I urge you to read Corey Kilgannon’s excellent New York Times profile of prize fighter Edwin Viruet, which had an unexpectedly powerful resonance. Here is a guy who was a top contender, rising to championship bouts against the great Roberto Duran. He was, in fact, the only fighter to ever cut Duran. And Duran was, pound-for-pound, one of the best fighters ever.
And here he is now, Edwin Viruet, on public assistance and hustling training gigs at John’s Boxing Club in the South Bronx, the big paydays long gone after a heartbreaking slide to the bottom in the great life game of Chutes and Ladders.
These days, Viruet’s is the situation of all too many Real New Yorkers — no matter if they are white or blue collar workers. No, fired book editors are not necessarily taping their hands and pounding the heavy bag in a hot, sweaty gym. But there is an entire generation of careers being bulldozed into oblivion, an entire city of strivers who studied hard, worked long hours, played the game, took a dive when they had to in terms of office politics, and ka-boom. They’ve been downsized. TKO.
Some hang on to dead-end, palooka jobs, just for the health care benefits. And every day, it seems, they are on the bubble. They hope, they pray, that the boss, sometimes 20 years their junior, doesn’t come in some sunny Friday, to give “the talk.” As the old-time boxing announcers would scream at ring side, as one fighter would stand, motionless, eyes swollen shut, face bloodied, taking a hurricane of punches on the way to being TKO’d: “Oh, such punishment. I can’t believe he’s still on his feet. Won’t they stop this fight? For God’s sake, stop the fight.”
Who do you know that has an old-time, straight-up job at a company? It sometimes seems as if everyone is cobbling together a life, holding onto tattered shreds of a career. Some are part-timers. Others freelance and do project work. Still others linger on the periphery of their former professions, holding on by their fingernails, showing up, ghost-like, at association awards dinners, company ex-pat reunions, or lunches with other denizens of the downsized demi-monde.
With wan faces, they relive their glory days, recall the details of old accounts won and lost, revisit the scandalous behavior of trade shows past, and always, it seems, end with “are you still in touch with…?” or “have you heard from…?”
Gone is the experience and the institutional knowledge of an entire generation. Gone is the glue that holds the workplace fabric together. The young managers that remain perform yeoman’s work, and strain valiantly to keep the pipes filled with orders and the young’uns trained and motivated, moving forward, ever forward, slogging towards company profitability.
But when the youth sees what happens to those who play by the rules, and gasps at the pittance of a raise they get after their long hours at the salt mines, their future is clear — the only way out is to invent their own jobs, not hustle for someone else. (Note to management: Free pizza for those who stay after 8 p.m. ceases to cut it, after awhile.)
There is no way that anyone with their lights on will continue to sweat blood for the names on the office door. The contract of loyalty has been punched to the canvas.
A great army of professional pugs is being hammered to the point where they are unable to even show up at the John’s Boxing Clubs of life, to hustle a gig here, a gig there, like Edwin Viruet. They simply say, in the immortal words of Roberto Duran, who was himself destined for professional destruction, “No mas.”