Contending With Life

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

The shoeshine is a good way to gain momentum for your punches in close without opening up or telegraphing. Hands up (scratch your eyebrows with your knuckles), palms toward you, head down, elbows in, etc. Great for hooks and uppercuts. Shoeshining keeps you moving and keeps him guessing.

-- Boxing instructor Frank Benn, on a punch known as "the shoeshine"

Seamus McDonagh, stooped over a pair of cowboy boots, draws himself up and tucks his chin into his chest. His brogue drops into a comic baritone. "I've been a shoeshiner for many's a yearrr ...," he begins to sing, drawing out the last word in a vibrato. He has a polka-dot apron wrapped around his waist and a horsehair brush in each hand. "... An' I spent all my money on whiskey and beerrr." His two customers -- a fat, gruff guy in the boots, and what appears to be his daughter (black pumps) -- offer stiff smiles. They're up on chairs, atop a low, black stand. Their feet rest on pedestals. "I eat when I'm hungry, I drink when I'm dryyy," McDonagh goes on, slowing down for effect. "An' ... if ... shoeshine ... don't ... kill ... me ... I'll live till I dieee."

Donald R. Winslow
McDonagh at his stand at the Moscone Center.
Donald R. Winslow
McDonagh at his stand at the Moscone Center.
Holyfield was the champ, McDonagh the contender. 
The fight lasted 15 minutes.
Holyfield was the champ, McDonagh the contender. The fight lasted 15 minutes.
McDonagh has had small roles in plays, commercials, 
and films.
Donald R. Winslow
McDonagh has had small roles in plays, commercials, and films.

McDonagh is a sturdy, handsome 40-year-old with a good jaw and a thick mess of dark hair. His black shoes are dirty and stained, almost purple. He works against a wall on a wide stretch of gray carpet, here on the lower level of the Moscone Center. He and his sometime girlfriend, Susie -- both recovered alcoholics -- run the business. They're the Shiners, and for maybe two weeks out of every month, McDonagh will show up in the morning, lift the heavy blue slipcover off the stand, set down a big air filter (to ward off the headaches), and go to work on the tasseled loafers, crocodile moccasins, and $200 orthotic European pumps of San Francisco's conventioneers.

"Two shines," he'll tell them. "A spit shine costs $8. A hard spit shine costs $10." What's the difference? they'll ask. Two bucks, he'll joke for the millionth time. He'll study the convention pass looped around his customers' necks, call them by name, ask about this year's sales. He'll nod at their stories, laugh at their jokes, grin at their kids' pictures. Sometimes, when he's in the mood, he'll tell them about the commercial he shot with Charlie Sheen, or maybe the horse carriage he drove in Central Park. And sometimes, though not that often, he'll rummage through the bottles of oil and shoe polish in a drawer -- marked with six red stickers spelling out his name -- and fish out a small stained photo in a clear plastic sleeve.

"My previous profession," he tells one customer, a cute, chatty Indian woman (black mid-calf-length boots), in town from Hong Kong for a specialty-foods convention. He hands her the photo.

"Are you serious?" she asks. "Who's this?" She points to the other guy in the picture.

"Evander Holyfield," McDonagh says. "He was very famous here."

The photo, taken in Atlantic City, June 1990, captures the very moment McDonagh was closest, but not that close, to becoming one of the best in his business -- just one second before he became a boxing footnote, and six years before he took his last drink and shined his first shoe.

McDonagh fills up most of the frame. He is thicker here, his hair is a mop, his mouth is open. He's just landed a heavy right hook to the left side of his opponent's jaw. Holyfield's head has snapped to his right. His nose has shifted, his lips have been knocked into the shape of a bullhorn, his mustache is a parenthesis. His right eye is shut, his left eyebrow is cocked.

Holyfield was a world heavyweight champion at the time, an Olympic bronze medalist, just beginning a decade-long reign as the blandest of champs, a guy with Bible verse on his shorts and Revelation in his left hook.

And McDonagh? He was a 27-year-old English-lit major. This was his best punch on a bad night, at the end of a fight that probably shouldn't have happened. "I caught him with that great right hand," he says, "and we're slugging away, boom-boom-boom, the crowd is standing up, and we both throw left hooks. He caught me right before I caught him. And I went down -- I had never been knocked down before. I was embarrassed. Then the thought came, 'Hmm, if I stay here it'll all be over.' Survival, you know? But I couldn't. I couldn't. So I climbed up. I was OK, feeling good, just waking up, ready to go, and the referee goes, 'Oh, you no look so good.'" The ref called the fight -- 44 seconds into the fourth round -- and awarded Holyfield a technical knockout.

