The only thing that we have to fear is fear itself—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Johnny Bloodsworth, local hero, Golden Gloves contender, successful in boxing rings and even better in a street fight or bar-room brawl. He was as confident a person as I have ever met and he freely demonstrated some of his favorite moves for me.
I only saw him fight a couple of times, never in an organized match, only in the aforementioned bar-room settings and boy am I thankful that I was never on the receiving end of one of his violent blows. I didn’t run around with him but we did cross paths socially at some of the local night spots such as the Stork Club which was on Cottage Hill Road.
He liked fighting men who were bigger than him, the bigger the better, and would do all to avoid a fight with someone who was near his size or smaller. I saw him lay out a man much larger than him who was bullying a smaller patron at the bar with just three quick punches. He would not back down from a fight even with multiple opponents and he could take a punch from anyone no matter how big or how strong his challenger.
He simply was not afraid of anyone.
Oops, I am sorry, I nearly forgot to mention his one nemesis who could always strike terror in him. What kind of a man could shake his confidence? Only the least most unintimidating person that I ever met. They never faced off in a ring nor did they trade blows on some dark alcohol filled night.
He should have been addressed as Mr. Fussell but we were instructed to call him Bogey. I suspect he was named after the word that means just a little off, always one stroke away from par the benchmark for any given hole in the game of golf. I assume that he was well liked and that his friends chided him regularly about his substandard golfing skills. He was just the nice old man that Johnny and I both worked for and he was probably younger than I am now.
The year was 1964 and I had been hired right out of high school in the extruder plant at International Paper Company’s Mobile mill.
Bogey and the boxer were as different as two people could be and work together in the same department but they both ran things. Bogey managed the extruder plant and Johnny ran a re-winder that was used to take paper from huge rolls and transfer it to cores that were more suited to customers’ needs.
Some days it would take hours to repurpose a single roll for shipment and other days we would be running 9” diameter paper rolls that took less than a minute to spit out 20 or more rolls that were only a couple of feet long. The two extremes made for some interesting work shifts, the one waiting the entire day and maybe only transferring one roll and the other wrapping non-stop for eight hours and the back-log be greater when we got off work than we started.
Johnny was a confident operator and seldom made mistakes. Even though he was shorter than me, he stood tall in front of his control panel as confident as a pilot about to maneuver his plane into combat. He just never wavered. Unless . . .
Bogey was a competent manager skilled in the art of paper making who knew how to motivate people. However, when it came to Johnny, Bogey sensed Johnny’s trepidation when they were together. On really busy days, he left Johnny alone to do his work in peace.
On slow days, Bogey’s mischievous side got the best of him and he was compelled to break the boredom. Since none of the rest of us were intimidated in his presence, we were not very good candidates for his razzing.
We all knew when it was going to happen because Bogey came through greeting each of us real friendly making sure we knew to be watching. On these special days, Bogey would eventually stroll nonchalantly up to Johnny and greet him also. He would then position himself directly behind the boxer who could have literally knocked his block off had he wanted to. Bogey would just stand there watching over Johnny’s shoulder both of them staring at the control panel. In a few moments Bogey would begin to rock back and forth on the heels of his spit-shined wing tips while continuing to watch the boxer’s every move as skillfully as if he were sizing him up for a quick attack.
It would not be long before the reluctant warrior would exhibit a small sign of weakness and with his confidence shaken he began to make bad decisions. It usually started with a slight twist of a control knob that did not need twisting. It would not be long before he just had to make another adjustment, there was no way that he could stand there and do nothing with this giant of a man watching.
Eventually, Johnny had made enough adjustments that the paper roll would begin to wobble and he would have to make more corrective actions and then more until the paper roll vibrated so violently that the sheet would break and be catapulted high in the air and then crumple to the floor in an ever increasing pile of waste paper.
It was only then that Bogey would turn his back on his victim and stroll victoriously back to his office quietly collecting grins and high fives from everyone who had watched him torture the boxer for another round.
After Bogey had cleared the area, Johnny would turn to me and say, “I don’t know why that man does that, he has to know how it affects me.”
My response was always, “I don’t know either,” mustering all the strength I could to maintain a poker face.
More than fifty years and I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw Johnny a few years ago at a no-class reunion. He’s aged and doesn’t move as quickly as in those early years but I knew better than to bring up the story that had embarrassed him so often, or to laugh at him.
God Bless You Old Friend!
Wayne Brady 11/4/2014