I first shook hands with Ron at Jim Frederick’s MMA school when he came in to watch my last fight in Baltimore. I was hoping he would replace me in the stick-fighting ranks. He was really the perfect age and size for it. At 40 he was too old to box competitively. [35 is the cutoff for Golden Gloves entry.] In any case, Ron had informed me online that he had boxed primarily as a means to be able to defend himself in the violent place we both called home.
Big Ron stands six feet four inches and weighs in at a lean 220 pounds. He’s tattooed as per the Gen-X norm, has light brown hair, beginning to thin somewhat and has an honest, straight-nosed face inhabited by dark, contemplative eyes. A month or so after he saw us fight and made tentative arrangements to begin training, Ron had a terrible fall at work and has been laid up ever since. Sounding itchy, in a relaxed way, to get out and about and have some conversation, and obviously bothered by the turn our city has taken since the Martyrdom of Saint Freddie Gray, and now finding himself far less fit to fight his way out of a tight spot as he has been accustomed to, I sensed that Ron was at once interested in telling his story in hopes of helping the cause of documenting the fate of our hometown, and also had some questions for me, as someone with more experience in bad odds encounters. With a steel rod keeping his bones in place and putting on some inaction weight, Big Ron has been feeling small and made an appointment with the aging sage of knuckleheaded, runt-kind at dinner time, the best time for men to get together at a bar when they want to speak of savage things.
The Raven Inn is a stone’s throwif you can throw—from the famous and terminally ill Bel Loc Diner, right across the street from Jim Frederick’s school, where I coached from 2019 through 2016. I walked in at six, saw no towering man looking toward the door and walked around the back of the bar where most of the seats were empty. As I pulled out a stool I heard, “James, over here.”
Across the way, having left an empty seat for me next to the tap, Ron was hunched over a bottle of Budweiser—pretty much the only thing construction workers drink in Harm City—in a dark windbreaker and ball cap. He seemed weary, but greeted me with a smile as I took the seat and we shook hands again. I quipped, as I pointed at the Budweiser, “You know your Uncle Rick would give you shit about drinking that non-union brew?”
“Yeah, he was a character, alright, one of the many muscle heads in my family that convinced me I was going to have to be able to fight if I was going to have a moment’s peace.”
Ron discussed the fighting men in his family, which will be the subject a few of the chapters in this book. I was then thrilled to find out that he had lived a double life as a teen, hanging out with other “knuckleheads” in Northeast Baltimore and Southwest Baltimore, along Washington Boulevard, where I have documented numerous violent encounters related by the locals that I worked with in old SOBO. Most interesting to me was the fact that Ron went to the same school as my oldest son, who, due to his slight size and noncombative nature, found himself in a far different situation. Like myself in Middle School, Ron was a guy that consistently punched above his age grade, so his view of my son’s plight was akin to me own perspective. Unlike me, Ron kept growing, and therefore met the ghetto invasion of North East Baltimore in a far different, and classically belligerent fashion, than I had, when I moved here at age 18. Ron’s violent life coalesced in the 1990s, until our recent race war, the most dangerous time to be a paleface in Baltimore. Ron’s admitted meathead approach to aggression—enabled by his size, athleticism and the fact that he had older fighting men in his family coaching and supporting him—enabled him to experience crime that veered away from me at the last moment as I reached for the one-pound gravity blade which I habitually carried at this time—and survive it. For the most part crime victims have terrible recall, but fighters who are accustomed to discussing sparring sessions and fights with their coach or training partner, tend to offer excellent mechanical recall. Ron was no disappointment there.
The substance of Big Ron’s Baltimore is aggression and coming-of-age in a racially-charged, residential, urban center. Ron, a man who works with his hands and was, as a youth, able to look back to a rogues gallery of “bad-asses” for inspiration, entered a precocious manhood as an anomaly, a creature that is not supposed to exist in the modern context, a white man who stands his ground and fights, even as the cowardly herd of his fellows flee to an imagined safety from one of the weakest foes imaginable, darkly dreaming that they are somehow being driven from their ancestral lands by an unstoppable force of superior warrior genetics, not even man enough to look over their shoulder and notice some skinny teenager beating the shit out of the adult bulls of their supposedly invincible conquerors.
Big Ron’s Baltimore is the story of one family’s willfully unappreciated rearguard action against the savage tyranny that will eventually reach those white rabbits hiding in their undefended suburban warrens, falsely confident that the same society that unleashed the dark hordes of Dindu America on their grandparents in the 1960s, and on their parents in the 1980s, and now on them since 2012, will somehow reverse course and decide to fulfill its social contract to protect the helpless paleface against the might of the worshipped celebrity race.
Those few hours spent speaking over a beer in the bar my Mother remembers dragging my drunken father out of when I was in diapers, netted notes for 12 specific stories in Big Ron’s life and helped sketch a narrative frame. In our meetings, I have no wish to stick to a chronology but want Ron to be able to range the memory of his life, so will gather accounts out of order, publish them in raw form on the site and then place them in order according to the scheme below, with additional setting and context notes to be inserted in the final manuscript. For here on out the online reader will get nothing but Big Ron.
Big Ron’s story will eventually be told in five phases. For now, each story will be subtitled according to its place in the chronology.
Surviving Baltimore City Schools: Childhood to Age 16
Becoming a Man on the Streets of Baltimore: Age 16 to 21
Being a Man in a City That Hates You: Age 22-40
Hitting Middle Age as Your City Dies