Looking through the large front window of the Times Square Boxing Club, Glenn seems unaffected by all the exotic fauna swirling by his doorstep. "My place will be good for this neighborhood." he says. "Right now you can't walk across the street without someone trying to sell you heroin, a reefer or a hot watch. But we're going to have good clean-living kids coming in here to train, and it won't take long for the crumbs to get the message that they're not wanted around here. Someday Times Square is going to be beautiful again."
On one of the gym walls is a sign that said NO SMOKEING. until somebody with a diploma smudged out the E and reduced the charm of the place by a vowel. Across the room is another sign that reads: RUBDOWN—SEE VICTOR. RATES REASONABLE. THE BIGGER THE BODY THE MORE YOU PAY. The air is as breathable as New York air ever gets, and the floors are swept clean.
The late-afternoon and early-evening hours are the busiest for most boxing gyms, and at 5 p.m. there are perhaps two dozen fighters in Glenn's. The air is loud with the thump of gloved fists pounding the heavy bags, the relentless chattering of the speed bags and the bob whistle of jump ropes as they spin above the linoleum floor. A bell rings every third and fourth minute, signaling the end and beginning of simulated rounds, and fighters respond to the round-opening bells with violent explosions of air from their nostrils as they commence shadow-boxing.
Near the ring, where two Puerto Rican fighters are sparring, 83-year-old George Albert is taping old boxing photographs to the wall. Albert has been around boxing for 70 years and is known to his juniors—which is practically everybody—as Pop. It is an article of faith in boxing that any gym worth its smelling salts must have a little old man named Pop shuffling around. Gives the place atmosphere. If an elderly guy doesn't drift in off the street under his own steam, you go out and hire one.
"We're gonna be up to our rear ends in pictures," Pop says, wedging a John Garfield between a Willie Pep and a Henry Armstrong. "I gotta be careful I don't get no bums up here, even though some people, who shall go nameless, don't care who they've got hanging from their walls. Jimmy says most of the kids who come in here to work out don't know who most of the old fighters were anyway. But I say a gym needs photos like these. To this day I still get a thrill when I walk into a joint with a picture of Carmen Basilio on the wall. What a great fighter that guy was."
Two fighters who rarely miss a day in the gym are Irish Paddy Dolan and Rocky Orengo, both lightweights and both trained and managed by Glenn. Dolan is 22 and drives a truck for a beer distributor. With hard work and some luck, he could be a contender for the lightweight championship in three years. Rocky is 33 and unemployed. Boxing is the only occupation he has ever had, and he believes he can still win the title. Though the careers of these two fighters seem to be headed in opposite directions, it is the boxers' common purpose that indicates what fight gyms and boxing clubs are all about.
Dolan has gained a sizable following in New York's Irish community. During one of his most recent bouts, a member of Dolan's clamorous retinue leaped to his feet and implored his fighter to "show 'im you've walked on green grass, Paddy me boy." Dolan, naturally, has encouraged this identification with the Emerald Isle by wearing green trunks and gloves in the ring and by driving a customized green van out of it. Ironically, not only has Irish Paddy Dolan never trod on the ould sod, but his mother is Italian. Dolan, of course, did not invent the practice of putting his roots where they would do him most good. "I'm just lucky my parents didn't decide to name me Pasquale or something like that," says Dolan.
Rocky Orengo started boxing at smokers in his native San Juan when he was 12 years old. He has fought professionally for 22 years, living on short-money purses from which he always deducts a share to send to his six children in Puerto Rico and their mother, from whom he is divorced. The 5'4" Orengo has been mainly a professional opponent—someone who puts up a good, workmanlike struggle before getting knocked down. In spite of that, he has never abandoned hope that he'll be a champ.
"I love the people," Orengo says. "Sometimes I love the people too much for my own good. Once I lose a fight I should win because the kid I am fighting, well, he is only 19, and I don't want to hurt his career. That is love. Still, I should be a better fighter than I am now. I lose many fights because I am drinking too much, and I don't train hard. But I don't lose no more. I have a bad record, but I am working very hard now every day in the gym, and I believe in God. Every night I pray. In two years I will be champion. I am very sure of this."
Just then the lights in the gym blink off, and for a long moment the room is illuminated only by the eerie glow of Times Square. Presently someone shouts that it is quitting time, and the lights flicker back on. Orengo looks disappointed but heads wearily for the showers. In boxing, you learn early to accept this most fundamental precept: when the lights go out, it is quitting time.