They trudge in from their workaday worlds on a mild Sunday evening, emotions on hold until 7:30 draws near. Inside the Capital Centre, as the lights dim, the smoke rises and the beer flows, these 17,421 ordinary men and women of all shapes, colors and ages will soon become bloodthirsty, seething rabble.

Welcome to the shadow world of professional wrestling. Here, you too can fume and fuss and cuss at a fevered pitch and unless you pick a fight or sling some beer, no one will notice. After all, that's what fills the arena to near capacity every month: the love of "wrasslin'" and the unleashing of pent-up emotions it brings.

Here you can watch virtue triumph over absolute evil. You can see smiling Andre Roussimoff, the 7-foot, 4-inch giant (weight: 425 pounds; shoes: red, size 20) confiscate a "foreign object," presumably a razor blade, from the no-good, 380-pound Hulk Hogan.The world famous giant remains undefeated as the match ends, with the Hulk's angry visage and matted blond hair streaming red with blood (or a reasonable facsimile).

The Hulk is bad, bad, bad. And the three secretaries in green at ringside, who have brought ready-made placards boosting the acknowledged heroes and booing the dirty tricksters, keep secret their lust for the Hulk. "People would kill us if we cheered," says Wendy VanSickle. Why do they like such an evil-doer? "He has the greatest ass in the world," someone answers.

They wore green and "Kiss me, I'm Irish" buttons to pay tribute to another favorite wrestler, Pat Patterson. VanSickle and friends, Gail Slebodnik and Debbie Wood, say they stayed away from the matches for years because "they were obviously fake." But once they saw the former Strongest Man in the World, Bruno Sammartino, get whacked with a chair on television by his protege, Larry Zbyszko, and then they knew not all of it was show.

Besides, what's so bad about wrestling? VanSickle asks. "It's better than yelling at your kids or something."

Here you can forget about the laundry and the boss or tomorrow's homework as the man they call "Howdy Doody" -- clean-cut World Wrestling Federation champion Bob Backlund -- finally emerges victorious in a sweaty, teeth-grinding, match to the finish against the growling, grunting challenger, Sgt. Bob Slaughter.

The jut-jawed Slaughter invites the crowd's rage, and they, in turn, taunt him with signs and chants: "Gomer Pyle! Gomer Pyle has lost his style!" It's the ultimate below-the-belt jeer, aimed at the meanest macho in uniform.

No matter that Slaughter once was the "white-hatted, white-gloved" good guy of another wrestling circuit, as he claimed backstage before he lost the bout for the title. The role of the black-booted villain pays more, he says. Slaughter rakes in upwards of $100,000 a year for personifying a Marine Corps drill sargeant, a position he says he actually held for four years at Parris Island, S.C.

No matter that once he leaves the arena he sheds his whip and his smirk and goes home to his wife and daughters to "live a normal life." The fans don't want to hear about his normal life.

They don't mull over the obvious questions of whether the matches are rigged, the histrionics real, or whether the blood comes from a butcher shop.

For 17-year-old Fred Creutzer IV, 82-year-old Georgette Krieger and others who watch the matches every Saturday on TV and live any time they can, the pains, the strains, the agonies and the joys are real. It all happens at ringside.

Creutzer is a slight, sweet-faced young man, but you couldn't tell if you met him at a wrestling match. He comes as the hooded "Doctor X", the anonymous phantom of wrestling. The ominous black-and-white hood is Creutzer's mark of recognition, and a number of the wrestlers acknowledge him with thumbs-up signals as they come out for their matches.

Without the hood, he says, "There's no way I'd let out my enthusiasm like I do."

The real Fred is a shy and quiet Clark Kent sort who attends Lock Raven Senior High School in Towson. Doctor X at the Capital Centre is a wiry bundle of energy who leaps to his feet to cheer his favorites and rail at those he hates. Once a wrestler threw a chair at him. Another invited him into the ring, but a security guard held Creutzer back. The hood went into the ring, though, and for a few moments, with the victorious wrestler (Don Denucci) wearing the hood, Doctor X managed finally to get a moment in the ring.

Girls won't go with him to a match, he says, because, "they say they'd be embarrassed to be with me."

Georgette Krieger, who has been attending matches for more than 25 years, is as much an institution as are some of the wrestlers she badgers. The spry, wren-like woman sits in the front row and raises her fist at the start of the evening's nine matches. "You bum, you!" she yells in a thick French accent. She scurries around to ringside and tells a bad guy who has just poured on his opponent, "Leave him alone!"

"The rougher the better," Krieger says, Church every Saturday and "wrasslin'" every time I can get to a match" are Krieger's overriding life interests. Does she tell the priest those nasty things she yells out? "That's none of his business," Krieger replies, indignant.

Krieger plunges into the show-biz aspect of the spectacle when Moondogs One and Two take turns fighting two other wrestlers in the tag-team match. The Moondogs are ugly and dirty and keep bones in their corners for luck. One tosses a bone to Krieger; from somewhere she has unearthed a white mop to stick on her head. Then, this tiny lady does a beauty-queen strut below the ring that momentarily rivals the Moondog antics for the crowd's attention. t