Interested parties in East Baltimore cannot wait for June 5 at Tiffany's East, when everybody who is anybody will be hitting somebody.
Already, Clem Florio is beating up a punching bag every day. Eddie Van Kirk is looking to knock out whoever's available that night, assuming the 22 stitches around his eye are healed. Lou Barber says he'll never show his face in Highlandtown again if he doesn't beat Ronnie Smuck. And Mickey McGraw, flexing every muscle in his forearm to within an inch of its life, says he's lost 40 pounds and counting.
"Forty pounds?" says Ronnie Smuck, not entirely believing his ears at this bit of news. "If he lost 40, he weighed 680 starting out. Where's he training, at the dessert table?"
If the punches are as sharp as the repartee, June 5 should be a dandy. It is the night a bunch of legendary Baltimore tough guys, ring-type and street-type, present tense and past, will step into a boxing ring to raise money for the United Society of the Handicapped.
"See these greats defy the laws of geriatrics," cries a fight poster hanging from a wall at Enrico's Sports Bar, Bud Paolino's place on Haven Street, where some of these fellows happened to gather the other night for a quick bite and a few verbal jabs in the eye.
It is thrilling to observe. Smuck, a booking agent for showgirls, is escorting a young lady named Shannon, whom he calls "my latest millionairess," while Barber, now a stevedore, has Smuck in a good-natured headlock while explaining how he first started fighting.
"In the Claremont Projects," says Barber, 37. "This kid wanted to beat me up, so I ran home. But my dad wanted me to stick up for myself, so he locked me out. I had no choice."
"When was that?" says Darrin Augustyniak, tossing a quick feint from across the table. "Last week?"
Everybody laughs now, while they can.
"This," says Clem Florio, wolfing down a tossed salad, "is good-natured, but it's also all about respect. You don't let the other guy hurt you."
Florio is beautiful. He's 62 now, and built like maybe 37. He does daily sportscasts for WITH-Radio, but in the old days, Florio was the horse-racing handicapper for a paper here called the News American. In the old, old days, he was a professional boxer.
"Eighty-five fights," he says. "Fifty wins, 30 losses, five ties. Not so good. But you gotta remember the conditions."
Such as, he had his first pro fight at 14, his first main-rounder at 15. Such as, he fought two 10-rounders in two straight days, then recovered by sleeping for two days straight. Such as the time a doctor said to him, "What happened to you? You look like you ran into a truck."
What makes June 5 so enticing is the money for charity, yes. At $50 a ticket (call 682-4975), it should raise pretty good bucks for disabled children. But it's also a gathering of legends and a way to domesticate some wayward adrenaline.
Take Lou Barber, for instance. As a pro fighter, he was 30 and 5. As a boxer emeritus, he felt the need the other night to punch out a biker who was giving a bartender a tough time.
"I had to hit him," Barber explains. "He wouldn't leave."
"Where did you hit him?" somebody asks.
"I hit him on his tooth," says Barber. "I got all of it."
On June 5, he'll fight Ronnie Smuck. All who know Smuck still talk of the night he and another fellow tangled on The Block, all the way from the 408 Club to the Club Pussycat and back again, and even the police could not break it up.
"Was there any point in the fight where you got nervous?" Smuck is asked.
"Yes," he says with some deliberation. "When the other fellow reached in and tried to pull out my eye- ball."
The scars on his face lasted eight months. He does not wish to identify the other fighter from that night, as "he makes house calls." But everyone who was there on that evening agrees that the fight lasted an incredible 45 minutes.
"Forty-five minutes, my God," says Clem Florio. "When I was growing up in Brooklyn, we had fights go 25 minutes, but you'd hit each other with trash cans. Yeah, Brooklyn. Killer Hymowitz and all these hungry Jewish kids. They had heart."
"Heart?" Ronnie Smuck says now. "What about this guy? He's got a valentine like Mount Everest."
He's pointing toward Eddie Van Kirk, who still fights professionally. He's listed on the June 5 card, but nobody knows yet who he'll go against, or if he'll go at all. He's got stitches around one eye from his last match.
Among those who definitely will fight, though: Marvin "The Bonds Man" Harris, Ritchie Parr, Tony Fernandez, Joe "Jewel Box" Bukowski, Joey "Downtown" Delawder, and the Sauerhoffs, Buddy, Eddie and Jack.
Plus Johnny Gilden, the ex-pro who will take on Clem Florio.
"Johnny," says Florio, "was one of the toughest fighters around. This a chance for the two of us to show what we can do from our time."
He makes it sound more instructive than Lou Barber and Ronnie Smuck do.
"I love Ronnie, and we're friends," says Barber. "But there's no way I can lose to him, unless I swing and knock myself out."
"Oh, yeah?" says Smuck, who will turn 50 on fight night. "If I thought you'd wake up by the day of the fight, I'd hit you right now."
Whoever loses, a bunch of disabled kids will win big.