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The Banter Gold Standard: The Life and Loves of the Real McCoy
Posted By Alex Belth On December 3, 2012 @ 2:08 pm In 1: Featured,4: Gold,Banter Gold Standard,Boxing,Games We Play,Sportswriting | Comments Disabled
When we talk about the all-time great sports writers a safe place to start is with Red Smith, W.C. Heinz, A.J. Liebling, Jimmy Cannon, and John Lardner. A few years ago, John Schulian edited The John Lardner Reader , a fine compilation of Lardner’s sports writing (and next spring, the University of Nebraska Press is publishing Southwest Passage , a collection of Lardner’s WWII correspondence).
The following piece is a beaut. It originally appeared in True and is reprinted here with the permission of Susan Lardner.
“The Life And Loves of The Real McCoy”
By John Lardner
The hotel manager and the detective stood looking down at the man on the bed, who had killed himself during the night. “Norman Selby, it says on the note, and Selby was how he checked in,” the manager said. “Wasn’t that his right name?”
“It was his right name,” the detective said. “But he was also McCoy. The real McCoy.”
Kid McCoy lived by violence, by trickery, and by women. He fought 200 fights, and was beaten in only six of them. He married eight women—one of them three times—and shot another to death. For the murder, he paid a light price, lightly. There was vanity in him, and guile, and wit, and cruelty, and some larceny, and a great capacity for enjoying himself. Above all, there was self-satisfaction. At no time in his life—not when he was world’s welterweight champion (with a strong claim to the middleweight title, as well), nor when he was a bankrupt, nor a jailbird, nor a Broadway favorite, nor a suspected jewel thief, nor a semi-professional adulterer, nor a mellow old pensioner, owing his job to a friend—at no time did he do or say anything that displeased himself. No one knows why, on an April night in 1940, he suddenly lost his contentment with Norman Selby, alias Charles (Kid) McCoy, and wiped it all out with one impatient gesture.
The Kid wasn’t sick, or broke, when he checked in alone at Detroit’s Tuller Hotel that night. He had work. He was 66 years old, but in good shape, still with a lot of gray but curly hair over his fair-skinned, boyish face, and still nearly as neat, trim, and supple of body as ever. Registering with the night clerk, he had left a call for 10 the next morning. It was when he failed to answer the call that the manager went up with a passkey, and found him dead. An overdose of sleeping pills had put him out, and away. There were two or three notes in the room. In one of them, he asked the paymaster at the Ford Motor Company, where he’d been working, to turn over such wages as were due him to his eighth and final wife. In the longest note, the Kid said, in part:
“To whom it may concern—For the last eight years, I have wanted to help humanity, especially the youngsters who do not know nature’s laws. That is, the proper carriage of the body, the right way to eat, etc. . . . To all my dear friends, I wish you all the best of luck. Sorry I could not endure this world’s madness. The best to all. (signed) Norman Selby. P.S. In my pocket you will find $17.75″
As to health laws—it was true that McCoy had invented, and tried to sell, a so-called health belt, or health suspender. As to “this world’s madness”—most of the madness the Kid had known had been of his own arranging, and he had endured it well and gaily. As to helping humanity—the Kid had always helped himself. An old-timer, seeing the dead man lying there among his last words, would have reflected that never before had McCoy played so sweet, peaceful, and tender a part. The old-timer might have suspected a trick.
Once, in 1895, in Boston, a welterweight named Jack Wilkes was dismayed by McCoy’s looks, as they climbed into the ring to fight. The Kid’s face was as white as a sheet. There were dark hallows under his eyes. Every few moments, he put his left glove to his mouth, and coughed rackingly. When they clinched in the first round, McCoy whispered, “Take it easy, will you, Jack? I think I’m dying, but I need the money.” Wilkes took it easy; he mothered McCoy. But in the second round, just after a cough, McCoy’s coughing hand suddenly snapped out and pushed Wilkes’s guard aside, and his right hand drove against his chin, and knocked him unconscious. For that bout, McCoy had made up his face with talcum powder, and his eyes with indelible pencil. The prop cough was from many dime novels of the time.
In Philadelphia, in 1904, McCoy fought a large, highly-touted Hollander named Plaacke. In the second round he began to point frantically at Plaacke’s waistband. “Your pants are slipping!” he muttered. “Pull ‘em up!” Plaacke reached for his pants with both hands. McCoy hit him on the jaw, and knocked him down. “Stay down, or I’ll tear your head off!” he snarled. The Dutchman was terrified by the savagery that had suddenly come into the Kid’s voice and by the cruelty that transfigured his impish face. He stayed down, and his American manager sent him back to Holland on the next cattle boat.
