Contending With Life

Years after Evander Holyfield clocked him, boxer-turned-shoeshine-man Seamus McDonagh struggles to conquer his fears -- and to confront Holyfield

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Evander Holyfield

Booth 3201

South Hall

Holyfield's big, bald head glistens in the photo. He's scheduled to spend a couple of hours Sunday shaking hands at the booth. "Nice picture, isn't it?" McDonagh says. He thinks he'll stop by, maybe say hello. He seems fine, if a little quiet, and he even tells a few people -- probably more than usual -- about the fight. At one point, a fat, ruddy guy in a loud yellow shirt (alligator loafers) climbs down from the stand after a shine. He's smiling.

"Fantastic, boss," he says, thumbing $12 out of his wallet. "OK, boss. I gotta show you a picture 'fore I leave." He takes out a Polaroid. In it, he's grinning just inches from Dolly Parton's cleavage. (She's apparently at a booth somewhere.) "Biiiiig ol' titties, man," he explains. "Just like you like 'em."

McDonagh smiles. "And I'll show you a picture," he says, with a nod to the poster on the wall.

The next morning, he's feeling awful. He's nervous, stressed out -- more fucked up, he says, than he was on the morning of June 1, 1990. He's worried about seeing Holyfield again. What if he doesn't recognize McDonagh, an old foe from a fight that didn't last 20 minutes? Plus, he's dog-tired from the previous day, and he's bickering with Susie. "Felt like I was gonna have a heart attack," McDonagh says, and it's only 7:20 a.m. He catalogs his fears, meditates, and that helps a little. By 1 p.m., though, when Holyfield is scheduled to appear, he's fucked up again.

McDonagh, as usual, is wearing a navy Izod shirt, dark slacks, and dirty shoes. He's brought an old envelope with him today. It's stuffed with a wrinkled extra-large T-shirt from the fight -- HOLYFIELD-McDONAGH, it reads in big, block type, below a black-and-white photo of the two boxers cocking their fists. He's also brought his old boxing trading card and the neon-green folder with the 8-by-10 print.

At 1:30, he goes to the bathroom and emerges with wet hair. He sits on the gray carpet and slides up against the wall. "Not nervous," he explains. "I just have fear." He folds a sheet of paper, and in a jagged, rolling cursive begins to take inventory. By 1:45, he's filled the page. He hops up, and skitters off to a concession stand. "He's gonna do what's honest for him," Susie says. "He may not go over there."

McDonagh returns with an orange juice. He decides he's ready, finally, and off he goes, Susie at his side, OJ in one hand, the envelope in the other, down the gray carpet, through the used-car salesmen and their shiny shoes, across to the other end of the convention center. A security guard nods, and they duck into the South Hall, padding along the soft green carpet, to Booth 3201.

And there he is: Holyfield, in a neat blue suit, a tie, and big alligator shoes, standing uncomfortably on a crescent-shaped stage. He's shaking hands and posing for photos. His bald head gleams. He looks smaller than he should. A pair of autographed boxing gloves sits in a glass case.

"This is Seamus McDonagh," Susie says to a smooth, skinny guy named Bob, who handles marketing for and who's chatting with a few colleagues.

"Hey, Seamus, how ya doin'?" Bob says.

"He fought Holyfield in 1990," Susie explains.

"Oh, really?"

"So he just wanted to say hello to him. They fought. He was ninth in the world."

McDonagh takes out the photo.

"Son of a gun," someone says. "No kidding."

"He was ninth in the world," Susie says again.

"I'm sorry," Bob says, "what's your name?"

"Seamus McDonagh," he says, "I have a shoeshine concession ..."

"How'd you do, by the way?" Bob asks. "Looks like you did fairly well in this picture."

"He lasted four rounds with me," says McDonagh, smiling, and everyone laughs, and a minute later he's next to the stage. Bob walks up to Holyfield and leans in to talk to him.

"Seamus," Evander mouths, and he scans the area, then claps eyes on McDonagh. "Seamus!" he says, grinning and pointing.

McDonagh takes the stage, and they hug. He shows Holyfield the photo, and they laugh. He takes out the T-shirt, and they freeze for a souvenir photo, both holding the shirt. McDonagh's print from the fight is tucked into his arm. It makes for a funny picture. Three photos are in the frame: three McDonaghs; three Holyfields. They're snarling on the T-shirt; they're fighting in the print; and in this one they're side by side, both flashing big, stupid smiles.

"That," someone says, "is cool."

Then it's over, and McDonagh steps down from the stage. He's glowing. Susie's glowing. McDonagh shakes Bob's hand, thanks him twice, and takes his business card. He and Susie head for the exit.

"What'd he say?" she asks, still grinning.

McDonagh gestures at the 8-by-10. ""Oh, but I got you after that.'"

"Did you tell him you worked at the shoeshine here?"

"I ... yeah ... he, well, uh." He's thrown off a little. Then he shows her Bob's card, as if in answer. Shoeshining keeps you moving."They might wanna work with us."

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