The Ferndale Country Club Boxing Committee
As long-time boxing buddies Angel DeSalvo and Hunt Carter stepped from their car, both boys looked up to see where the flatfooted plap, plap, plap, came from, only to see Henry Blevins jog past with Vincent hot on his tail. Five-foot-five and nearly three-hundred-pound Vincent never jogged, but he was riding a ridiculously small bicycle with shiny chrome fenders, shouting instructions.
“Hey, Vinnie, what’s up with him?” Hunt hollered as he pointed toward Henry. Henry and Vinnie were doing the loop-de-loop around Arnold’s Pizza Parlor.
Arnold's place had become a favorite hangout for many of the guys the boys hung out with during the 1970’s for many reasons. The pizza was good, Arnold sold draft beer cheap, and everyone considered him an okay guy. Arnold’s place also sat on a huge field where many of the boys would play a pick-up game of softball, or throw a Sunday afternoon game of horseshoes. Then, over time, Angel and Hunt’s boxing buddies convinced Arnold to let them build a room on the back of his pizzeria where they could hang out. Like a private club that allowed blacks, because there were a lot of good black boxers—but definitely no women, no cops, no queers, and of course, no known lawyers.
“Sure,” Arnold happily agreed, “but any addition’s got to have restrooms, and I want plumbing for a bar if I let you use my land. And it’s got to be built legal so I don’t get in trouble with the county.” Well, when the word got around nearly everyone the boys trained with decided to become a charter member. The only problem was, they didn’t have any money, so Arnold started a members-only list, and everyone that signed up forked over $250 start-up monies.
It wasn’t long before Arnold’s list was eleven pages long, and the pizza guru had nearly seventy-five thousand dollars they used for building plans and construction materials. Then they decided to name the addition “The Ferndale Country Club,” after the poverty-stricken neighborhood where the Ferndale Gym was, where most everyone trained. Actually, it was easy getting the guys Angel and Hunt hung out with to join, because the club would eventually ban unqualified members, like, be selective—or even better—become an exclusive club.
Then Arnold got another regular customer, an architect, to draw up some plans the city approved, and everyone pitched in, digging, compacting soil, laying underground pipe for the plumbing or electrical, setting batter boards, mixing and finishing cement, pulling wires or whatever. Within days, they had a right-smart-looking slab ready for the 80-by-45-foot framed addition. Everyone enjoyed building the Ferndale Country Club, watching their exclusive club take shape, and Angel mostly dug and set batter-boards for the cement part. His regular job was managing a strip joint, not doing construction like Hunt and many of the other guys. Arnold watched, sold beer and pizza, and marveled at his good fortune.
Everyone instantly became a carpenter once the slab was done, and boom, the framing went up, and bang, the roofing, drywall painting and trim-out happened, then whoosh, it was time to call the city for an occupancy permit. Constructing the simple Ferndale Country Club was child’s play for most of the members. Shoot, Arnold was so grateful, he even donated a jukebox on opening day: the 3rd of March, 1972.
One Saturday, very shortly after the Ferndale Country Club opened, Angel and Hunt stopped in to kill a little time before Angel opened his strip joint, and that’s when they saw Henry and Vinnie doing their loop-de-loop thing, running around Arnold's Pizza Parlor with its newly attached Ferndale Country Club. They both stood and waved as Vincent peddled after Henry—looking quite serious. Fat Vinnie riding his undersized bicycle was humorous enough, but when they realized what he was doing, it was a real shock to both of them. As they disappeared around the corner, Vincent swiveled to shout over his shoulder, “We’re in training!”
Huh? Henry was essentially an uncoordinated, awkward, out-of-shape doper, a genuine speed freak, yet in Henry’s own mind, he could do anything.
Well, after Vinnie popped two speedballs down Henry’s throat and suggested the impossible, Henry got so excited he nearly croaked. Never mind he was so high his eyes were the size of quarters. Angel and Hunt just happened to drive up right after Henry began to train.
Another feature the Ferndale Gym was known for was the amateur fights, where amateurs could launch their boxing careers, twenty-five bucks to the winner for a three-round bout. POW, next! So three times a year, the gym popped, and Hunt and Angel had both fought there a number of times. Every once in a while, the audience even lucked out and saw two or three decent bouts during the course of an evening, because the officially sanctioned fights were open to the general public for a sawbuck, five bucks.
Anyhow, shortly after Henry and Vinnie quit their training session that afternoon, Patrick Carter from Charlotte walked through the door. Patrick was another heavyweight; called ‘Pitty-Pat’ because he taught tap dancing, but he also hit a punching bag so hard it generated a sharp report throughout any gym. PAPP! The guy was big, as black as they come and darn good, even if he was new to boxing, with a strong upper body supported by a pair of very agile legs. Hunt and Angel simply called the guy Pat, recognizing that the Pitty-Pat moniker was more joke than real. He was a horse! And since Angel and Hunt were experienced boxers, they recognized Pat right off as one of their own and waved him over to their table. Pat trained sixty miles east of Arnold’s, in Charlotte, where he lived.
“Hey, man,” Hunt said as he stuck out his hand, “what brings you to town?”
