THE STENCH COMES FROM THE BASEMENT, where bodies are packed limb against limb. Punishing each other, taking delight in the pain. Nobody bothers to clean up the blood, leaving it to dry on the floor.
It hardly seems the place for such bloodletting, this perfect white bungalow in one of Bellingham's oldest and best-kept neighborhoods.
Varieties of cosmos, geraniums, impatiens and daisies spill out of the flower boxes that garnish the entry to the sunporch. And when the sunlight caroms off the bay in just the right way, the view facing the house is enough to inspire a painting, a belief in the afterlife or at least a review of the Bellingham real-estate listings.
The floorboard of this house separates civilization from brutality, but it's too thin to shield one from the other.
"Sometimes it gets so loud I feel like I'm ready to fall through the floor," one of the owners says. "You can hear just about everything. After a while, I tune it out."
Blocking out noise is a useful skill if you live above the 12th Street Boxing Gym, the name given to Tom Schlotterback's converted basement at 716 12th St. In the span of any given hour on any Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, you will hear the sounds of flesh and leather being beaten. Occasionally, a boxer will send up his lunch after taking too many shots to the midsection. Double-barreled bleeding - picture two nostrils and the movie "The Shining" and you get the idea - is so common, it's treated as a nuisance.
Some of the men here could be champions; all of them think they could be. They have in common an overabundance of testosterone and a need to dump it somewhere. Here they can forget their lousy jobs, their troubled childhoods or a life that can't seem to cut them a break. Here, all men are created equal. Even if you're a girl.
Almost always the first to arrive, at 3:30 p.m., is Dallas Malloy. She turned 16 last Christmas, but does not drive. She usually makes her way on foot from her house, about a mile away, because she believes the world doesn't need any more carbon monoxide. She walks in as if she runs the place, hopping the latched wooden gate. The English Bull Terrier named Maggie who guards the back door lets Malloy pass unchallenged.
The gym's stew of sweat, grime, blood, saliva and old leather has a special aroma. "Some people say it smells really bad down here," she warns her guests, "but I can't tell. I'm used to it I guess."
Malloy quickly changes out of her street clothes and throws them into a corner of the room. No one has a locker, but if you're a regular at the gym, you get a spot on the floor or on a shelf. She shares a corner with Israel Hinojosa, a promising middleweight. Hinojosa, 24, the only pro who works out at the gym, has a record of 5-0-1. Before turning pro at age 23, Hinojosa had almost 40 amateur fights.
But the boxer who shares his corner has yet to fight once. The reason is absurdly simple. Dallas Malloy is female.
In a clearly worded portion of the bylaws of USA Boxing, the national governing body of amateur boxing in the United States, about half the country's population is forbidden from membership and hence entry into sanctioned matches. In America, women shall not box.
Last March, Malloy became the first female to challenge USA Boxing's bylaws in a federal court. Her dream is to box against other women in the Olympic Games, a goal attainable only as a member of USA Boxing. For months she has trained without any immediate hope of competing. Malloy's lawsuit against USA Boxing will go to trial, unless settled, in December before the U.S. District Court in Seattle. The early signs are good.
In May Judge Barbara Rothstein granted Malloy a court injunction, temporarily nullifying USA's ban on women until the matter can go to trial. Malloy's application for membership was sent through. And if a match can be made this fall, Malloy and her opponent might become the first women ever to box in a sanctioned amateur fight in this country.
"Dallas Malloy kicked a hole in a brick wall," says Katherine Dunn, a novelist and boxing columnist from Portland, who has followed with particular interest the plight of women in boxing. "The trainers, the coaches, a lot of them have accepted the idea of women in their gyms. It's the establishment, the people that make the rules, that have a hard time with it. They probably haven't spent much time in the gym."
Malloy has a tentative date, Oct. 30, for her first match. Bob Jarvis, owner of the Hillman City Boxing Gym on Seattle's Rainier Avenue, wants to use Malloy in a show at Edmonds Community College. Jarvis doesn't think women's boxing will thrive because there are too few women interested in competing, but he is aware of the novelty value of a female match.
"She's had a whole lot of publicity but has never had a fight," Jarvis says. "We'll see if she can really box. If she wants to fight, let her fight." FINDING ANOTHER WOMAN of the same size and experience was a task. Jarvis came up with a 30-year-old kickboxer named Margaret McGregor, from Bellingham. So far, Malloy, 5-foot-5, 139 pounds, has sparred against only men. Short of Hinojosa, her technique and form is the best in the gym, says James Ferguson, who coaches there, as a volunteer, four days a week.
