's doing cross word puzzles for entertainment. He knows his faithful aide Jieun Lee can be relied upon to go to the gym, open the doors, make sure the place is kosher, so he checks in with Jieun daily.
The first week of the coronavirus closure, he took the opportunity to clean and paint the fight factory, and the renovation he says has the place looking better than new. At some point, maybe in a month, or so, we hope, people will be given the OK sign to tiptoe back to job sites. “When we do open, it will look nice,” he states.
And he tries to do some business as usual; Gleason's merch is still in demand, so he checks orders, gets some sent out, the t-shirts, the hats, et al.
He paid rent for the month, he's a solid citizen like that, he knows that the gears in the city machine have to keep humming, to an extent, even at reduced capacity.
We talked about what Average Joes and Janes will do, in a city that features about 2/3 of residences being a non-ownership situation. I told him how silly I felt. Why was I thinking that the Mayor, Bill DeBlasio, who likes to portray himself as a “progressive,” might push one stitch to set something up so paycheck to paycheck people might get at least a measure of relief? No dice, of course, the city isn't getting money from transit or sales tax, the banks like that friction, money moving throughout the system. Property taxes are supposed to be due in July, the city gets like 30% of its revenue off that. So, a disruption to rates, to that market, a toppling of “market rates” and “property values,” well, we can't have that, can we? The banksters are the donor class, and who does the mayor, who does the Governor listen to hardest? Rhetorical question–the donors.
We talked about the loan that is supposed to be available to small businesses, which will be forgiven if said businesses keep their employees, officials promise.
We talked business and then we talked personal, real life, the toll that the pandemic is exacting all over the damned world.
The virus took OG Nelson Cuevas from us, and it hurts Silverglade, because they will not be making them like Nelson Cuevas (age 80), or his pal Bob Jackson (age 82), who passed away March 28 after a fall, because the world and city has changed so much.
Another older gent, the fight-writer Ron Ross (age 88), down in Florida, was claimed by the respiratory attacker.
In Tucson, Silverglade keeps up his fitness regimen, it's a daily deal. He limits the sugar intake and his BP doesn't climb, because he maintains an equilibrium with his mood.
“I just hope too many of my friends don't get sick,” he says, his voice drifting slightly, dropping, as he thought about the uncertainty of it all.
Nelson, he tells me, was a good dude. A Bronx guy, owned a gym in da Bronx, the Apollo. He learned to fight from Cus D'Amato, and Mike Tyson recalls that he used to get driven there, by Teddy Atlas or someone, when he first started to box. Cuevas would have seen Tyson the young teen beating up people ten years older than him. Ask Tyson about the time he saw Nelson pull out the gun, after the crowd at a smoker lost their shit over a decision. Did Nelson also smash a trophy over the head of a guy that Atlas was cornering? Sadly, no video exists. But that was part of the scene which made a Cuevas, who also worked as a cut man, an OG trainer.
Now, being around older timers in boxing, you will hear the declaration, often delivered in lamentation form, regarding trainers, how they don't make 'em like they used to. Well, they really don't. There's a few reasons why. Maybe the most glaring is our collective attention span. Blame microwaves–people aren't as good at postponing gratification. Silverglade sees it–a newbie comes to the DUMBO location, and expects to glove up and be sparring on day one. The old timers, the Cuevas' and the Jacksons, they weren't brought up like that.
“These are guys trained the old fashioned way,” he says. “With them, you weren't allowed in the ring before for months and months and months you worked on balance, had strings on your ankles, you did the heavy bag, looked at your form in the mirror… finally after months, they'd allow sparring.”
Bruce drifts again, ever so slightly, mind trekking back to when he first met Bob.
Bob, by the way, was kind of one of those dudes who looked older before he really was. Working the beat at Sing Sing, he was in corrections, that'll do it. The 70s, the 80s, NYC, different age, different breed of beings, before Times Square became Disneyland.
“I met him, he owned Gramercy Gym in lower Manhattan, he and Al Gavin, then they moved into Gleasons, for 25 years, had their own office,” Silverglade continues. “Bob was my historian, he was the guy I went to ask about any boxing history. They don't have trainers of his caliber anymore, really. He was the nuts and bolts, he was the foundation of boxing.”
Did you know that Cus D’Amato owned the “Gramacy,” as the schmuck-o sign painter spelled it on the entrance door, and sold it for a buck to Bob and Al? It was at 14th at Irving Place, and DeNiro learned the ropes here for his stint as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.
Bob would teach there, the correct placement of the feet, the optimal weight transfer to get oomph on your right cross, life lessons.
From a 1985 NY Times piece:
“Slow down! Slow down!” Jackson exhorted a beginner punching air more often than than the leather targets in front of him. ”People who talk fast never remember what they say.”
Ponder that, and mull it while you watch those daily briefings from the White House, while the pathological liar Trump tells you that wearing a scarf is just as good as wearing an N95 mask, or Pence tells you they want to make sure no one gets charged for COVID-19 care when a reporter asks how people that just got laid off can get health insurance coverage if Trump won’t re-open Obamacare exchange sign-ups.
