The bloody mouthpiece lies on canvas under crystal chandeliers in the palace of dreams. A ringside helper retrieves it just before the fantasy in the green thong bikini thrusts a long, tanned leg between the ropes and struts around with the sign announcing ROUND 5.
The mouthpiece and the blood belong to Gerry Walker, the young Baltimore man in the yellow, blood-splashed trunks who comes to La Fontaine Bleu on this Wednesday night in his continuing battle to rebuild his life.He is off drugs and alcohol, he is newly married. His fondest dreamspoint him to La Fontaine Bleu.
Fighters, lovers, boxing promoters and bikini-clad sign toters seek their dreams in the supermarket-turned-catering hall on Route 2, where the lobby fountain suggests more romantic places than Glen Burnie and the wallpaper evokes Italian marble. Hallway sconces painted tofeigned gold, or possibly brass, light the way to ballrooms with such names as Rue De La Paix, Place De Concorde and Chateau D'Or. The Bridal Mall stores offer to launch new lives in white puffs of satin and taffeta. The boxing ring beckons young men with a shot at a title.
"My name is Vince, I'm your maitre d' today."
A black tuxedoed Vince Yukevitch squeezes into a bridal suite packed to the door with members of the Panutty wedding party -- men in pearl gray tuxedos with pink cummerbunds and women in white, blue, pink gowns. The party is fresh from the Harundale Presbyterian Church, where 30-year-oldTimothy Panutty has just married his hairdresser's daughter, 23-year-old Mia Groves.
"POP. . .POP"
That's the Roget spumanti, the bottles left in a bowl of ice on a coffee table in front of the sofa. Glasses are filled and palates lubricated. Yukevitch delivers marching orders.
"What we'll do is we'll do the blessing, then we'll do the toast and we'll go right into the dinner."
It's 2:15 p.m. on the first Saturday in June and all three suites are filled with weddingparties in waiting: the Panutty-Groves party in one room; Harry Wallace and Melanie Langford, Peter Davies and Heather Allan in the othertwo. The Jason Lopez and Jacqueline Kernane wedding is already underway in L'Amerique and Place de Concorde, the guests having just beenserved a flaming appetizer. Soon enough, Richard Allen and Theresa Shai will begin celebrating their union in the gazebo, a glass-walled ballroom with diaphanous white curtains shielding the view of the parking lot.
Five wedding receptions will be going simultaneously today at La Fontaine Bleu, the site of more than 500 wedding receptions a year.
The building with the arched facade was a Big Value supermarket until Thomas Stuehler, owner of La Fontaine Bleu, pulled out the checkout lanes, hung the chandeliers and opened it as a catering hall in 1978. It's now part of a company that caters events in Maryland, Delaware, Washington and Virginia and includes five halls: three inBaltimore, one in Washington, one in Glen Burnie.
Paul Maltese, general manager in Glen Burnie, has been there since the place opened.He's supervised scores of company banquets, award ceremonies, anniversary parties and bull roasts. And yes, nights of professional boxing, nights where the collapsible walls that divide the ballrooms are pulled back to make one giant five-chandeliered room. On these nights the schedule of bouts might be printed on the back of a flier flyer declaring, "We take particular delight in catering BRIDAL SHOWERS."
"We do a little bit of everything," says Maltese, who will spend thisafternoon running from ballroom to ballroom to kitchen and back to ballroom, overseeing everything from candle lighting to dessert slicing.
"I walk about 10 miles on a Saturday," he says.
Gerry Walker sits mum in an upholstered chair in a bridal suite surrounded by pink and green birds that perch and flutter on the wallpaper's foilbackground. A spray of artificial pink flowers rises out of a vase behind him. No Roget on ice, no chips, cheese or crackers on the side tables. Not on this Wednesday night.
Walker, a 158-pound middleweight, clasps his big hands together and waits for his fight with Ray Ruiz, a 160-pounder from Cleveland. In a few minutes Walker's trainer will tape his hands.
"Sometimes you can feel the stillness, that'sthe concentration," says Dom Baccala, a trainer at the Harding-Lowrygym in Pasadena. Two fighters from Harding-Lowry are on tonight's six-bout card.
Walker, who trains at the Loch Raven Optimist Boxing gym in Baltimore, is trying to keep his mind clear, letting his arms hang loose, not rushing himself into the ring.
"You don't want to focus too much on the fight too much before because you can drain your energy," says Walker, a 28-year-old who will enter the ring tonightwith a record of 4-2-1. "Right now I focus on relaxation. . . . Right before I go on I focus myself on the ring."
Out in the ballroom,some 300 spectators who paid $30 or $35 each for the night are lining up at buffet tables for helpings of barbecued ham, fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.