When McCoy ran a gymnasium in New York, in the early years of this century, he said to a new pupil one day, as the latter came in the door, “Who’s that that came in with you?” The pupil turned to look. McCoy knocked him down. “That’s your first lesson—never trust anybody,” he said. “Five dollars, please.”
The Kid got a lifelong pleasure out of teaching this lesson. Once, only a few months before he died, as he was driving along a road in Wayne County, Michigan, his car had a slight collision with a truck. Both vehicles stalled. The drivers got out, and the trucker came at McCoy, braying abuse. ”I’m a little hard of hearing, Mack,” McCoy said, cupping his hand to his ear. The trucker brought his chin close to the ear to make his point clearly, and McCoy, whipping his hand six inches upward, knocked him cold.
On the morning he was found dead, a true student of the ways of Kid McCoy, seeing the suicide notes, would have looked twice to make sure the Kid was there too. They were not the first suicide notes he had written. In 1924 McCoy was living with a divorcee named Mrs. Theresa Mors in a Los Angeles apartment. When Mrs. Mors was fatally shot by her lover, the police, investigating the crime, discovered near her body a message from Norman Selby which began—as his last one on earth was to do—”To whom it may concern.” The message suggested that the Kid meant to end it all—but no dead McCoy went with it. In jail, a few days later, McCoy moved on to still another strategem, feigning insanity to protect himself from the murder charge. A visitor found him walking around his cell with a blank look on his face, stop• ping now and then to lick bits of cardboard and stick them on the walls.
“What are those for?” the visitor asked.
“Quiet!” McCoy said. “I’m making a trap for that rat, her husband.”
The law, to be on the safe side, called in a team of alienists to examine the sudden madman. “He’s at least as sane as the rest of us,” the scientists reported. He was. The state, in proving its homicide case against him later, said that the Kid had had no notion of killing himself. He killed the lady, it charged, for a very intelligent reason—she was rich, and she wouldn’t marry him.
Of all the rich and beautiful women in the life of McCoy, she must have been the only one who wouldn’t. It was curious, the way the pattern of the Kid’s loves and marriages changed with the changes in his own career. When he was young, tough, and fight-hungry, scrapping first with skin-tight gloves and then by Marquis of Queensberry rules, first on turf and covered bridges and dance-hall floors, later in the ring, outboxing scientists like Tommy Ryan, the welter champion, mauling and knocking down heavyweights like the powerful Tom Sharkey—in those times his love affairs were brief. About his first marriage, at 22, to an Ohio girl named Lottie Piehler, McCoy once said: “A few months after l married her, I met a burlesque queen who finished me as a married man.” He wasn’t finished, he was just starting. But he had to keep on the move. There was less sense of investment, of security for McCoy, in those early matings. There was even romance in some of them. Certainly, he loved Mrs. Julia Woodruff Crosselmire, whose stage name was Julia Woodruff. Certainly, she loved him. He caught her eye by breaking up a free-for-all fight in a railroad car, one day in 1897 on a trip from New York to Philadelphia. In the next few years, they were married three times and divorced three times.
A change set in when the kid grew older, when he fought only when he had to and felt the pressures and hardships of life as a job-hunter and part-time con man. That was how it was in 1905 when he married Lillian Ellis, the young widow of a millionaire. Julia had recently cut him loose for the last time-as a matter of fact, he had divorced her, the only time it happened that way with McCoy.
“She ran away with a man named Thompson,” the Kid used to say. “They took a tour around the world, and when they got back, I seceded.”
On the morning his engagement to Mrs. Ellis was announced, the Kid was lying in his bed in the Dunlop Hotel, in New York, when the telephone began to ring. “Before I could get my shoes on that day,” McCoy said, “the phone had rung a hundred times, and a hundred friends had touched me for a million dollars.” Mrs. Ellis told the press that she knew what she was in for. “I know I’m not getting any angel, but I’m satisfied,” she said. The Kid himself was so moved that he wrote a wedding poem:
“Dogs delight to growl and fight,
But let men be above them,
It’s better to have a gal for a pal,
When he really knows she loves him.”