McDonagh is recounting all this as we drive to a Kinko's. It's a warm Friday afternoon in January. He's wearing a maroon stocking cap, a dark long-sleeved shirt, and baggy bluejeans. There's a bad scar under his nose. Boxing? "Shaving," he says. He's holding a neon-green envelope; inside is an 8-by-10 print of the photo from the fight. He wants me to have a copy.

"I'm glad I didn't get hurt in the fight," he goes on. "I'm grateful it turned out the way it did. It was a terrifying experience, but when it was all over it was fine. It was a relief. Fear can play havoc with you."

McDonagh quit boxing in 1991. Since then, he has gotten his degree, acted in an off-Broadway play and a couple of small films, sold insurance for MetLife, corresponded with Norman Mailer, driven a pedicab at Fisherman's Wharf, worked for an energy-bar company, taught left hooks to novice fighters, helped recovering alcoholics, and taken up a shoeshiner's brushes. It's a contender's résumé -- never at the top, but looking for a chance. Shoeshining keeps you moving ...

For the past 12 years, though, McDonagh has also fought the ghosts of his boxing career, knocking out a few, going the distance with others, not quite sure how to feel about a sport that nearly made him famous and ultimately made him miserable.

"Proud?" he says softly. "What does 'proud' mean? Do I feel good about it? Not really. But I don't look back and feel bad about it, either. I'm glad it happened, and I'm glad it's over. And I'm glad I exhausted another hope for some kind of satisfaction in this world."

He doesn't watch the tapes of his old fights (they're mostly with his family in New York), and until recently his green trunks were tucked away somewhere in the Tenderloin apartment he shared with Susie (he moved out a few weeks ago). At the same time, though, he'll cheerfully describe the Holyfield fight for a customer between coats, then flash the photo like a badge. Or he'll look for a movie role and wind up auditioning for a bit part in Ali as -- what else? -- a boxer. He says he's happy, he likes to quote Thoreau, and he sings to his customers, "I'll live till I die." But he's also an ex-fighter with one great Kodak moment and a lot of licked demons, still struggling to square his current pursuits with an old, aborted career.

At Kinko's we ease the photo out of the envelope. McDonagh, in addition to the print and the pocket-size picture he shows his customers, has a big, blown-up version that he framed and hung at Susie's place, but now keeps in his closet. The copier whirs, rattles, and spits out a page.

"Maybe I'll make a couple copies, too," he says.

He would have nightmares about fighting, about anticipating a fight or losing a fight or disappointing people, and his mother would have to wake him up. McDonagh always hated boxing. But he was an Irish kid in a boxing family -- born in England, though he doesn't like to admit it -- and he was fighting by the time he was 6 or 7. He says his father, Jim, a construction worker and a solid middleweight in his day, would toss Seamus and one of his brothers in the back of his car, then prowl the neighborhood. "He'd look for the biggest, baddest 7-year-olds he could find," McDonagh recalls. "We'd just put the gloves on and wail away. I was terrified."

The family moved to County Meath in Ireland, and the boy developed into a decent amateur fighter. His father would sneer at his son's opponents: He couldn't shine your shoes.In the early '80s, though, the country's economic woes drove McDonagh to look for a job in New York, a few years after his father moved there, and for a while he gave up boxing. He worked some construction jobs and drove the carriage in Central Park, once dragging the horse into a bar with him. He enrolled at the Staten Island campus of St. John's University and got mostly B's.

Meanwhile, he was closing down bars all over the city. He tried boxing again, as a distraction, and it somehow became a career. McDonagh, with a big left and a lot of charm, moved up the amateur ranks. He won a New York Golden Gloves title in 1985, then turned pro at the end of the year. He scored six knockouts in his first eight fights. In a 1989 bout against Cecil Coffee, with the two fighters locked in a late-fight clinch and McDonagh trailing on points, he spotted the TV announcers ringside and winked. He won in a TKO, with a second left in the sixth round.

"A tremendous prospect," says Neil Ferrara, a longtime New York trainer who worked extensively with McDonagh. "He was a killer. When it was going his way, he'd take you out. Tremendous left hook." Wally Matthews, who covered some of McDonagh's fights for Newsday and now hosts an ESPN radio show, has a different appraisal. "Tough, gutsy, but not very talented," he says. "Tremendous puncher. Nice kid, too. Smart. He was pretty limited, but tough -- tougher than he was good, which I always thought was dangerous." McDonagh was a strong draw, though. Classmates would hop a bus for his bouts at Madison Square Garden, and Irish folks would pour in from Queens and Brooklyn. After some of his fights, win or lose, McDonagh and his friends would head over to a bar across from the Garden.