“Hi, Hunt, hi, Angel,” Pitty-Pat said. “I knew this would be a neat place,” he added as he glanced around. “I joined when I was over to spar once, about three months ago, and came back this afternoon to get ready for tonight’s Ferndale fights.”
“Great, are you fighting tonight?” Hunt asked.
“Supposed to,” Pat admitted sadly, “but my opponent didn’t show.”
“Really?” Hunt said with a raised eyebrow, and immediately began to wave at Vinnie to join them at their table. As Vinnie waddled his way through the crowd, Hunt said to Pat, “This guy might have a heavyweight you can fight tonight.”
Angel thought, oh crap, Henry could get hurt. Is Hunt not thinking straight?
“An easy $25 so you didn’t waste a trip, if you’re interested,” Hunt concluded.
“Sure,” Pat said as Vinnie approached. “I really do need the workout. That would be great, Hunt. Thanks.”
“Hey, Vinnie,” Hunt said, “this here’s Pat Carter from Charlotte, and he said they are holding amateur bouts over to the Ferndale Gym this evening. If you want to see if Henry is serious, Pat here could fight Henry tonight.”
“Yeah,” Vinnie said, sticking out his hand. “Nice ta meet yah, Pat. I’ll check with Henry and let yah know something in a minute. I think he’s out back, having a smoke with Wally right now, uuhh—gimmie a minute, okay?”
With that, Vinnie waddled off in search of his newfound phenomenon, only to return a few minutes later to report they were on. At eight PM that evening, Henry Malcolm Blevins would be at the Ferndale Gym ready to rumble with Pat from Charlotte. Vinnie never mentioned Henry was a unswerving racist—hated blacks. No reason beyond his upbringing.
It was nearly four o’clock, but this was an amazing twist—and everyone got excited. Henry was going to box some guy from Charlotte tonight over at the Ferndale Gym, but he needed shoes, boxing shorts and a robe. One guy who wore Henry’s shoe size went home and dug up and donated an old pair of black hi-top Keds, and another fellow returned with a large old, faded, light-green terrycloth bathrobe. Arnold furnished scissors and a roll of duct tape the newly-formed Ferndale Country Club Boxing Committee used to cut the legs off Henry’s Wranglers, and tape “BRUZER” across the back of the faded terrycloth robe. Henry was good to go.
At seven-thirty, Vinnie tossed a fresh speedball down Henry’s throat, and Henry’s eyes popped wide open once again. Henry, the invincible.
Bruzer and Pat were the fifth and final fight that evening, and they didn’t climb into the ring until nearly 10:30. During the referee’s charge to the fighters, Pat got his first close look at his opponent, and became concerned that he should even be fighting somebody that doped up. Henry bounced, dodged imaginary jabs, and weaved back and forth, back and forth, but he never blinked. Henry was so high on speed he couldn’t blink.
When the bell rang, both fighters met in the center of the ring, with Henry dancing about, wildly staring at his opponent. Henry couldn’t see Pat’s eyes, because Pitty-Pat held both gloves very high, protecting his upper body and covering his face, and Pat stopped dancing, and froze, so he could concentrate on Henry’s exaggerated gyrations.
Huh, Henry thought, well I came to fight, big boy, and he let loose with six or seven rapid punches right at Pat’s well-protected head. Dance, dance to the left, pap, pow, pip, dance to the right, pap, pow, pip. Dance left; dance right, pap, pow, pip.
Over the top of his gloves Pat carefully studied Henry’s bob and weave pattern, and measured Henry’s predictable flurry of powder-puff punches as they struck his forearms, studying his timing. As Henry danced back and forth in the repeating pattern Pat began to think, shoot, even little Hunt or Angel could cream this turkey. Easy!
Angel leaned toward Hunt and whispered, “He’s going to get killed doing the exact same thing over and over, over and over.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t know any better,” Hunt agreed. “What’s Pat waiting on?”
Conversely Vinnie began to think he had a winner after the thirty-fifth, or forty-seventh unanswered blow landed. Then it happened.
Pat watched the crown of Henry’s head bounce and weave, back and forth, before him. Dance to the left, pap, pow, pip. Dance to the right, pap, ZONK! Pat shot a simple jab square into Henry’s perfectly positioned nose, not four inches in front of his gloved fist. Nothing fancy, just a simple, ‘I’m-still-here’ jab, but once Pat fully extended his arm poor Henry’s heels never moved and he fell backwards just as a petrified log would fall, stiffly bouncing off the canvas covered plywood with a thud. Both eyes wide open, and Henry’s arms and legs immediately began to thrash about, just like an excited newborn child lying on his back might do.
And Henry began to holler, Oh boy, oooh booyyy, oooohhh boy!”
Vinnie immediately began to throw water on Henry, and yell, “Get up, get up!”
Then the referee hollered, “You can’t do that,” at Vinnie, and Vinnie hollered back, “Screw you. Get up.”
“Eight, Nine, Ten.”
The next day, back at the Ferndale Country Club, Henry announced his retirement and Vinnie told everyone, “That bozo from Charlotte hit poor Henry so hard, it knocked the Vitalis right out of his hair.”
Don Quigg is a writer from South Carolina.