Two Roads Diverge? Take the Higher

August 28, 2017

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
-From "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost
. . . . .
Strolling recently through the oasis that is Hyde Park Square. Stretching my legs. Clearing my head. Enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon. When I came upon a ruckus.
An altercation involving a guy in a sport coat and a parking cop. Didn't need a psychology degree to discern that Sport Coat had returned to his car just as Parking Cop was writing a ticket. Which represents a quick and unsatisfying way to lose $65. A matter in which I've some expertise. As I too have strolled to my car and watched a Meter Cop place a ticket upon my windshield. So, I was familiar with the idea that, once Parking Cop begins to write a ticket, he is obliged to leave it on the windshield. With zero discretion, as to whether the fine will be levied. As it must. Leaving no ability to be wooed by a well-articulated tale of woe.
Sport Coat had no such knowledge. So, as Parking Cop explained that there was nothing he could do (besides leaving the ticket), Sport Coat reacted like Alec Baldwin confronted by paparazzi. Bulbous veins lined his forehead. Spittle flew from his lips. While his throaty apoplexy -- easily heard over the din of traffic -- caught the attention of dogs, cats and reasonable people for blocks.
Unfortunately, Sport Coat had lost sight of the fact that, on occasion, life is not fair.
Sometimes you play well and lose. Get shortchanged by officials. Prepare thoroughly for The Big Event, only to fall short. Or miss the expiration of a meter by two measly minutes.
Regardless of the cards dealt, playing them with class and dignity is what separates the wheat from the chafe. Sets the Mendoza line between thoughtful, rational human beings, and those more prone to narcissistic, ego-driven decisions. Distinguishes those with peace of mind from those with none.
So, with a hat tip to the estimable Carl Cannon of Real Clear Politics, I'll share a similar story. Played out on the grandest of stages. Whereby a good man was unfairly denied his prize. Though, with character and aplomb, he took the high road.
On September 23, 1926, Gene Tunney, a former U.S. Marine who fought skillfully and defensively, claimed the heavyweight championship of the world by winning a 10-round decision over Dempsey in an outdoor fight in Philadelphia.
A year later, at Chicago's Soldier Field, Dempsey believed for a moment -- well, for 13 or 14 seconds -- that he'd won it back.
Dempsey was being out boxed by Tunney again in Chicago. But 50 seconds into the seventh round, he caught the "Fighting Marine" with looping left hand. It dazed Tunney, and although the crowd didn't know how much, Dempsey did. He moved in quickly, finding Tunney's jaw with a powerful overhand right, followed by a left hook.
Tunney's eyes went blank and he slumped toward the canvas. "Seventeen rounds," Dempsey later said he thought, "and now I have him." Before Tunney reached the mat, Dempsey hit him squarely four more times. Dempsey's hands were so fast that biographer Roger Kahn had to slow down the newsreel to even see the punches.
Yet, it wouldn't prove enough, partly because of Dempsey's killer instincts.
In early 20th century prize fighting, a boxer would stand over a fallen opponent, the better to knock him down again when he arose. Boxing was changing, however, and Dempsey's handlers had agreed to a new rule: A fighter must retreat to a neutral corner after his opponent goes down. But Dempsey didn't do it.
When told by referee Dave Barry to go to the farthest corner, Dempsey hovered over the fallen Tunney instead. "I stay," he said simply.
So, Barry took Dempsey by the arm and walked him toward a neutral corner. When the ref returned to Tunney, the ring timekeeper was counting, "Five..." But Barry ignored him, and began the count over again, "One..."
At the count of "Nine!" Tunney got to his feet. He would say later that he could have arisen earlier, and the classy Dempsey never publicly questioned Tunney's account, although he did appeal the decision -- in vain.
In the eighth round, Tunney knocked Dempsey down and went on to win another 10-round decision. Tunney would fight professionally one more time, retaining his title in a July 1928 fight before retiring. Dempsey would fight only in exhibitions after that, joining the service during World War II and living in New York until he died in 1983. He was 87 years old.
Late one night in the 1960s, two muggers tried to rob the old man. They didn't know who they were dealing with. The old champ whirled around and dropped each of them with one punch.
A cabbie called the cops, who found the would-be robbers cowering on the ground, with Jack Dempsey hovering over them, as he had with Gene Tunney. They refused to get up, they explained, without police protection.

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