EXCERPT from A Fighting Chance
photo by Esteban Barajas
Coach avoided politicians. He always said he had no use for their empty promises or shifty personalities. Miguel Angel was surprised Coach even asked him to come to the candidate’s house. But Agnes didn’t strike Miguel Angel as shifty or empty. She was not trying to grab the microphone to say what she wanted. She was going to let Coach do the talking.
For some reason, that made Miguel Angel feel good.
“I don’t know if you know what’s happening at the Packing Shed, but I want to see if there’s something you can do about it. I’ve never really asked for no favor of anybody, all I want is for my boxers to have a place to train,” Coach said.
Coach talked about the hours he’d put in training young boys, the equipment he’d bought to improve the place. It was a hobby in a way, he said, but a hobby that gave children something to do. No, not all of the children ended up champions, not all of them wanted to put in the time and energy. But at least they were not roaming the streets, learning the ways of the gangs and crime.
Then he told her about the rumors. Was it true that he was being punished because Bruno supported her? And if she got into office, could she promise he was not going to get kicked out?
Miguel Angel was startled. It was the first he’d heard of this, and he didn’t like it. He was about to say something, but he turned to look at Agnes and thought better of it.
“Ma’am, I don’t want nothing for me. I’m an old man, I’m retired, I can go find another hobby if I want to. But I believe, deep down in my heart, that those kids need me,” Coach went on.
“Mr. Ramos, I’ve heard an awful lot about you over the years, and I’m sure glad you decided to come visit me. But I’m going to be very honest with you. I don’t want this issue politicized. I believe we have to look out for our children and our youth, not play politics and backstabbing.
“Be that as it may, I’m in no position to make promises. I know you care about the Packing Shed and how much work you’ve put into it. I promise to get you appropriate recognition by the city for what you’re doing. We should write you a well-earned commendation.”
“What’s a commendation going to do?” Miguel Angel exploded. “I can’t train on a commendation. We need a gym, we need punching bags.”
Coach bolted from his seat and turned to Miguel Angel.
“Calm down, champ,” he yelled. “Sit down and show some respect.”
“Serious, Coach? What did you bring me here for, then? So I can listen to this crap?”
“Young man, sit down,” Agnes said calmly. “I want to hear what you have to say.”
All Miguel Angel wanted to do in that minute was run back to the Alisal. He closed his eyes, ground his teeth, craned his neck and tried to calm down. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he mumbled. “I’m under a lot of stress right now. We don’t want to lose the Packing Shed.” Agnes walked around the desk, poured herself a glass of water and offered some to Coach and Miguel Angel. They declined. She then walked back again to her chair and sat down.
“We need this place,” Miguel Angel pleaded. “Is there anything you can do to help us?”
Agnes stared at Miguel Angel for what felt like an eternity. She took another sip of water, then finally spoke. “I can’t promise that you’ll stay at the Packing Shed. I can’t do that, young man, and it has nothing to do with your program, Mr. Ramos. What you’re doing is commendable, and if we only had one hundred residents as committed as you are to our youth, this would be a very different place.
“If I start making promises here and there, and later on they compromise the overall health of the entire city, I’m going to have to break those promises. I don’t want to do that.”
Miguel Angel dropped his head to his chest. Coach let out a sigh and rearranged himself on the chair.
Agnes went on with her speech, but Miguel Angel stopped listening. There were plenty of adults in his life who had let him down, and he wasn’t interested in hearing yet another one.