"It's a real niceplace to fight," says Walker.
He's an earnest ex-Marine who has literally walked through fire. His arms and torso are scarred from thenight in 1985 when he woke up in his basement bedroom to find his mother's house burning. He spent nearly a month in treatment at FrancisScott Key Burn Center. For nearly five years, he did not step into aboxing ring.
Walker recovered from the burns, then turned to confront his drug and alcohol addiction. By fall, he says, he will have been clean for two years. No cocaine, no liquor, not even tobacco.
He says he found religion at the Tabernacle of the Congregation of God in Baltimore and credits the pastor, the Rev. Percy Elder, for helping keep him straight. He also credits his wife, Angela. He married her last Valentine's Day.
"Since we've been together it made a lot of difference in my career. She's a lot of support to me," says Walker, sitting in the suite where the Panutty wedding party would gather a couple of weeks later to begin their celebration.
"By the time Iturn 32, I'd like to achieve a goal of letting boxing pay for a little house for us."
Timothy Panutty first saw the woman who would become his bride while he was getting his hair cut. She was a blond, blue-eyed face in a photograph on the stylist's mirror.
MaureenGroves had been cutting his hair for more than three years at a salon in Pasadena. Every so often Timothy, a car salesman from Pasadena, would ask about the beautiful young woman in the picture, her daughter, Mia.
Once he called Maureen's house to talk with Maureen about a car she wanted to buy for her younger daughter. He got Mia instead.They talked for a while.
"Then he called me and asked me for permission to ask her out," Maureen says, standing at the side of the dance floor in the ballroom called the Cordon Rouge. "Then she's asking me a million questions about him. . . . I told her I thought he was agreat guy and she should just go out with him and go from there."
They went to Sabatino's in Little Italy for dinner on their first date. She was 20, he was 27. He'd been married twice before. This was different, he says. "She was the only girl I ever met that wanted to be with me and me only," says Timothy, sitting at the dais in his white tails. "I knew I met the right girl. It's hard to describe it."
Now Yukevitch steps to Timothy's side and leans in.
"Excuse me, Tim, as soon as this song is over we're going to do the first dance."
The disc jockey segues to "Just You and I," and the new couple -- he the owner of Quality Motor Cars in Glen Burnie, she a secretary forDocu-Data in Glen Burnie -- embrace for the dance. When the tinkle of guests' spoons on water glasses reaches sufficient volume, they kiss.
"The first time they went out she said, 'That's it, I'm in love,' " says Maureen Groves, a near ringer for Mia. "I never dreamed he would end up with my daughter." Yukevitch takes up the microphone as the song ends. One-hundred-fifty guests are turned toward the new Mr.and Mrs. Panutty.
"Aren't they a beautiful couple," Yukevitch declares. "Let's have a big round of applause."
Men jump to their feet, screaming, raising their arms above their heads and clapping.Men with wives, men without wives, doing the things men do in groupsof men. A 27-year-old real estate salesperson in a green bikini and spike heels has just stepped into the boxing ring.
"WOOOOOOOOO. . ."
"YEEEEEAAAAA. . ."
"YEAH, HE GOT HIS 35 DOLLAR'S WORTH . . ."
Gia M. Magliano struts to thumping music; once around the ring, holding aloft for all to see a card marked ROUND 1. The testosterone chorus accompanies her through the dance, until she steps back through the ropes and takes a ringside seat.
And Jim Nolan, who has beenstanding and cheering, settles back down at his ringside table. He'sa young Crownsville man who works for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.He makes it clear that he comes to the fights for the boxing but acknowledges that Magliano "makes the fights more entertaining." No, he's never brought his girlfriend along, but he guesses that "she'd probably love it."
For her part, Magliano says she's unfazed by the cacophony that greets her every appearance in the ring.
"I don't really hear anything when I'm up there," she says later, asked to describe the sensations of being at the center of this attention. "It's like asking you what it's like driving to work, or how many tall buildings you pass."
She's been doing this sort of thing since she entered her first bikini contest at 18. She dances at bachelor parties and delivers "dancegrams." She did a dancegram before she arrived this evening and will rush off before the night's card is done for another, a man's 50th birthday party.
It's a lucrative sideline for Magliano, who sells real estate for Grempler Realty Inc. in Baltimore. She holds degrees in industrial psychology and personnel administration from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
"I want to be successful," she says, then stops herself. "I already am successful. I own four houses."
Through her real estate sales, her dancing and ring card parading, she's also put together enough money to become a limited partner in Steeltown, a Baltimore nightclub and sports bar.