After rehearsing her punch combinations, Malloy is told to give heavyweight Jeff Fisher a defense lesson. He is allowed only to block while Malloy pummels away. In less than a minute Fisher is a bloody mess. Malloy, an avid weightlifter, has become considerably quicker and stronger in recent months.
"You've got to use salt (up your nose)," Angel Hinojosa, Israel's younger brother, tells Fisher.
Disturbing to the average viewer, blood does not get to Malloy. Neither does getting thumped in the side of the head. To Ferguson boxers are either punchers or counterpunchers. He hasn't labeled Malloy because she does both. She is vicious when pushed, but her basic instinct is to take you out before you have time to think about it.
"When you see her little face looking at you through her headgear she looks like a little girl," Angel says. "If you think about it too long, you get three punches in your face. She's going to hurt somebody. I've seen her bleeding, bringing it right back."
Given the 12th Street Gym is a microcosm of the boxing institution, there is hope for the big picture. Malloy already has proved political correctness can be quickly learned in even the most male of quarters.
Pinned on the gym wall near Malloy's spot is a calendar of scantily clad, well-muscled men. Calendars of women in lingerie and bikinis hang on other walls. Since Malloy's arrival here last August, the smut is gender equitable. So is the graffiti.
At knee level, on a far wall, someone scribbled a tribute to Dallas Malloy.
Dallas is a fast: bimbo dame ho female butch babe gal chick bitch broad girl person woman lady Boxer!
Lines cross out all the words except the last, making the point that anyone who trains here is defined only by love of the sport.
At first, Ferguson hoped this girl would attend a few workouts, realize she was in over her head and stop coming. Surely, he thought, the point would be driven home after Malloy took a shot in the liver during a sparring session.
The blow elicited an agonizing scream from Malloy, who had to be told to drop to one knee so she would not collapse. What Ferguson didn't expect Malloy to do is exactly what she did. She sucked it up and continued.
"She kept coming back," says Israel, who has become Malloy's idol and inspiration. "That's something in itself. I've been here eight years and have seen hundreds of guys come and go, big, tough, rumbly guys."
For about 10 years, Ferguson has trained fighters in Schlotterback's basement. It is the size of most living rooms, a corner of it thinly carpeted to serve as a ring. On a busy day, every other square yard is taken with lines at each equipment station. It amounts to something like the field at the Indy 500 trying to warm up in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.
"It was never my intention to get to the degree it's at now. But it's real hard to say no," Schlotterback says.
Nationwide, 24,420 boxers were registered with USA Boxing in June. The region that represents Western Washington, the Pacific Northwest Amateur Boxing Association, has 133 registered boxers and few gyms. Jarvis' gym is the only one to speak of in Seattle. The region that includes Eastern Washington and the Idaho panhandle has 244 registered boxers. Oregon has 218.
Ferguson likes to think of his gym as the perfect democracy, a haven, a place to hurt and a place to love. Not a place to be judged. He sees the boxers who come through his gym as his kids, whose faith he can restore. Ferguson, 49, says everyone who walks through his door comes in with some kind of pain. Here is where they deal with it.
A former fighter and police officer, Ferguson understands pain. He also realizes that boxing rescued him, gave him shelter, esteem, power and forgiveness. Now he wants to give what he received.
Children, be they five or 25, are his weakness. And his indulgence. He always will defer to the needs of children, he says, because his childhood so lacked caring and attention. Only children make him gush.
"Dallas brought me a tape last night," Ferguson says. "She slipped it to me at the gym. It had all the songs she knows I like, you know like that song `The Wind Beneath My Wings,' real inspirational songs, people like Dan Fogelberg, Whitney Houston. It really touched me. And Dallas smiled. It's the greatest thing to see when Dallas smiles. It's like sunshine."
IT IS NO COINCIDENCE that men come to the gym with drug addictions, emotional problems, criminal records in their past. An odd fit for a young girl from a nice home with college professors for parents.
Yet this is where Malloy is most herself, where she gets the most approval and acceptance. Her pain is not obvious, not as acute. Hers is about fitting in, about finding peers who appreciate her, about reconciling a desperate need for independence with being a child.
The quickest way to test her is to bring up her birth name, Jennifer McCleery. She does not answer to it, nor does she save articles that contain it. To utter it is to ask for a scolding or an unyielding debate. The name she chose for herself last year, Dallas Malloy, is the one thing she will not compromise.
"It (her original name) is not me, it's like a burden," says Malloy, who will legally change her name when she turns 18. "I hate the name. It's plain, boring. It has nothing to do with me."
She got the last name, Malloy, from the character Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando in the movie "On the Waterfront," in which Brando plays a longshoreman who after a failed boxing career finds himself indentured to the mob and in love with the sister of a man he unknowingly helped kill.