By 1990, McDonagh, with a record of 19-1-1, had beaten a few heavyweights, and Holyfield (23-0) was looking for a tuneup. He was the World Boxing Council Continental Americas heavyweight champion -- a low-rent title in the boxing universe -- hoping to take on World Boxing Association champ Buster Douglas. McDonagh was the perfect patsy, a good-looking Irish kid with a scholarly bent, a solid, hungry cruiserweight who'd be out of his class even against a small heavyweight like Holyfield. McDonagh offered a great story line, too: Promoters could hype the brains -- maybe someone would read Dylan Thomas at a press conference -- and, with a name like his on the card, they'd draw half the O'Briens in the boroughs.

McDonagh's handlers obliged. Neil Ferrara objected. So did McDonagh's father. "He wasn't ready for that," Jim says. "They put him in with a guy with far more experience. He needed at least two more years." Seamus went for it, though. He stood to make $100,000, and his managers had just tossed him the keys to a new Plymouth Laser.

Holyfield-McDonagh was set for June 1 at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, Showtime handling the broadcast. The newspapers patted the challenger on the head, played up the schoolboy angle, and didn't give him a chance in hell. Vegas oddsmakers wouldn't even establish a betting line.

Fuck 'em, McDonagh tried to tell himself in the weeks before the fight. He worked with a hypnotist, which helped some. "I was going to be a winner," McDonagh wrote in a sort of journal after the fight. "Shock every fugging doubting bastard in the world. God I felt I was fighting the world. Fug them all."

But three weeks before the fight, he dreamed he'd be KO'd in the second round. And the day before the bout, a reporter from a Philadelphia TV station began an interview with something like, "The kid has little hope against the No. 1 heavyweight contender." McDonagh snapped. What the hell do you mean? (He later snarked in his journal: "'Thank you' to all the interviewers who jaundiced my subconscious mind.") He was still raging the night of the fight. In the dressing room, he cussed at a photographer, dumped the banner his father had hauled in for his native County Mayo, even tossed out the bagpipers.

Holyfield-McDonagh was over in 15 minutes, and 13 years later the memories of the fight center on that final staccato flurry -- McDonagh's right, and the left hook that missed by thismuch. They all sound like epitaphs.

Ex-New York Daily News boxing writer Michael Katz: "Holyfield knocked him out. But as he was going down, he was throwing a punch. That's the kind of fighter he was. On the way out he was still trying."

McDonagh cornerman Tommy Gallagher: "Just an inch. Maybe a half-inch. If he woulda hit him, he woulda crushed him. Woulda been the complete opposite."

ESPN radio's Wally Matthews: "He threw the last punch. Sonofabitch tried all the way."

"... I'll live till I die," McDonagh is crooning to a pair of chili-colored wingtips. His customer is Bill, a fleshy guy in thick-rimmed glasses who's here for the specialty-foods convention. McDonagh gives the shoes a final buff with a dirty rag. "How do they look, Bill?"


"Know what they say in Ireland?"


"Perfect," McDonagh says, smiling, "but it'll have to do."

He has shined shoes since 1996, when a friend working a stand at the Crocker Galleria suggested he give it a try. Says McDonagh: "I was like, 'What? I don't shine shoes. I'm somebody.'" The job stuck, though, and he soon cut a deal with Moscone, good money in a big convention town. (He and Susie work some out-of-town shows, as well.) It's his first long-term job since boxing.

"Shoeshining is just a way to pay the rent," McDonagh says. "It's immediate gratification. You can't take more than 10 minutes for a shine. You're done, you get paid. That's it. Boom, boom." Shoeshining keeps you moving.

"It's the only humanistic thing in the convention center," he goes on. "Either you're dealing with products, or someone's trying to sell you something. Here, you pay some money, get your shoes shined, talk to people. It's a lot of fun, a lot of laughs. And sometimes it's just a shoeshine, you know?"

Thirteen years after McDonagh threw the last punch of a title fight, the drift of his career has taken him far from the world of professional boxing, partly because of alcohol, partly because he hated the sport, mostly because of a bloody cruiserweight bout against Jesse Shelby on June 20, 1991. That night, McDonagh boxed five or six rounds in a blackout, and his white trunks were stained red by the end. Shelby won in a seven-round TKO. McDonagh remembers one thing -- "He head-butted me," he claims -- and the rest is a blur.

