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“I’m the managing partner,” Patti Harris said as she shrugged her shoulder against the side of her face to wipe away the sweat. Harris couldn’t use her hands to wipe her brow because they were thickly wrapped, to keep her knuckles from bleeding under her gloves. The leader of New York construction law boutique Zetlin & De Chiara, she lives, works and boxes in Manhattan’s 10016 ZIP code. Harris started boxing a year ago, just before her second and third knee operations forced her to cut down on running, and she now dons gloves seven days a week. Her sparring partner, Barbara Levitan, an estate lawyer at Greenfield, Stein & Senior, took up boxing about the same time, after a separated shoulder cut short her career as a triathlete. “We’re not masochists,” says Levitan, unconvincingly. “We just do risky things.” After a fierce session of taking turns throwing uppercuts at the heavy bag and at their trainer, the two women meditated on their incongruous hobby at the Black Sheep bar on Third Avenue. “My parents are Jewish intellectuals who never did anything more athletic than jump waves at Jones Beach,” explained Levitan. “They’re OK with me being a lawyer, and they’re OK with me being a lesbian. What they can’t understand is why I do sports. I’m 51 years old and my parents don’t know I box.” Trainer Jenaro Diaz says boxing appeals to “anyone who spends an unreasonable amount of time in the office,” including lawyers like Robert Shapiro and Geraldo Rivera. His half-brother and fellow trainer, Abby Saez, agrees. “Lawyers and stockbrokers got a rough edge — they bring the most shit into the ring with ‘em,” he says. “If I saw these women in the subway, I’d give ‘em my seat in a second.” Even so, Harris and Levitan are too new to the sport to venture a bout of “White-Collar Boxing” at the legendary Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Phil Maier, an administrative law judge for the Public Employment Relations Board, is a Gleason’s regular. “As a judge I’m a neutral,” he explains. “Here I get to be an antagonist. There are only so many decisions you can write without wanting one of your own.” In case that connection is too glib for you, Maier quickly offers a second theory. He peels back his hand wrap and shows a scar on his left thumb where he was bitten, at age 5, by his next-door neighbor Michael. An uncle taught him some left-right combinations, for self-defense, and Maier earned his first knockout in short order, “on the mean streets of Edison, N.J.” He earned his second knockout 35 years later at Gleason’s, against a computer engineer. Nothing more is known of the Tyson-like young Michael, but the judge suspects that he may have become a labor lawyer. Iron Michael had a worthy successor in Maier’s opponent, Dr. David Lawrence. A middleweight dressed in black-and-yellow bumblebee trunks, Lawrence, who holds a Ph.D. in English, is the Renaissance man of DUMBO (the section of Brooklyn where Gleason’s is located; the acronym stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.”). He is the author of a poetry book called “Dementia Pugilistica,” a rap album called “The Renegade Jew,” and — most to the point on this evening — a six-figure tax-evasion scheme that earned him nearly two years in federal prison. Lawrence, who amiably showed off his court judgment while calling the conviction unjust, goaded his opponent in the minutes before the fight, in the fashion of a play-acting World Wrestling Federation combatant. “I may have a flashback in the ring to the judge and prosecutor who sentenced me,” he yelled, loud enough for Judge Maier to hear. “I want to kill lawyers.” Despite the best efforts of this reporter to bring on those flashbacks (“Remember the prosecutor! Kill the judge!”), the ex-con was a gentleman in the ring with his friend the judge — nor did the labor mediator chalk up his third knockout. The referee proudly praised the bout as the “most technical of the night.” Although I can not vouch for their technique, I can affirm with confidence that White-Collar Boxing attracts characters every bit as loopy as any inner-city practitioner of the Sweet Science.

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