In a sense, McCoy said, these lines were his farewell to the fight game. For now, at least, he was through—”Even though Jeff,” he said, “is the only man alive who can lick me.” He was referring to James J. Jeffries, the retired heavyweight champion of the world.
High-flown though it sounded, the last statement may well have been true. It’s possible that for his weight, which ranged from 145 pounds to 170, McCoy was the finest fighter in the world, when he was at his best. ” A marvel, a genius of scientific fighting,” James J. Corbett called him. “Vicious, fast, and almost impossible to beat,” said Philadelphia Jack O’Brien. It was a strange fact about McCoy that he did not need his tricks to be great. He cheated because he loved to cheat, just as, in the early days, he married women because he loved them. Fighting on the level, he would still have been the real McCoy.
The phrase which keeps his name famous was born in San Francisco, in 1899. At least, McCoy always said so; and while he was one of the most fertile and tireless liars of his generation, there’s a good chance that he was telling the truth. The Kid went to the Coast in March of that year to meet the rough, hard-punching Joe Choynski. A little earlier, in San Francisco, a Joe McAuliffe had easily whipped a man named Peter McCoy. Kid McCoy, following this low-class act with a better one, gave Choynski a savage beating in 20 rounds, knocking him down 16 times. The press hailed him with gratitude: “Choynski is beaten,” a headline said, “by THE REAL MCCOY.”
As to how Norman Selby got the name of McCoy to begin with, there are two stories, both told by McCoy, and both plausible. He was hom, probably in October 1873, in Moscow, Indiana, a little farmland crossroads northwest of the town of Rushville. The Selby family moved to Indianapolis when Norman was small. When he was somewhere between 14 and 16, he and two other boys ran away by train to Cincinnati. Cops met them at the Cincinnati station, alerted by their fathers. “Are you Norman Selby?” a cop asked Norman. “I’m Charlie McCoy,” he said. The night before, through the train window, he had seen a sign, “McCoy Station.” When he made his first prizefight it was under the name of Charlie (Kid) McCoy.
In a story the Kid told another historian, he once saw a burlesque act featuring the exploits of two real-life safe-crackers, Kid McCoy and Spike Hennessy. In the theater lobby, for a dime, you could buy a book on the lives of McCoy and Hennessy. The Kid read the book, was taken with the daring, aggressive character of McCoy, and borrowed his name. Either way, there’s no doubt that he began fighting early in life as Kid McCoy. Some say his first bout, for $5 or $10, was against Charleston Yalla. Some say it was against Pete Jenkins, in St. Paul, in 1891. In St. Paul, the Kid, who was pausing there to wash dishes, joined the Baptist Church, because you had to be a member to join the YMCA, which had the only sports-training facilities in town. He beat Jenkins in four rounds.
After March 1895, the Kid was a fighter with a reputation; he was “the man who beat Shadow Maber.” To Maher, he was “that bloody trickster.” Shadow, an Australian fighting in the States and a boxer of note, met McCoy in Memphis. Near the end of one round, Maber heard a strong, clear voice say, “The bell has rung. Go to your comer.” He started to turn for his corner, and McCoy, the author of the unofficial announcement, belted him in the jaw. McCoy went on to beat the weakened Australian in 10 rounds.
He had marvelous speed and elusiveness, the Kid did, besides his tricks and the cruel, cutting power of his punches. By practising endlessly, he was able to run sideways, or backward, nearly as fast as the average man can run forward. “In a backward race, in fact,” he said once, “I could probably beat any man in the world.” He improved the use of his left hand by eating, writing, and throwing a ball left-handed. From every good fighter he fought or watched he learned something. Bob Fitzsimmons, then recognized as world’s middleweight champion, was training for a fight in New Orleans while McCoy was down there for a bout of his own. The Kid picked up a few dollars sparring with Ruby Robert.
“You’re a cunning bugger,” Fitz told him after McCoy, feinting a left, drove his right straight into the pit of Bob’s stomach, showing that he had mastered one of Fitzsimmons’s favorite moves. “And you can hit almost as hard as I can.”
“For the same reason,” the Kid said.
“Wot in ‘ell do you mean by that?” the Cornishman asked. He did not like to think he was giving away too much.
“You’re knock-kneed, Bob,” McCoy said. “I figured the reason you hit so hard is because your punch comes up from the knee instead of the waist or the hip.”