He was a wreck the morning after the fight, lying in bed in the Manhattan apartment he shared with a girlfriend. "I got the shit beat out of me," he says. "I had no reason to live. I wanted to kill myself. And the thought that kept me alive was, I swear, 'Oh, my God, now I can drink like I want to.'"

That afternoon, he limped to the Bear Bar on 75th Street -- left arm in a sling, nose broken and bandaged, face full of stitches -- and ordered a draft. McDonagh doesn't know how long the bender lasted. He remembers stumbling down Broadway a few days later and hearing someone call out: Hey, Seamus! Embarrassed, he tried not to look. Seamus! He looked. It was a broadcaster he knew. I'm sorry, Seamus told him. I don't wanna talk to anybody,and he staggered off.

He'd start early and stay through last call. The Bear Bar, McGee's, Irish Pub, Rosie O'Grady's. "Closed every bar I was ever in," he says. "Alcohol anesthetized my fears." He'd forget where he had parked his car -- the same Plymouth Laser -- and he'd spend the next day tracking it down.

In 1992, at age 29, McDonagh moved in with his father. He got a small part in a play at the Irish Arts Center about Bobby Sands, the hunger striker, a futile attempt to recapture the rush of boxing. "No satisfaction," he says. McDonagh gave up on New York, headed for the Bay Area in 1994, but all that changed was the weather and the names of the bars. He tried a program for alcoholics, but could never get a foothold.

Finally, things began to click. He got into transcendental meditation, doing it twice a day for maybe 20 minutes. He learned to catalog his fears as they pop up, to grab a pen and start scribbling -- "taking inventory," McDonagh calls it. He started buying his pens in big packs. And one day seven years ago, he downed a straight vodka and that was it. "I learned how to quell the disturbance in my head," says McDonagh, who regularly meets with recovered and recovering alcoholics. "I have less fear -- fewer worries, concerns, or dread about anything." (He's normally loose and funny -- even his bad jokes have a jab-jab-punch sense of timing -- but he talks in stiff mantras when the subject turns to his alcoholism: I have fear; fear is not real; reality is now. He's not simply parroting someone else's self-help manual, though; it's something he has absorbed and now repeats, the way other people quote dads or Dylan songs.)

Still, he's not satisfied. He looks for other work. Every few weeks, McDonagh heads to Los Angeles and trolls for small parts in commercials (a friend's girlfriend got him into the business; he now has a casting agent). He was an extra in the Visa spot with Charlie and Martin Sheen, though his scene hasn't been used, and he thinks his arm made a cameo in a recent Red Lobster ad.

Neil Ferrara, McDonagh's old trainer, recently suggested he return to New York and work with a few fighters, maybe teach them that sledgehammer left. "[I told him] he could be a pretty good trainer," Ferrara says. "He said, 'I'm 40 years old.' ... But it's still constructive, what he's doing now. This is a country where you can get knocked down, shovel shit, and still come out on top."

For a while, McDonagh flirted with the idea of opening up a boxing gym in his small studio, just around the corner from Susie's apartment. He even got a phone number with the last five digits spelling BOXER. But then he and Susie broke up, and McDonagh moved out of her place and back into his. "So I'm not gonna open a gym," he says. "Never really wanted to do that. I don't even like training people. I have one client. That's all I want."

Indeed, the closest McDonagh gets to his old sport is a once-a-week boxing lesson that lasts an hour and costs $100. His student -- or "client," in his words -- is a 43-year-old fitness buff who works in financial services and would like to eventually fight an amateur bout.

On this Monday, after working the specialty-foods convention, McDonagh and I drive to his client's sparkling home in Cow Hollow. McDonagh is beat, and throughout the 15-minute drive he leans back in the passenger seat and meditates, his bright-blue stocking cap pulled over his head.

The boxing room is a bare converted kitchen. A punching bag hangs from the middle of the ceiling, like a fat sausage. There's a framed photo on the wall of Jack Dempsey's fists. For the next hour, McDonagh shadows his client (who agreed to let me attend only if his name wasn't revealed) around the bag, making sure his stance is good and his jab stays up. He teaches him how to walk backward, in a defensive crouch, and still keep his balance. "Good, good," he says. "Like you soiled your pants."

During a break toward the end of the lesson, he leans in for a better look at Dempsey's fists. It's a close-up, with the fighter's dark knuckles in the middle of the frame.

"Where did you get that?" McDonagh asks.

"My friend," his client explains. He bought it off a Web site.

"I wonder," McDonagh says, "if I could put my Holyfield picture online and sell it."

