I had the luck to cross paths with Mohammed Ali - twice. The first time was on a phone repair call to his estate in Hancock Park off Wilshire Blvd. In the old days your repair ticket usually had DBA on the top, (Doing Business As). This was to protect the residence’s privacy. Lots of phonemen sold info. to National Enquirer's and their ilk for easy side money, or, to the tour guide operators.
It would do you no good at the Hancock Park houses. They had 24-hour guards at their entranced drop gate. So here I am at said gate one morning.
I stop at the gate and shut off my loud Pac Bell truck to be able to converse with the guard. I’d been to these homes many times and was aware of the morning guard's hearing problem. He told me once Anzio had a lot to do with his ears. The guard gets my address and buzzes the home. No answer.
Not unusual. Most of the homes sit on quarter acre lots that were built for the silent screen generation. When you bought one of these giant homes it might take some time in your walker to get to a phone. Where’s the maid?
Some of these mansions have impeccable yards with gigantic trees a hundred foot tall but you get inside the massive oak entry doors, carved in Italy in 1920, and your looking at an empty shell. Only darker squares of wall paper where expensive oil paintings was once hung. Sold off long ago to keep up appearances.
The guard buzzes a third time. A little girls voice comes over the guards old style speaker phone, amped up so he can hear. He asks the girl to please get an adult. We wait. Finally a man's voice is on the box. As he inquires to the reason for the call I recognize the voice. It was Ali’s! I cut the guards answer as I shout at the box, “Is that who I think it is”? The voice reply’s, “Yep, the greatest of all time”! I reply without skipping a beat, “What, Joe Louis lives here”? There was a big laugh then Ali said, “Let that sucker in so I can straighten him out”!
Actually I never really met Ali that day. His wife was handling an affair of some sort and she had to have her kitchen phone working pronto. I think her name was Belinda. She was pleasant but busy. Her old man was upstairs so I never bumped into him. It was still pretty cool. Now it’s a year or so later. I’m sitting in ‘Little Esther Phillips’ connected garage up in the Mount Olympus Estates oiling her collection of iron cooking pans.
I did all sorts of stuff for her in trade for trimming her pot plants that she grew around her pool and getting to let those giant bosoms out of her cotton dresses once in awhile when she was in the mood. This particular day she wasn’t. She had important guests coming by so I was delegated to said attached garage to oil pans for a big party she was planning. They were a pain in the ass.
Not only did you have to do them just right, there were at least 50 of them hanging in rows off heavy hooks screwed into the garage walls about three foot off the cement floor. She didn’t even park her car in the garage. It was only for her kitchen stuff. This tended to piss off her picky neighbors but she could give a rats ass. She was just barely over five foot but don’t ever get her riled. Oh man. Some more stories for another time.
Her guests arrive. I get off my folding chair to peek out the small window of the garages small side entry door. Three large black men wearing suits bend to kiss Esther who greets them warmly. The help goes back to oiling pans. In about five minutes there’s a rap at the garage side door and the head of a nice looking black man peers inside the garage.
I say, “Come on in and help out”! The man had an expensive looking suit on so it was pretty much a joke. Now inside the air conditioned garage the man checks out what I’m doing, shakes his head in a no thanks then wonders aloud if he can hang out with me for a little while. It seemed like he didn’t want to be around dope smokers.
I get up and fold open another lawn chair leaning against a wall to offer to him. I put out my hand to shake. He smiled and shook my right forearm. He didn’t want the oil all over my hands on his suit. Then it hit me. I was sitting all alone with Ali.
I don’t know about other people but I had lots to ask the man. I blurted out my first question in machine gun style while sitting down across from him. “Mr. Ali, how come you made up demeaning nick names for your opponents such as ‘The ugly bear’, for Liston. ‘The octopus’, for Williams, ‘The rabbit’, for Patterson, ‘The washerwoman’, for Chuvalo, yet, you’ve said nothing to humiliate Jerry Quarry”?
He stared at me for a couple of seconds then said in a quite voice, “When I first turned pro I wasn’t a real heavy weight. I won the Olympics as a light heavy. The plan was to build me up into the weight class where the real money was made. Anyways I was at the Olympic gym in LA and the promoter was trying to get me to spar with some of the local heavy weights for promo shots. A white guy hitting a heavy bag took me aside and whispered some advice to me I never forgot. ‘Kid, you’re a pro now. You don’t do a damn thing without getting paid. All these boxing guys are blood sucking leeches. Your like a pair of socks to them. You get a hole in ya they’ll just get another pair”!
Then Ali added, “In the history of the National Golden Gloves only one dude won all his bouts by knockout and that guy was Quarry. Why piss the guy off”! I looked at Ali in amazement. Ali afraid of Quarry? A black man at the garage door ended our conversation. Ali got up, said, ‘Nice talkin’ with ya’, then he was gone....
Those two men with Ali were boxing promoters. I met them a couple of weeks later at the ‘Souled Out’ club while driving Esther to a singing gig. They told me they’d get me tickets to some upcoming fights. Never happened. They were both shot to death behind the Wiltern Theater a week later....
On Ali being afraid of Quarry. No fucking way. Ali was never afraid of ANYONE. Now, years later, I think he just liked Quarry. As simple as that. If you want to see a guy Ali hated, look up, ‘The Thrilla in Manila’....