December 30th, 2019.
Portrait by Emily Fishman _________________________________________________________________________________
I first met Ashley Glass in December of 2015, when she was looking for an apartment. Over the course of a Sunday afternoon and early evening in December, we saw a few places in the Upper East Side, then made plans to pick up the search again after the holidays.
Then one afternoon in April of 2016, she called me with a deadline: her landlord needed to move her mother (her landlord’s) into the place that Glass was staying, so Glass had two weeks to find a place, and the search was on again ––– but for real this time.
I still remember how much fun it was to work with Glass, jumping from open house to open house on a Saturday morning and early afternoon, as well as over few evenings during the week, rhyming and reciting lines of improv slam-a-jam poetry as we walked from one place to the next around Manhattan: Chelsea, Chinatown, South of Houston. We were on a mission. Ultimately, she settled into a place a few streets away from where she was already living, in Astoria, her most familiar neighborhood in New York since moving here from Florida almost eight years ago.
Life comes at you fast. You only have so much time, and as I worked with Glass, with finding an apartment, and then three years later, with her essay “A Bell Goes Off,” I realized what we have in common: an internal knowing that if you’re going to talk about doing something, then that’s great, but at some point, the talking has to end, and the doing has to begin.
So with this idea in mind, there couldn’t have been a better place to spend a Saturday afternoon with Glass and her trainer, Raul Frank. When I asked Frank about the reaction on Glass’ face after she took a punch for the first time, he said she looked shocked. And when I asked Glass the same question, she offered a response that almost anyone could relate with: “It felt like reality struck me in the face.”
When you have a friendship with Ashley Glass, you know that you have someone to talk with whenever life delivers a “Big Sudden Blow,” as she at one point considered entitling this piece. You’ll talk, and she’ll listen with concern and compassion, but only for so long, as at some point, she might say, a break must be taken from the talking, and you have to step into the ring.
Once inside the ring, in order to avoid the hits, you can slip, or you can bob and weave, but if you’re in there for long enough, eventually you’ll get it. “With ‘A Bell Goes Off,’ that’s what happens when a life lesson is learned inside of Gleason’s,” she told me. “A bell goes off in your head. And they also have bells going off in the gym, so sometimes you just mix them up ––– was that the bell in the gym, or was that the idea in my head?”
-Isaac Myers III.
Ashley Glass: Isaac, you left your recorder recording so I’m talking into it. It’s sitting on the ring next to a few people sparring.
[I move around the boxing ring in which Glass is sparring and punching with her trainer, Raul Frank.
I walk around with a sheet of paper that’s pressed against the outside of my notebook and take notes, both written and mental.
Glass is wearing boxing gloves, so in between the punching and the sparring and the leg lifts, push-ups, and sit-ups, she will pause so Frank can pour bottled water into her mouth.
After a few more minutes of punching, sparring, and leg lifting, Glass takes a quick break. She takes off her gloves, steps through the ropes, and hops down onto the floor so I can ask her a few questions.]
Isaac: So how are you feeling?
Glass: I’m feeling rough, actually. This cold is brutal. And it’s still lingering. So I just did a light workout. I don’t really know if I should have done that.
Isaac: But when you woke up this morning, what did you say to yourself?
Glass: Oh, I was like, “We’re gonna do this!” I’m feeling so much better than last weekend. There’s no way I could have even left my apartment last weekend.
Isaac: That would have been rough.
Glass: How do you like the gym?
Isaac: I’m glad that I read your article first. It’s a fun place to sit and write too, and you can feed off of the energy of the place.
Isaac: And it feels like, whatever I’ve been doing out there, it’s not quite enough. And you come in here, and you want to be more powerful out there.
Glass: Yeah, that’s an awesome discovery.
Isaac: But that’s what you were writing about?
Glass: Yeah, that’s a cool way to put it. Whatever I’m doing out there isn’t good enough. That’s cool.
Isaac: So do you have a favorite punching bag in here?
Glass: Raul has me on that black and red one. But if these photos are black and white, it will probably come out gray or black, right?
Isaac: I’m just asking because I’m curious.
Glass: Oh. No, I don’t. I don’t have a favorite. I guess it would actually be the one where Emily was photographing me the most [pointing toward the specific punching bag].
Isaac: What do you like about it?
Glass: Those are kind of intimidating [pointing at specific punching bags]. They’re like a three hundred pound man. That one’s like a hundred and seventy-five pound man. And he’s a short man! That’s a tall three hundred pound man, that’s a short hundred and seventy pound man.
Isaac: Which one is the blonde, and which one is the brunette?
Glass: That’s funny. I’m definitely punching the blonde.
[Glass goes back to finish up her workout, which includes a few more push-ups and sits-up. A few steps away from where I’m standing now, Raul Frank has paused so Emily Fishman can photograph him. I ask him a few questions and then I sit down with Glass and Frank together at the same time.]
