By Chris Gibbons
The two thugs had jumped me in a Philadelphia subway concourse one night nearly 30 years ago. I managed to break away and run for the steps leading up to Market Street, but I remember hearing their footsteps echoing off the walls behind me and fearing that a knife blade could pierce my back at any moment.
I ran up the steps and down a seemingly deserted Market Street. Fueled by adrenaline, I had no idea where I was going or what I would do. But a lone car was stopped at a red light at Market and 18th, and as I raced toward it, I couldn't believe who I saw: my friend's brother, Anthony.
I opened the car door and dove in. "Jesus Christ!" he screamed. "You look like you just seen a ghost, brother." I was breathing so heavily I could barely speak. "I just got jumped!" I finally managed to blurt out.
Anthony - or "Ant'ny," as everyone in the neighborhood called him - didn't blink. "I got two baseball bats in the trunk," he said. "Let's go get 'em!" Shaken as I was, though, I just wanted to get out of there, and Anthony took me home.
When I get to know other people who grew up in Philadelphia, we often talk about memorable characters from our neighborhoods. Ant'ny, my good friend's older brother and one of Roxborough's tough guys, was such a character.
He wasn't very tall, but he was broad-backed and muscular, with a build that reminded me of the lightweight boxers Ray Mancini and Vinny Pazienza. As a matter of fact, the night he rescued me, he was on his way home from a South Philly boxing gym where he worked out. At one time, Anthony had dreams of becoming a professional boxer, and I always believed that if he had stuck with it and gotten the right training, he could have made a bit of a name for himself.
Anthony once put on a remarkable demonstration of his hand speed for me and my friend Paul. He snatched a buzzing house fly out of the air with his right hand, then let it go, and then quickly snatched it back out of the air with his left hand.
Anthony's boxing career never materialized, but he did take part in his share of memorable street fights. My friends and I vividly recall him and his buddy in bloodstained prom tuxedos following a fight with two other neighborhood guys. Others recollect him and another guy throwing haymakers at each other during a softball game dispute.
Time eventually caught up with us. The old neighborhood that I knew, and the characters who inhabited it, only live within the confines of my memories now. Many of us moved on because of jobs, marriages, and kids. But Anthony, sadly, fell on hard times and drug addiction.
A few months ago, I heard rumors that Anthony was homeless and living under the Ben Franklin Bridge. As I stopped at a red light at the base of the bridge on a recent night, I remembered the rumor, and my eyes scanned the dark corners beneath the span for his familiar face.
The baseball bats in my trunk couldn't drive off what Anthony was fighting. But for a brief, naive moment, I thought that if I saw him, I might be able to help him escape his troubles and drive him home, just as he had once done for me.
Anthony's brother has since told me that he is battling back like the fighter he is. I knew it would be a struggle, but as I watched the bridge recede in my rearview mirror that evening, I thought about the night I was rescued, and I hoped that the boxer had found his way home.