I hit the big bag. It groaned and swung wider …

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 1, 1935.

“What’s up?” asked Jimmie Frise. “You look gloomy.”

“I wish,” I replied, “that this were 1735 instead of 1935.”

“Why?” inquired Jim.

“So I could call a certain man out,” I stated.

“Out where?”

“Call him out,” I explained. “Fight him a duel.”

“Dear me,” said Jim. “Now who’s crossed you?”

“There is a man in this town,” I announced, slowly and distinctly, “that I would like to kill. Killing is the only solution. I would like to stand him up, in a glade in High Park, on a very early misty morning, about five o’clock, at twelve paces, and then, with an old-fashioned duelling pistol, put a two-ounce slug right through his gizzard.”

“What’s he done?” cried Jimmie.

“That’s the trouble,” I admitted, “he hasn’t really done anything. It’s just the way he looks and acts. He stops me on the street and sneers patronizingly down on me. He greets me from a distance, like at the corner of Bay and King, when I am delving past in my touring car, and shouts out some mocking remark. He butts in when I am standing talking to friends, and bawls out – ‘Well, Greg, how’s the old windbag to-day?’ That sort of thing.”

“Why don’t you think up some retort?” asked Jim. “Why not use your own brains? Shoot something back at him.”

“The trouble is,” I explained, “the very sight of him seems to paralyze my brains. I can never think of anything to shoot back at him.”

“He’s got your goat,” judged Jim. “He gets in your hair.”

“All of that, and more,” I admitted. “The man haunts my idle thoughts. Whenever I have nothing to do, I find myself grinding my teeth and wishing I could punch that guy on the nose.”

“Why don’t you?” asked Jim.

“He’s too big,” I said. “He’s head taller than me and weighs forty pounds more.”

“That’s nothing,” encouraged Jimmie. “Is he tough?”

“He’s a big soft slob,” I exclaimed. “A great big fat blob. He has nasty piggy eyes and no chin and a weak, writhy sort of mouth that I’d just love to smash my fist on.”

“Why don’t you crack down on him?” asked Jim. “It’s nothing unusual for man of 140 pounds whaling the stuffing out of a man 180 pounds weight, if the big fellow is soft.”

“The difficulty there,” I pointed out, “is that I am a little soft and slobby myself.”

“Ah,” said Jim, surveying me critically.

“Ages ago,” I expounded to Jim, “the big men had it all their own way. We little men just had to hang our tails and take it. But then along came gunpowder, which put the big fellows in their place. Because, all I had to do was practise with a pistol and get to be a crack shot, and then I had all the advantage over the big man in a duel, no matter how good a shot be was. The bigger he was, the easier he was to hit. The smaller I was, the less target I made. In fact, in the great days of the human race, the little roosters were the dangerous men. They strutted around this earth the terror of everybody. Good shots and small targets.”

“All I am is Smaller”

“I bet you would have been a mean little customer a couple of hundred years ago,” admitted Jim.

“I’d have rid the world of a lot of big stuffed shirts,” I agreed. “But then what happened? The big guys got together. They passed a law. They made it illegal to duel. And, ever since, we little people have been dragging our tails in the mud again.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jimmie. “I’ve seen some wonderful little flyweight boxers that could trim a bigger guy to a frazzle.”

“I’m no boxer,” I regretted.

“But you could be,” urged Jim. “Not in a professional sense, you understand. You’re past the age. But you could join one of those gymnasiums where they teach boxing and weight lifting and physical culture. And in about two months you could be in wonderful shape.”

“Two months,” I snorted.

“In two months, training three nights a week in good gym, under a real boxing instructor,” said Jim, “you could be in such shape you would be afraid to hit no man living. It’s science versus brute strength. You know.”

“Mmmmm,” I mused,

“I’d even go along with you, some nights, anyway,” said Jim. “Because I know the state of mind you are in, and I know nothing will cure an inferiority complex …”

“Pardon me,” I assured him, “I have no inferiority complex. Don’t get that into your head. I’m not inferior to some big softy. All I am is smaller than he.”

“I see,” said Jimmie.

“I like everything about our idea.” I said, “except the long wait. I’d like to punch this guy on the nose to-day, tomorrow, this week. I hate the idea of having to wait two months before I can bash him one. I’ve waited years as it is. Now that I have decided to act, I want to act now.”