Choosing her first name was a careful process of permutations, a search for balance and symmetry. "Dallas" conveyed strength and assuredness and had pizzazz. Her mother Marilyn McCleery still finds it strange to call her daughter Dallas. Malloy's older sister Erin McCleery, 18, says she calls her sister Shawn, the name Malloy went by before Dallas.
"She's gone through a couple different names," Erin says.
As much as most teenagers need acne cream, Pearl Jam and Nintendo, Malloy needs independence. She insists on working so she has her own money, and cooking her own meals.
"She's an unusual person," her sister says. "She's an individual. She doesn't do orthodox things. Now she's found a group of people who share her interests, and they're bound together by that. I understand that completely."
Malloy, who completed her sophomore year last June at Sehome High School, has no peers her age. Her best friends are the guys at the gym, men six to 15 years older than she. She calls them the "brothers she never had." So disenchanted is she about high school that she may drop out and earn her high-school diploma at a community college.
"She doesn't institutionalize well," says her father Jim McCleery, who teaches computer science at Skagit Valley College. "She doesn't like to take direction from somebody. Only in the case of boxing is that not true."
Malloy's lack of interest in things academic is not for a lack of exposure. Both her parents earned graduate degrees, her father in mathematics, her mother in education. Erin McCleery is a straight-A student in high school, a gifted painter and a concert cellist who already has been accepted into the Indiana University's music program.
Marilyn and Erin are living in Tokyo for a year, while Marilyn teaches English at Obirin College in Japan as part of a teacher exchange with Skagit Valley. Erin went along to experience life abroad and is now a teacher's assistant at Obirin.
"We've tried to encourage our daughters to do something interesting with their lives, not be a sheep. I have a feeling whatever Dallas does, she will always be different. She'll do anything but what the crowd does," Jim McCleery says.
Malloy's progression toward boxing was started by a family friend who taught tai chi and karate. Malloy began bodybuilding before developing an interest in boxing. Empowerment, along with independence, has become a recent theme in her life.
"She's a passionate girl, persevering and tenacious," Marilyn says. "But this (her love for boxing), I don't know. I'm absolutely baffled about that."
And inspired. When Marilyn was in high school, she and a girlfriend came out for the track team. They wanted to be distance runners, but in the 1960s girls were not allowed to run track. The boys welcomed them on the team, but the coach turned them away. The tryout lasted less than two minutes. Unlike her daughter, Marilyn didn't fight it.
"I was so angry," Marilyn says. "I didn't want to go home. I wanted to run. The experience really stuck with me. That's why I have to encourage my daughter. She could be a role model."
Malloy's other interests are of the mind, not the body. She plays classical piano and has composed music since grade school. She once talked a retirement home into paying her $8 an hour to play during meals.
Since age 12, she has written countless poems and six novels, one she submitted for publication. It was the only novel read by anyone but herself and was subsequently turned down. She has outlines for dozens more novels, almost all dealing with the contemporary problems of teenagers and young adults.
Malloy's real passion is for drama, real and imagined. One way or another she is going to be famous, she says. She will be a boxer or an actress. She will star in a movie for which she has written the screenplay and the soundtrack.
She loves the movies, especially old ones, especially ones that star Brando and Cary Grant. For a girl bored with school, determined to find her place in this world, movies are an escape, a place of limitless dimension, a place where a 16-year-old girl could be champion of the world.
"I think she has always known she wanted to have a high profile life," Jim McCleery says. "She's very conscious of that. She uses the spotlight, she relishes it."
"I've always kind of been ready," Malloy says. "I'd think to myself, `When I'm famous, this is what I'll say. . . . ' "
Although she wants the spotlight, she does not want it to follow her. She adamantly refused to be photographed in her bedroom. She chooses her words discreetly, careful of what she reveals about herself. Celebrity is a love-hate relationship, she says.
Her quest to be a boxer has put her on nationally syndicated talk shows, Mexican television, the British Broadcasting Company and National Public Radio. Even David Letterman's show called, although it did not follow up on its initial interest. Magazine and newspaper interviews already are pretty pedestrian stuff.
For the most part, her career advice is self-generated, the result of prodigious savvy and resourcefulness. The flood of publicity got her thinking recently about getting an agent. She went to the library to do some research and called her attorney Suzanne Thomas for some advice.
"That's her," Marilyn says. "She's very productive. I told her once you want to do something, here's the Yellow Pages. She's been looking things up ever since."
MALLOY FOUND THE Hillman City Boxing Gym in the phone book. It was Jarvis who told her amateur boxing did not have a place for women.
