Summary and Analysis
Alfred is back in training, with renewed intensity. He makes remarkable progress even though the most praise that he receives from Mr. Donatelli is when the mentor says, "Not bad." Alfred knows that, coming from Donatelli, this is very high praise. Alfred spars with Angel, Denny, and Jose and learns how to defeat each of them. Lou Epstein drops by the gym and exchanges greetings with Bud Martin. Bud mentions recently seeing Kid Ryan, a former fighter who once had a great match with Lou. Ryan is not doing well financially, and Lou gives Bud some money to pass on to Kid Ryan anonymously. As they leave the gym together, Lou offers to teach Alfred how to run the cash register.
Lipsyte uses this chapter to chart Alfred's progress, primarily in the ring but also with the Epsteins. Alfred learns by sparring with Angel, Denny, and Jose, each of whom presents a different challenge.
Alfred struggles with Angel's style until he learns to apply Bud Martin's advice. Alfred is only throwing one punch at a time rather than working in combinations, attacking with a series of punches. Angel easily slips the one punch and belts Alfred in the gut. Over a period of weeks, Alfred works on the more complicated technique. In a stunning metaphor, Lipsyte speaks of time as if it were an evolving fighter: "August, gasping for breath, melted into September."
The opponents continue to slip Alfred's single jabs. He has a recurring dream: A fly is sitting on his nose, but when he tries to brush it away, he sees that he has no hands. Eventually, Alfred shocks Angel with a dazzling combination of punches that leave the Puerto Rican fighter reeling against the ropes and bleeding. Alfred has nailed the fly. He is not sure how he did it, but Henry, a student of the game, shows him that Alfred's footwork was the key.
Denny's footwork is heavy, but his hands are quick. Alfred learns to stick and move, hitting the opponent with a quick jab or combination and just as quickly dancing away. At this point, appropriately, Lightning Lou Epstein visits the gym and praises Alfred. Demonstrating the trust of the brothers who run the grocery, Lou offers to teach Alfred how to run the cash register, a step up for him and one that involves handling money, illustrating that Alfred has won the trust and confidence of the Epsteins.
Jose is a puncher. He is slower than Angel or Denny, but he has a bruising straight right with which he punishes Alfred's ribs. It takes Alfred three rounds to learn to drop his left elbow to block the punch, leaving Jose's face unprotected. Jose drops "like a sack of potatoes." Donatelli is watching. He tells Alfred to go downstairs to the dentist's to be fitted for a custom-made mouthpiece, a rite of passage indicating that Alfred is ready for his first match.
slipped the jab used a defensive technique in which a boxer moves his head just enough to allow the opponent's leading punch to slip by without contact. (It can best be countered by a combination of punches.)