“Nonsense,” protested Jim. “Think of the way you can build up. Think of every night training on a punching bag or with a sparring partner, and every blow you strike you can imagine is aimed at this fellow. By the way, who is he?”

“I mention no names,” I said. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“You know the way they train a gamecock?” asked Jim. “The way they train a game-cock, after they have fed him and fattened him and got him into perfect condition in the stable, is to put him out on what they call a walk. This walk is an enclosure, from which the fighting cock can see other roosters and plenty of lady hens, but he can’t mix with them. He has to romp up and down his run or cage, crowing bloody murder and flapping his wings, and yelling at all the other birds he can see, until he is in such a state of rage and temper and got himself so lean and tough with racing up and down the cage, that he is in the right mood to kill any rooster he sees anywhere. Now, this program I suggest for you is much the same. For two months, you’ll train and get into shape, and by the time you are ready to meet this guy, you’ll just step up and sock him one perfecto supremo on the schnozzle, and that’s all there will be to it.”

“Oh, I don’t want to knock him out with one blow,” I exclaimed. “I want to draw it out a little. I’d like him to fight back for a while, with me slowly cutting him to pieces. I’d like it to last maybe ten minutes.”

“I get you,” agreed Jimmie.

To Cut Him to Pieces

“Yes,” I built up, “the way I see it is this. I’ll be standing at the corner of Bay and King, chatting with some friends, when along will come this guy, his coat tail flying, his fat legs stretching along, just as if he were a man instead of a slob. And as usual he’ll make some crack as he goes by, with that big grin he’s got. And I’ll reach out. ‘Just a minute,’ I’ll say, kind of easy like, and smiling thinly. ‘Just a minute. Look, I’d like to speak to you privately a second’.”

“Go on,” said Jim, his eyes gleaming.

“So I’ll walk up Bay a few steps and into one of those lanes. You know the lanes? And I’ll lead him in there, he never suspecting. When I get well up the lane, I’ll say, “Now, you big so-and-so, stick them up and take it.’ And I’ll square off, like this, see? And he’ll try to laugh it off, so I’ll tap him a little one right on the kisser. That will make him mad. It makes anybody mad. He’ll come for me. And then, oh boy!”

“Oh, boy,” agreed Jimmie.

“Scientifically, neatly, every blow counting, some of them on his eyes and nose, and others in his mid-section, I’ll just neatly and completely batter that guy until he sits down and cries. In the lane.”

Jim was open-mouthed in admiration.

“Boy,” he said, “I wish I had somebody I hated.”

“Where should we go for these lessons?” I asked.

“Well,” said Jim, with a big sigh, “there are several private gymnasiums. Some of them do weight lifting, and so on, and nearly all of them teach boxing. They are run by old boxers.”

“Do you know any?” I inquired.

“I have friends go to fellow called Magonigle, or some such Italian name, and he’s down town here, handy.”

“Let’s try him,” I agreed. “Two or three nights a week, we can stay downtown for supper and get in a couple of hours workout.”

Jim found Magonigle’s address from his friends, and after a light supper, such as sporting gentlemen should eat, we called at the downtown emporium of Buck Magonigle. Half a dozen youngish fellows, bare except for athletic shorts, were already at work in the upstairs flat where the Magonigle gymnasium was situated. Some of them were lifting iron rods on which iron weights were fastened. Others were working on wall pullers. Three were shadow boxing and punching the bags.

“There he is,” I hissed to Jimmie.


“That big bag,” I grated. For besides the little bags like footballs, there was one large bag, like a dunnage bag, suspended from the ceiling. It was full of sand or something soft and soggy, and a young man was whaling the daylights out of it. “That bag,” I said, “is the exact image of the man I’m laying for. Already, I can see his facial features beginning to grow on that bag. That is the object of my attentions, from right now on.”

“You don’t take on that bag,” said Jimmie, “until you’ve got some wind and some punch.”

“I’m taking on that bag,” I said, removing my coat, “to-night.”

Mr. Magonigle at this moment walked up and welcomed us gravely. He did not look like a gentleman, but he spoke and acted like one. It was like hearing an engine purring perfectly under the hood of battered old wreck of car. Mr. Magonigle was all bunches and twists, his nose looked cast and his ears looked south-west, one eye was out of line, but his chassis was like a Jersey bull’s – low, long and lean. “Gentlemen,” purred Mr. Magonigle.