So Malloy wrote a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which found her an attorney free of charge. Thomas, an attorney with the Seattle firm Graham and Dunn, took the case expecting it to be a slam dunk because the state law is very clear on issues of gender discrimination. She figured USA Boxing would resist a trial in federal court, so Thomas originally filed the lawsuit in state court. USA Boxing surprised her by requesting the case be tried in federal court.
"This has been a real wake-up call for me," says Thomas, 30. "It has got me thinking about what else is going on out there."
Judge Rothstein needed only a few minutes to decide to grant the injunction. The hint was clear to Jerry Dusenberry, president of USA Boxing. A year earlier, a Massachusetts woman, Gail Grandchamp, successfully sued the governing body of boxing in her state for the right to fight. But her victory became moot when she turned professional.
But it was clear Malloy's case would not go away. Dusenberry saw his organization's bylaws as a house of cards facing a stiff wind. Canada's national governing body already had lifted its ban on women.
"What forced us into action were the legal actions," Dusenberry says. "Right now, there's not a whole lot of safety and medical data. We do know Canada and a few European countries box women. But we in the U.S. are very conservative, very concerned, almost nervous about what we do in all aspects of safety, not just with females."
The safety and medical issue had been the single biggest argument USA Boxing had against allowing women to box, but one that began to sound less and less rational. Dusenberry met with his board of directors in Mississippi last month specifically to discuss the topic of women in boxing. The group came out with a rough draft for a new women's boxing program.
"We have a skeleton program ready to propose," Dusenberry says. "It will need full membership approval when we go before the board of governors in August."
There are about 200 people on the board who must approve the plan, which Dusenberry expects to be in place by this fall. In concrete terms, a women's program will require issuing chest protectors and increasing insurance premiums.
"To be very honest there is some heartache," Dusenberry says. "There's a tremendous amount of legal and medical expense involved. Our financial posture is not healthy at all. What I'm concerned about is that there won't be enough women to make a viable program."
Canada's program enrolled more than 100 women since it was started in July 1991. That month, Jennifer Reid fought Therese Robitaille in Canada's first sanctioned amateur match between two women. Reid, 30, did not have Malloy's Olympic aspirations. She began boxing largely as a result of being in an abusive relationship. Her self-esteem and confidence had dwindled while her anger reached unmanageable proportions. Boxing was her cure.
"Boxing was a way to assert myself, empower myself. And it was cheap," Reid says.
Reid, who happened to be an attorney, did not have to go to court to challenge Canada's no-women rule. Just the threat of a lawsuit caused the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association to give in.
Reid says including women actually helped the sport's reputation in her country. Dusenberry will be the first to admit, partly because of the brutality of professional boxing, amateur boxing does not have a very wholesome image. The American Medical Association treats boxing like lung cancer.
"We've talked with Canadian officials who have told us public acceptance of boxing went up when women got into boxing," Dusenberry says. "But we're in uncharted waters. I know the media is going to be on top of this and it will seem like a circus at first.
"I have both an emotional and intellectual response to women in boxing. I'm old-fashioned I guess. I don't like to see females get hit, or get their noses flattened in. I like to see dresses on girls. But they are entitled to an equal opportunity and my personal preference is of little concern."
In Dusenberry's comment lies perhaps the real truth in all the fuss. Allowing women to hit each other with their fists requires a hairpin turn in perceptions, the same perceptions that make it so hard to see women fighting on the front lines as combat soldiers.
The same society that willfully victimizes and objectifies women clings to the idea that women must also be protected. Reid knows from experience that getting punched by other women is the least of her worries.
"I'm continually having to justify what I want to do because I'm female," Malloy says. "I have people asking me, `Aren't you worried about your pretty face' like if I was ugly it wouldn't matter. People also keep asking me, `Why do you want to do this?' Boxing is just one thing I do. It's a certain will, but people don't want to understand that. They used to think women would die if they ran marathons. Of course women always could run marathons, they just didn't let them try.
"People tell me this is the hardest fight I'm ever going to have, just to get into the ring."
At the 12th Street Boxing Gym, Malloy shows femininity is not a garment you wear nor a sport you choose. After a workout she accepts a playful kiss on the cheek from Angel. She is a girl going on woman. No matter that she bleeds, sweats or curses, or that she can beat an opponent's face in.
Her reasons for boxing are the same as those of the men in her gym. She is attracted to the "rough lifestyle." She hopes to be famous someday. And she can't imagine any other activity requiring more of her will.
"Boxing is raw," Malloy says. "It's really just the two of you, that's all there is, one will against another."
Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for The Seattle Times sports department. Harley Soltes is Pacific's staff photographer.