McDonagh has never seen the video of the Holyfield bout -- he has never wanted to -- but he agrees to watch it one Monday evening at Susie's place. It's a cozy one-bedroom apartment, with hardwood floors and a lot of mirrors. Susie is there, but he won't let her watch the tape with him. He's closed the bedroom door. She's pissed.

For the past 10 minutes, McDonagh has sat in a chair by the bed and taken inventory on a sheet of paper. Now the page is full, and Seamus -- normally shy and gentle -- is explaining how fucking much he hated boxing. "I hated fucking boxing my whole life," McDonagh is saying. "Hated it. I was terrified as a kid to box. Never wanted to fucking fight ever. I was afraid for my fucking life my whole life." It's the intensity, but not the words, of an athlete before a big game; there's still a good bit of boxer in him. "My whole life culminated in this fight we're gonna watch right now," he adds. "And I was terrified. Fucking terrified." He starts the tape, and ring announcer Michael Buffer says, "Let's get ready to rumble."

McDonagh appears immediately. He's the big, pink guy with the green trunks and the snarl, stalking back and forth across the canvas (a trick he cribbed from Sugar Ray Leonard). The ref draws the fighters together, and the camera zeroes in on McDonagh's wide face, a foot from Holyfield's, trying to look mean and nasty. Fugging bastard. "Oh, my God," Seamus says, laughing. Holyfield looks cut, lean, and sleek (both fighters were listed at 205 pounds, with the champ about two inches taller).

The first round is ugly. McDonagh trots out of the corner, lands a left, then another, then another, but a second later he's flat on the canvas after Holyfield tackles him.

"Nerves," Seamus says, blinking and bobbing a little with the action. McDonagh goes after Holyfield again. And a minute later, he's on the floor again (Holyfield had cracked him with a short uppercut), then again (another tackle), then again (a stumble). "OK, I'm OK," Seamus says from his chair. By the end of the first round, McDonagh is waddling around with his gloves up near his chin, doubled over like a guy looking for his contacts. "I did better than I thought I fucking did," he says.

The second round is an improvement. The two swap punches. Holyfield works the jab; McDonagh gets in a few good lefts. "Different class [of] fighters here," one of the announcers says. "One guy is a barroom brawler, and the other guy's a fine, scientific fighter, finely honed, finely conditioned. We're seeing prime Holyfield here."

Holyfield lands a couple of jabs. "Oh!" goes the play-by-play guy, "McDonagh just being punished."

"Turn the fucking volume down," Seamus spits out. "These assholes know nothing about boxing. Ferdie Pacheco [one of the announcers], what a fucking asshole. Never fought a boxing match in his life. My sister'd beat the shit out of him. My mother'd beat the shit out of him." Susie pokes her head in. She asks Seamus a question, lingers and watches the screen for a second, then shuts the door.

Round over.

The camera cuts to McDonagh, blinking in his corner. Tommy Gallagher's bald head pops through the ropes. "Gotta punch, Seamus," he says. "You gotta punch, now let's go. Punch, don't stan' dere. Move, punch, move, punch."

Third round. A couple of hard rights from Holyfield, two consecutive uppercut-hook combinations from McDonagh. The fans get a little louder. Seamus perks up in his chair. There's a flurry with a half-minute left.

"Oh!" goes the play-by-play guy, "McDonagh showing a lot of heart." The bell sounds.

"Here's the round," Seamus says. "The fourth round."

Holyfield lands two hard rights in quick succession, and McDonagh starts to crouch and backtrack, like he soiled his pants. Seamus sits with the remote in his right hand. It's aimed at the TV. He starts to squirm, shift around, bob his head.

Holyfield bears down on McDonagh: a body blow, an uppercut to the face. They both throw left hooks and their arms lock at the elbows. McDonagh rallies with a quick right -- that's the photo, though it barely registers -- and Holyfield's answer misses.

Then the two left hooks. Holyfield's is a fraction quicker. It lands squarely on the jaw.

McDonagh goes limp. He falls backward, his punch still arcing through the air, now just an echo of Holyfield's. He collapses between the ropes and thuds against the canvas. The referee is counting. He rolls over, hauls himself up against the ropes. The count hits eight. The ref starts waving and shaking his head. "It's all over," an announcer says. "Here in the fourth round, Evander Holyfield has knocked out Seamus McDonagh."

"Not knocked out," the contender says flatly. "TKO."

The National Automobile Dealers Association hits town in early February for a massive, noisy convention at Moscone, bringing just about every wingtip in the industry to McDonagh's stand. Saturday's a mess, the busiest day he's ever worked, so hectic that he says he hardly even thinks about the poster next to his stand:

AutoVantage &


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."

Show Pages
My Voice Nation Help
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.