Isaac: How are you, how’s your day been?
Frank: Good, good. Busy, but good.
Isaac: How many people are you training today?
Frank: Today, between twelve and fifteen.
Frank: Yeah, but I start at six in the morning. And then weekdays it’s usually at around four thirty in the morning that I have to get up, and I get here around five or five thirty.
Isaac: I’m really honored to meet you.
Frank: It’s a pleasure. Working with Ashley is fun. She comes in. She brightens the place. But I like working with a mix of people. I trained a lawyer this morning, and then I trained a surgeon. Different types of people come in. Some people come for their health. Different walks of life benefit from it.
Isaac: I read that your first fight was in 1986, is that right?
Isaac: Do you remember that one at all?
Frank: Yeah, I won by a first round knockout.
Isaac: Where was that?
Frank: In Guyana. The place where they find all of the oil now.
Isaac: And your first fight in the States was in 1991?
Frank: Yeah, I think so. It was a little while back. The first fight you always remember.
Isaac: And then you won your last one?
Frank: Yeah, I won my last one. I went back [to Guyana] to show the people that I still have it. It was one hell of an experience though.
Isaac: How so?
Frank: Well I got sick around the time that the fight was scheduled. [New York] was cold, and I went into the heat down there in Georgetown, Guyana. And I got sick overnight. By the time I hit the airport I started sneezing. And I really got sick. But I was like a thoroughbred, and then once I was heading toward the arena, and I saw the people, all of a sudden my body started coming alive. And then I felt better . . . And that was how I was able to fight. But leading up to the fight, and the day before, I felt so sick that I wanted to cancel.
Isaac: How long was the fight, do you remember?
Frank: The fight was ten rounds.
Isaac: Were you feeling stronger as it went on?
Frank: No, but it was the competitive spirit that I have. I was feeling sick right through the fight, but I just competed. I didn’t want to let down my family. I had family that hadn’t seen me in years that night, and I didn’t want to get my ass kicked.
Isaac: Or cancel.
Frank: Yeah, it would have been so embarrassing. I hope you guys have fun here. Anytime you want to come back and do a workout just let me know. I’ll give you a complimentary workout and you’ll see how it feels. That’s how Ashley got started. … She loves this sport. This is for when you get a tough time at work, you come in here. This is kind of a way to let out a release.
[ The three of us move into Frank’s office to continue the interview, Emily joins us a few minutes later.]
Isaac: How’s Ashley doing with the training?
Frank: She’s great. From the time Ashley walked into the gym for her complimentary workout she stuck with it. Being here, mixing with different types of people, it’s amazing. And having Ashley here, it’s good for boxing, good for us, good for business.
Isaac: What was she like when she first started training, compared to now?
Frank: Actually, she wanted to know more about the sport. She wanted to be more physically fit. She wanted to learn techniques. So we’ve been working on those things, and I think she’s making progress.
Isaac [to Glass]: How would you sum up the difference between then and now?
Glass: When I came here I was just afraid to get into the ring, period. So there’s a huge difference. I was even afraid to be next to someone who was boxing.
Isaac: Next to someone?
Glass: Yeah, I was afraid they were going to hit me in the face on accident. And so now, I’m in the ring. We spar together. I feel like my coordination is better. My concentration is better. And my stamina is way better than when I started, because it was not spectacular when I started.
Isaac: What’s up with the backwards running?
Frank: The backwards running is more for toning and rhythm. Boxers use that to build their coordination between hands and legs. So that’s why we’ve been working on that.
Isaac: So do you know what you’re going to do with all of this knowledge and training that you’re acquiring?
Glass: I want to get better.
Frank: Actually, we were talking about it . . . about you doing a fight, for charity.
Glass: Well, that was suggested. I don’t know if I’m going to.
Frank: I think she’s getting there. Another few months of coming to the gym, she’s going to get there.
Isaac: What was it like, the first time you took a punch?
Glass [to Frank]: The only punch I’ve taken would be your punch, or from sparring.
Frank: Yes. And I saw the surprise on her face.
Isaac: What was that like?
Frank: She looked shocked! Like, oh!
Glass: I didn’t think he was really going to hit me.
Frank: And I hit her in the face ––– as long as you put on the headgear and the gloves, right?
Isaac: Isn’t there a phrase, something like, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”?
Frank: I avoid the mouth. I hit her in the top of the head. But she was shocked, sort of like, is this what it is, being hit like this?
Isaac: What did that feel like?
Glass: I kind of had a one-sided perspective, I thought that I would just come in and train, and I didn’t really think about getting hit. But it felt like reality struck me in the face. Like yeah, this is what it takes. You don’t just learn how to hit, you also have to learn how to get hit ––– or not get hit. Which I’m still working on too.
Continue Reading - Issue No. 3 - Winter 2017-18.