“—-! ” said Fitzsimmons unkindly. He considered that the theory was buncombe, and he may well have been right. It was a fact, however, as McCoy then demonstrated, that the kid had schooled his own knees to come inward by walking around for 20 minutes or a half hour at a time holding a fifty-cent piece between them.
Fitzsimmons (who was to win the heavyweight title from Jim Corbett in 1897) was too big and strong for McCoy who in those years weighed in at about the welter limit, 145. The welterweight champion of the world was Tommy Ryan, thought by many to be the most skillful boxer extant. Ryan and McCoy were matched to fight for the welter title in Maspeth, Long Island, in March, 1896. It was a match Ryan had no worries about. McCoy had sparred with him, too, a couple of years earlier, and McCoy had deliberately made a poor impression-chiefly by a kind of cringing timidity. Once, in a workout, he had asked Tommy not to hit him around the heart. “It makes me sick, Mr. Ryan,” he had said. “And it gives me a sharp pain that scares me. I wouldn’t fight if I didn’t have to.”
In their fight for the championship, Ryan did his best to hit McCoy around the heart-and every place else where he thought there might be an opening. But there were no openings, to speak of. And in the 12th round, getting impatient and beginning to swing wildly, Ryan exposed his own chin, and caught a straight right on the end of it that drained all the strength and science out of him and left him helpless. McCoy then slashed and mauled the champion until the 15th, when he knocked him out.
It was. in Africa, the Kid used to say, that he . developed the “corkscrew punch.” The phrase, like others coined by this prince of phrasemakers, became known all over the world. The corkscrew punch, probably, was only a left hook to the head, like other left hooks. Like other hooks, it involved a turning of the wrist, just before impact. But McCoy declared, and the world believed him, that he gave his left wrist an extra, prolonged spin that increased its velocity and its power to cut and maim. “It was the principle of rifling,” he said. “I learned it by studying a rifle in South Africa.”
It was in South Africa, too, at Bullawayo, that McCoy fought a 250-pound Negro called the King of the Kaffirs. In the first round, McCoy, running backward, lured the giant into McCoy’s corner. The King, in sudden pain and confusion, looked down at his bare feet, and the Kid, at the same moment, brought up his right hand and knocked the Kaffir senseless. The floor, as it happened—we have McCoy’s complacent word for this—had been sprinkled with tacks by McCoy’s seconds just as the fight began.
It was strange, the way the elements of human nature were mixed in this curly head, behind the bland, youthful face and the smooth, bragging tongue. The Kid could not help lying-his picaresque imagination worked day and night to add to his own legend. He could not help swindling-his fight with Corbett, in 1900, after Corbett had lost the heavyweight title, was called by contemporaries one of the most flagrant fixes in ring history. One reporter wrote, “It was the cleverest boxing match ever seen, as it should have been, considering how carefully it had been rehearsed in advance.”
But there was far more than greed and deceit in McCoy; there was courage and ferocity. He could fight, against odds, like a tiger. Under such conditions, Maurice Maeterlinck, the playwright, who had seen the Kid fight in Europe, once described him as “the handsomest human on earth.” McCoy must have been like that on the night he fought Tom Sharkey—after he had given up the welterweight title, had outgrown a brief claim to the middleweight crown and was fighting them as big as they came.
Sailor Tom Sharkey was not a giant—he was squat, but massive, and very tough. In 45 rounds of fighting, the great Jim Jeffries was never to knock him down once. Sharkey and McCoy met on January 10, 1899, at the old Lenox Athletic Club, in New York City. It was the biggest gate of McCoy’s life; there was $46,000 in the square brick arena that night. The Kid was about Sharkey’s height, but he looked like a thin, pale boy beside the Sailor. His legs were slender, his stomach was concave at the narrow waist. Such power as he had was bunched in big arms and low, sloping shoulders. Running like a burglar, he made Sharkey commit himself with rushes and lunging swings. Then the Kid let the gap close. He countered the swings. He hooked Sharkey’s head with his left, and drove straight rights against Sharkey’s teeth and cheekbones. Twice he floored the man whom Jeff could not bring down. By the end of the ninth, it looked like McCoy’s fight for sure, and the patrons were screaming for him to finish it. The truth was, the Kid himself was finished. He had used up all his strength on a head like an oaken bucket; in the tenth, his legs went dead. Sharkey caught him in that round, first with a body punch that seemed to cave in the Kid’s ribs, then with a smashing blow on the jaw. Paul Armstrong, the playwright who wrote “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” was covering the fight. Of the Kid, at the very last, he wrote:
“He clawed the canvas like some deep-sea crab . . . rattled along on all fours . . . and then bobbled into a meaningless heap.”