Silverglade spoke of Bob's contribution to society, as a strong pillar-post of local community. “He was the kind of guy, he was a trainer 24 hours a day. If Bob got a call in the middle of the night, someone just got locked up, he would be there,” Silverglade continues. “He'd give you a kick in the butt, whatever he had to do, but if you got hurt, he would be with the guy at the hospital. When the crowd left, he'd be in the dressing room with his guy, tending to a cut, a broken ear drum, whatever. Being a trainer to Bob was a seven days a week job. It wasn't just paying a guy for the hour training….these kind of guys aren't around today. Nelson, Bob, these are the guys I got started with, they were the foundation of boxing. Bob was my goombah. He's going to be missed.”
I only moved to New York in 1999, and was working in offices, at NY Newsday, then ESPN The Magazine, I didn't interact with Bob. So I asked Bruce about his personality. Gruff? Cantankerous? “He was inside Sing Sing for 30 years, he was a sergeant, when I was president of the amateurs in New York, he ran the boxing program there, and we'd bring amateur to fight in the prisons. He was the kind of guy who wanted to help people. If he had to step up, be gruff, no problem…but he had a heart of gold.”
People remember Al and Bob, Bob and Al. Gavin, the cut stopper, was a Brooklyn guy, who moved to Queens, then lived on the Island. He was the NY Parks landscaper, Bob with NY's Boldest. Al passed away in 2004, but the duo enjoyed taking a bow in tandem, when they won the Boxing Writers Association of America‘s Long and Meritorious award, in 1999. And vets in the sport enjoyed seeing Bob at the April 2019 NY State Boxing Hall of Fame gala, he was in a wheelchair, but beamed mightily when people he impacted, like heavyweight Vinny Maddalone, spoke glowingly of him.
Boxing, you see, is better than most industries, at acknowledging history, and giving credit to people not so much for the money they make, or the power they'd held, but the positive influence their character and integrity and decency had on fellow citizens of the planet.
OK, to be sure, Bob had a finely tuned bullshit detector. Everyone locked up is innocent, doncha know. But now and again, he'd go above and behind for someone who was truly screwed by the system. He spent his own money and plenty of time trying to convince authorities that Gerald Harris didn't do it. In 1992, the Golden Glover got convicted of holding up a couple in their driveway in Queens. Nine to 18 years, he was told he'd serve. Thing is, he REALLY didn't do it. His brother did, a brother that looked a helluva lot like Gerald did. Harold Harris, a n'er do well, was later convicted on a drug charge, and got locked up in South Carolina. Jackson took up the cause, and knew how to play this one. He talked to influential media, and word about the mess up spread. Gerald did 8 years, and then got out, in 2000, in time for Christmas. There hadn't been cell phones when he went in. He might've missed out on the Bush and Obama terms if not for Jackson.
Jackson got started in boxing at age 17, he'd tell you, when he hooked on with the Air Force to escape reform school after a a beef with the husband of a married woman he'd befriended. He snagged tricks of the trade, and those all important ground up basics from people like Cus D'Amato, and passed the learning on to plenty of amateurs, lower level pros, and some A siders, like Junior Jones and Oleg Maskaev.
“I started white-collar boxing,” Bob, some called him “Bobby,” told reporter Matt Caputo in 2006. “We had all these yuppie/puppy types coming up to me in the gym, wanting me to train them, I told them I had real fighters and was too busy. After a while, I gave in and I only wish I had copy-written the name.” He also pondered his last chapter with Caputo. “It’s important for me to come to work every day, I’ve worked all my life. I’m older, but I’m no rocking chair-type guy. When the Grim Reaper comes for me I’ll probably be ringside with a towel around my neck.”
And he ended with the writer thusly: “I’ve never been addicted to anything in my life. I am addicted to boxing though and that may have cost me marriage, family, relationships maybe. You have to watch out for that.”
Jackson would get philosophical, and also keep it light. ”I believe you were a fighter in another life,” he told a student, according to a 1986 NY Times article, as a writer saw him do his thing at Gramercy. ”But it's been a long time.”
More about Bob. Remember the Brooklyn guy Dewey Bozella, the guy who got locked up in 1983, for murdering 92 year old Emma Crapser in Poughkeepsie in 1977? Dewey had the sort of upbringing that could result in a kid becoming a warped adult. He'd seen his dad inflict a fatal beating on his mom, at age 9. Emma had gone to bingo one June 1977 evening, went home, and was killed by an invader or invaders. Dewey got grabbed, but always said he didn't do it; he coped with the legit injustice by taking up boxing, in Sing Sing. Bob had started the program, and Bozella in 2010 told writer Ryan Kohls about that hookup.
“He told me when I tried out for the team, ‘Listen, once I put you on this team, you can’t be getting into trouble. You can’t do this, and you can’t do that.' My whole life straightened out after that because I wanted it that bad. I got into school after this, I became academically inclined. I dedicated myself to boxing, it was my morals, my discipline. It helped me to make a total change as a human. That’s what boxing did for me.” Bozella got discharged in 2009, after lobbying from the Innocence Project, and got back to boxing.
At age 52, he engaged in his first, and last, professional bout. Bob Jackson can take a lil bow for his part in that comeback story.
Moving forward, we will be doing THIS, looking back, assessing how people taken too soon impacted us and society. This March Madness might in fact change some of us, how we live our lives, what we hold dear. It might shift some of our priorities, goals and behaviors. I'm thinking, not so much Bruce Silverglade.
As long as I've known him, Bruce has had the right idea. He presented his right way of thinking when summing up his buddy Bob Jackson:
“He was the kind of guy I looked up to. He was a real good person.”