An old fighter holds court at rough domain on North Avenue


November 15, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

I find the honorable Charlie Crump down a street that's nothing more than a wide alley off North Avenue, up a flight of old wooden stairs, and behind an old wooden door with a sign that says no ladies allowed, which reminds me of Burgess Meredith in the original "Rocky," when he said: "Women weaken legs!"

Every afternoon, Charlie Crump holds court at the Champ

Athletic Club, an exquisitely shabby place with canvas taped to the floor and a ring with sagging, tattered ropes. The wainscoted walls are papered with fight posters, magazine covers and photographs. The place belongs to some moody '40s fight film.

"This ring is rough," says Tony "No Mercy" Mercer, a successful kick-boxer who works out at Champ and trains a few fighters. "The guys who come in here like it that way. It looks hard, like a lot of boxers been here."

Charlie Crump, 72 years old and a veteran boxer himself, sits by the entrance to the place. When 5 o'clock comes, he'll train a few of the young guys. It's the eternal hope of all trainers that the next world champion will step through the door at the top of the stairs. Charlie has more modest dreams. "The thing is," he politely complains, "these young fellas today, they just think about offense, about punching. They don't think about defense. They don't think the other guy is going to throw a punch back, too. I wish I could get that through their heads."

He's a delightful old man who exudes dignity. He had a good time in the ring years ago. He looked like Joe Louis; people used to say that all the time. Ironically, in 1944, about a year after his first professional fight, Charlie faced Louis in an exhibition at the Baltimore Coliseum. Louis knocked him off his feet, the only time that ever happened to Charlie. He had 30 professional fights before quitting.

Recently, the Maryland Veteran Boxers Association inducted Charlie into its Hall of Fame. He's real proud of that. He loves the sport, loves helping out at Champ. He keeps looking for a young fighter who can block punches as well as throw them, the way Charlie could. "Ah," he sighs, then grins, switching on the lights as dusk drapes the gym. "If only I was 20 again."

$7 million emblem

Despite a $1.3 billion deficit this year, the Postal Service spent nearly $7 million to put a new emblem on its nearly 40,000 post offices, 180,000 vehicles and millions of mail boxes. A letter carrier in Baltimore County called in a major gripe about this. He ++ doesn't want his name used -- with that deficit, see, a man worries about losing his job -- but this is what he had to say:

"Whoever made that decision -- he must have an office with thick, plush carpet and he probably earns a six-figure income and drinks that crystal coffee instead of the regular kind. . . . He has no idea what it's like being in the trenches and taking verbal abuse from customers over such a ridiculous decision. The emblem has nothing to do with moving the mail expeditiously and maintaining a good postal-public relationship. If I didn't have almost 25 years of service, I would ask to be traded to another team!"

Serious on the Shore

I've been twice this fall to the big, lively, all-day auction at Dixon's Furniture Inc., in Crumpton, the tiny Eastern Shore town that each Wednesday hosts antique and used-furniture dealers from all over the coast. Dixon's has an indoor sale in a warehouse-sized barn; an Amish market that sells an extraordinary item called "pretzel hot dogs," meats, cheeses and bakery items (including Whoopie Pies); and outdoor auctions on three large fields. Snoopers will love it for people-watching and, if you're brave enough to bid, a bargain or two.

But, look, there's no fooling around. These people are serious. The charming one-page flier Dixon's hands out to newcomers contains several cranky-uncle admonitions: "Don't forget to look at [an item] before you buy it, not afterwards. We only sell it once. If you get stuck with it, it's your fault, not ours. . . . If you are paying cash on the outside, have your money out and waiting for the clerk. Don't wait five minutes to pay. Get your money out. . . ."

Chief auctioneer is the boss-man, Norman Dixon. He sits behind the wheel of a canopied golf cart that moves down long lines of furniture, used appliances, collectibles and cellar-junk as buyers move in to bid. I've been listening closely to Norman Dixon's marvelous rap. It goes something like this:

"Cart comin' through, wooden elephant book rack, ten, fifteen, ten, fifteen, ten, fifteen, deen deen deen, dibbida, dibbida, dibbida ain't nobody fifteen, ain't nobody fifteen, nobody nobody nobody . . . fifteen, fifteen, twenny, twenny, twenny enny denny ibbida dibbida dibbida, twenny, twenny, ibbida dibbida dibbida, a quarter, a quarter, dibbida dibbida dibbida, a quarter? Sold, twenny dollars. Mustard pot, two lamps, a cabinet, ten, fifteen, ten, fifteen, fifteen, fifteen, ain't nobody fifteen. . . ."

Try doing the Dixon Rap at home, out loud, with feeling, in 30 seconds or less.

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