In 1900, the Kid ran a night club in the cellar of the Hotel Normandie, at the comer of Broadway and 40th Street. He ran it until a matter of what the police called “larceny from a customer” by McCoy came up—then the customers began to abstain from the Kid’s saloon. In 1904, he filed a petition in bankruptcy, having $25,000 worth of debts and no assets. The debts included one of $320 for clothing, and another of $569 for repairs to a fast, red car. It was natural that the Kid should react to this slump by marrying Lillian Ellis, the rich widow. It was natural that when Mrs. Ellis detached him, after three or four comfortable years, he should marry Mrs. Edna Valentine Hein, the daughter of a silverminer. The Kid impressed Mrs. Hein favorably, before the marriage, by winning a street fight from Mr. Hein.
It was one of the few fights he had, in those years. W hen occasional spells of non-marriage, meaning poverty, overtook him, and• McCoy was obliged to fight professionally again, he found the going hard. It was the flesh that was weak—not the two-edged brain. A lad named Young Jim Stewart climbed into the ring in New York one night, during these downhill days, to see what McCoy had left. He went to the Kid’s comer before the bout to pay his respects. McCoy, waving to friends in the crowd, pretended not to see him. Stewart, hurt, but not mortally so, returned to his corner. When the referee called them out for instructions, McCoy tramped heavily on the youngster’s feet and bumped him accidentally in the eye with his elbow. Next McCoy grabbed Stewart by the nape of the neck with one hand, pulled down his head, and cracked him two or three times in the jaw with his other fist. “What I want to know, Mr. Referee,” said the Kid, deferentially, “is whether it’s all right for him to hit me like this?” “No, it ain’t,” said the referee. Young Jim Stewart survived these preliminaries, and the fight got under way and went six rounds to no decision.
“Tell me, Mr. McCoy,” said Stewart afterward, “did you expect to soften me up with that stuff with the referee?” “God knows, boy,” the Kid said. “You can never tell till you try.”
In the last fight on his record, McCoy met a British seaman, Petty Officer Curran, in London, in 1914. The bout was scheduled for 20 rounds—a long, weary haul for a man of forty. Three-quarters of the way through it, McCoy’s feet had gone nearly flat. His nerves were snapping in his body like little twigs. Suddenly, the timekeeper, sitting by the ring in evening clothes, took a tall glass of whisky-and-soda from an attendant, and placed it carefully on the apron of the ring. A moment later, the Kid ran into a punch from Curran, fell to the floor near the timekeeper’s seat, snatched up the highball and drank it off. The fight went the full distance. It was close, but McCoy, making his last post a winning one, got the duke.
Though he was still debonair, still a strutter, McCoy was plainly at the end of his rope, financially, when he beat his way home from London at the start of the first World War. The U. S. Army bought his meals for the next few years. Enlisting in 1915—tired, played out, turning to the security of a uniform and steady pay as he had turned to marriage when he was younger—McCoy served on the Mexican border in 1916, and on the home front generally in the wartime years, mostly as a boxing instructor. There was another fling left in him, but in the Army, for awhile, he charged his batteries, and marked time.
When his enlistment was up, the Kid headed for California. He got a few bit parts in Hollywood, but this career died quickly. In 1922, he became an official bankrupt again—assets: two suits of clothes. One way and another, he took the busy, hot town for a dollar here and a dollar there, and hung on. And in the summer of 1924, he found his way into the life of still another woman with money and a husband she did not like.
Theresa Weinstein Mors was on the point of divorcing Albert E. Mors when she met McCoy. She was in her late 30′s, and easy to look at. It is not known just how she came to meet the Kid, but on August 4, when their friendship became a matter of record, she described him to the police as her “bodyguard.” The police had been called in by Mors, who complained that his wife and McCoy had used him roughly. The visit had been for the purpose of discussing the Mors’ property settlement. The Kid, of course, had the habit of discussing things with his knuckles. In this case, however, it was Mrs. Mors who hit Mr. Mors in the mouth, while McCoy protected her.