She says she'd like to do movies, but she's not out to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Leslie Glass. Glass leaped from the fights at La Fontaine Bleu to become ring card carrier for Mike Tyson, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard in fights at Atlantic City and LasVegas. Glass parlayed a reputation in Glen Burnie into a career in modeling, photos in Playboy and a bit part as the ring card carrier inRocky V.
Magliano finds different kinds of opportunity at La Fontaine Bleu. On this night, she will meet a man who has 10 town houses to sell. He tells her he'll list them with her.
"I want to make money," she says. "I'm a very determined person."
The Jason Lopez-Jacqueline Kernane wedding, a 200-guest affair celebrating the union of a freshly graduated Naval Academy ensign and a state's attorneyparalegal, leaves behind a load of soiled tablecloths, napkins and many chairs that need stacking. There's work to be done as the last guests drift out of the carpeted lobby into the late afternoon heat. This is Romayo Jerry's cue to spring into action.
He's wheeling a hand truck down the corridor, past the Cordon Rouge where Timothy and Mia Panutty have just pushed slices of wedding cake into each other faces, past the cigarette machine, toward the fountain.
Jerry's beenworking here for about eight months as laundry man and sometime assistant maitre d'. La Fontaine Bleu rescued him from unemployment. He enjoys the job.
It's more than laundry and chairs, he says. He sayshe feels part of some larger plan, a quirky plan that puts Timothy Panutty and Mia Groves together in a hair salon. It's the sort of grand scheme that moves Harry Wallace to tune in one day to a radio station blind-date show that he never listened to before, call in with hisdescription of his ideal woman and wind up meeting Melanie Langford.She says she liked the sound of his voice. They are celebrating their wedding today in the Chateau D'Or.
"It's like helping God do hiswork," says Jerry, "assisting in something that in the natural orderof things is supposed to happen."
He's got his own dream of one day, maybe, opening a little jewelry store to go with the gown, tuxedoand gift shops that comprise the Fontaine Bleu Bridal Mall. But for now, there's work to be done.
"This is a slow day," he says. "Normally, it's wedding in, wedding out," he says, snapping his fingers. "Clockwork."
Jerry excuses himself, smiles and heads toward the L'Amerique ballroom. A cog in a great machine.
Ray Ruiz lands a straight right to the bridge of Gerry Walker's nose in Round 4. Soon Walker feels the warm stream on his face.
The cut is barely a quarter-inch across, but it's bleeding badly. Walker continues to duck, fake, hit. He eyes his opponent through a red mask.
Walker feels fine, knows he's scoring well. But blood is running into his mouth, splashing his shiny yellow trunks, his white shoes, people at ringside. It looks worse than it is. Don't stop the fight, don't stop the fight, Walker's thinking.
Round 5 -- more trouble. A tear in Ruiz's right glove nicks Walker at the side of his left eye. Now he's bleeding from two cuts.
The referee notices the torn glove and holds up thefight. It takes about three minutes -- the length of one round -- tochange the glove. Too much time, Walker will say later. Time for Ruiz to collect himself. Walker figures he's got the bout on points.
A minute-20 into Round 6 the referee calls for time. Walker has takena few blows to the face. Don't stop the fight, Walker's saying, I'm fine.
No matter. Ruiz is declared the winner on a technical knockout. Now his professional record is 6-3; Walker's 4-3-1.
After the fight Walker leaves La Fontaine Bleu and heads to Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, where nine stitches are needed to close the cut on his nose, three to close the wound by the eye.
"I still feel victorious," Walker says a few days later. "They stopped the fight when I was ahead" on points.
Walker makes $450 for his night's work, same as Ruiz. But state Athletic Commission rules say that if you are cut badly enough to need stitches, you must wait 60 days before you can fight again.
So he now waits for his next opportunity to work on his dreamof homeownership through boxing. Meanwhile, he's entering a hair styling school in Baltimore.
The night of boxing is a loss for Josh Hall, the Glen Burnie man who runs Round One Promotions with his wife,Victoria Savaliski. They needed 550 spectators to break even. They got 325, about 400 short of the crowd for the March card at La Fontaine Bleu.
Hall laments the likelihood that on this spring night, many potential spectators were drawn away by softball, fishing or the Orioles game featuring an appearance in the stands by Queen Elizabeth.
A former boxer himself, Hall now takes his hits financially. It's worth it, he says.
"I love boxing," he says. "You end up working at a loss a lot, but if someone doesn't promote it, where are these kids going to fight?"
As he speaks, a crew of big-armed young men from New Jersey are pulling the ring apart, rolling up the canvas, breaking down the steel frame. By midnight the ring is gone, nothing leftbut a few scraps of duct tape on the polished wooden floor.
In two weeks the floor will yield to Panuttys and Groves, Wallaces and Langfords, celebrating love. And Romayo Jerry will smile and find that things are going according to plan.