Socking the Big Bag

So we talked over the situation, and in three minutes I was stripped and wearing a pair of Mr. Magonigle’s athletic shorts. They were big for me, but he had a safety pin.

First he lectured me on the basic principles of physical culture. I had no idea there was so much science and philosophy in a gymnasium. Especially the way Mr. Magonigle phrased it.

“It is not,” he said, out of his large and battered mouth, “a question of strength, so much as a matter of psychology. I say to my boys, I don’t train them, they think themselves into strength and perfection. Mr. Clark, you must think perfection every day. when you wake up, all day while you are at work, and the last thing at night before you sink to rest, you must think of perfection. You must feel your muscles, your limbs, enjoy the feel of them. Enjoy your food. Enjoy what sights your eyes behold. And under my training system, you will feel yourself, who were dead, suddenly coming to life. You will be strong. You will be perfect.”

I’m afraid I can’t quite get the quality of these noble words coming out of Mr. Magonigle’s mouth, sort of out of one side, with his eyes rolling as he talked, and accompanied by gestures of his huge and broken hands. And his voice was slightly husky. When he said perfect, he said poifect, and he shut his eyes, with his head thrown back.

Jim got into shorts, too, and Mr. Magonigle said he would first get us to expand our lungs on the wall pullers. So Jim and I pulled ropes with weights on them, and then, while Mr. Magonigle was out – he explained he had to see a man about something – we tried lifting the bars with weights on them, and finally, since the young men had all quit and were leaning out the window looking at some stenographers working late across the street, I took on the punching bag.

The little bag was too high for me, but I gave it a few good smacks.

“Leave the big bag,” advised Jim.

“Just a couple of socks in the belly,” I said.

The big bag was full of sand or worse. It hung by a rope from the ceiling and its lower end bulged.

I hit it. It swayed only a little. As it came back, I let it have another.

“Back up, you,” I said to it.

“Sock ‘im,” said Jim.

I gave it another. My arm hurt, but I gave it another.

“Right on the beezer,” grated Jimmie, crouching down.

I let him have it. The big bag’s swings grew wider.

“Now give him one in the solar plexus,” cried Jimmie.

I gave him one in the solar plexus. The big bag groaned. It swung higher and wilder.

“Lift him off his feet,” hissed Jim.

And I let him have it. I laid back, I lowered my fist to the floor, I upped and atted him.

“Hooray,” cried Jimmie, as the big bag leaped away from the blow. My attention was distracted.

Something struck me heavily, lifted me, threw me.

All was dark.

The darkness was filled with a deep buzzing. Small orange stars darted through the darkness. I heard a dentist’s drill. I heard small sounds like birds chirping.

And then Jimmie’s voice was saying: “It knocked him back and he fell with his head against the radiator.”

“It’s nothing,” I heard the voice of Mr. Magonigle. “He’ll be around in a second or two.”

They assisted me to dress.

“Physical culture,” explained Mr. Magonigle, as he helped me into my pants,”is a question of growth. By taking thought, you cannot add a cubicle to your weight, as the Bible says.”

“I am only interested in physical culture,” I said grimly, for the pain in my head was very bad where the radiator had hit me, “for a special and specific purpose. I have no desire to be in better physical condition than I am except for one particular job. Maybe ten minutes.”

“Like a masquerade,” said Mr. Magonigle. “You want to dress up strong for an evening or something?”

“Precisely,” I said, while Jim tied my tie.

“I fear,” said Mr. Magonigle, “you can’t do that. You are either strong or you are not strong. You can, with patience and purpose, become stronger. But as a general rule, we are the way God made us and mostly we stay that way all our lives.”

“Would you say,” I asked him, “from your wide experience, that I was fit to hit guy forty pounds heavier than me?”

“You can give,” said Mr. Magonigle, “but can you take?”

So we shook hands.

“The great thing,” Jimmie said, as he helped me down the dark stairway of Mr. Magonigle’s gymnasium, “is to forgive your enemies.”

“Never,” I said ” I’ll think up some other way of fixing him. Brains will prevail over brawn.”

And then Jimmie’s voice was saying: “It knocked him back and he fell with his head against the radiator.”

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on March 4, 1944 under the title “Brains Vs. Brawn” (image at end).

A Dunnage bag was the type of large bag that sailors would use to carry their belongings. It would more commonly be referred to as a duffle bag today.