A divorce followed, and the Kid and Theresa took an apartment together, under the names of Mr. and Mrs. N. Shields. There’s good reason to believe that the Kid wanted marriage in more than name. Mrs. Mors, at least for the time being, did not. For this reason, and perhaps for others, it was a quarrelsome partnership. It came as no surprise to the Shields’ neighbor, in the next apartment, when, on the sultry night of August 11, at a few minutes after midnight, she heard a woman’s voice in the Shields’ flat cry out, “Oh, my God, don’t do that!” The cry was repeated. Then came a single gunshot. The neighbor investigated, but only to the extent of trying the Shields’ door, which was locked. It was not till 10 a.m. on the 12th that the janitor found Theresa lying dead on the floor of the bedroom she had shared with McCoy. She had been shot once, in the left temple. A .32 pistol lay nearby. A photograph of the Kid had been placed across her breast. Also clearly visible was a suicide note signed Norman Selby leaving his estate to his mother.
At almost the same moment the police discovered the note and the body which did not match it, the Kid himself was running amok a few blocks away, with another gun, in an antique shop owned by his mistress. It was a wild scene he made there. Disheveled, apparently drunk, he burst into the shop with his gun out. He told the men there, mostly employes, to take off their shoes and pants. He put a dance record on the phonograph and, under cover of the noise, went through the pants pockets for money. Then, cursing with all the foulness he could muster from 51 years’ experience, he went out the door again and, in the street, shot and seriously wounded the first three people he met, two men and a woman. The police caught up with him as he was running blindly through Westlake Park.
Had he been drunk? McCoy, though he’d taken some wine in his time, had never been given to drinking. Had he been faking madness, to set up a defense against a murder rap? Maybe. At any rate, his wildness, real or feigned, subsided after a few days in jail, and at his trial he told the jury in serious, sensible tones that Theresa—”the only woman I ever loved”—had shot herself to death in his presence. It was a story the Kid was to stick to for the rest of his life. The prosecution, in rebuttal, pointed out that Mrs. Mors, a right-handed woman, had been shot in the left side of her head. The prosecutor told the jury that McCoy had said to his sister, after the crime, “I had to kill that woman.” It took the jurymen 78 hours to decide whom to believe. In the end, they disbelieved McCoy. He was sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter, and to two terms of 7 years each for the larceny and mayhem of his last daffy stand in Theresa’s antique shop: a total of 24 years.
The rap seemed to mean that the Kid would die of old age in San Quentin. There was one way to escape such a fate—sweetness, light and good conduct on a scale such as McCoy had never before attempted.
When he came out in 1932, paroled after a little more than seven years, the Kid had established one of the purest records in the history of San Quentin—never a mark against him. With him he brought a canary named Mike, a prison pet as harmless as the new McCoy. His future life was to be mild and pastoral, too. Years before, he had given boxing lessons to a Navy fighter who used the name of Sailor Reese. In 1932, under his real name of Harry Bennett, the sailor had become personnel chief for Ford, in Detroit. Bennett gave the parolee a job as watchman in one of the Ford public gardens. The new line on the payroll read: “Norman Selby. Age, 59. Farmhand.” The terms of his parole kept the Kid close to Detroit for five years. When, in 1937, he became totally free—the Kid used to say he’d been “pardoned,” but it was really just the formal ending of parole—he went on living in Detroit and working for Ford.
He did make a few trips out of town after the papers came through. One of them was to Rushville, Indiana, near the place of his birth, where he took unto himself an eighth wife, Mrs. Sue Cobb Cowley. Another was to New York, where the Kid and an old fellow-wizard, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, pottered around town together for a day, cutting up touches and reviewing the past. Wherever he went, the Kid seemed happy. His marriage went well. His job was for life. When he lied, he told contented lies that showed the old vanity, the old satisfaction with Norman Selby, alias Kid McCoy. One day a man asked him if he ever saw his former wives.
“You won’t believe it,” the Kid said smugly, “but I see them all, regularly. Every year I give a party, and every woman I’ve ever been married to comes to Detroit to see me again.”
He gave a roguish smile. “Why wouldn’t they come, for me?”
The Kid was not crazy, or senile. He simply liked this lie and all the others that celebrated the glory, the beauty, the cunning of Kid McCoy. In everything he did, as his days dwindled down to the last and strangest one, his mind and his body worked smoothly and well.
And then, suddenly, smoothly and well, he killed himself. Perhaps there had been one special sin in his life that was too big for him to Jive with any longer. If so, nobody knows what it was but Kid McCoy.
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 this appreciation of Lardner for SI.com: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/the_bonus/10/14/john.lardner/index.html
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