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Three score and ten or more

Friday, May 20, 2011

Shorter post (Thank Heavens)-pin setting for bowlers.

In doing the research through journals and  pictures for DADDY’S LITTLE BOY,  I found a great many memories (some that preceded Eric’s existence by years. ) that seemed irrelevant to the central subject pf that post, and to the next long tome that will come out in a few months called NOT DADDY’S LITTLE BOY.

For instance, I am a fan of the TV show BONES, and this evening the episode dealt with a bowling center and the inhabitants thereof.  I  spent a couple of years during my junior high and high school period working in bowling alleys.  I confess that the characterization of “league” bowlers in that episode didn’t relate to any of the types of bowlers I saw  in the late nineteen forties in real life, nor to those whom I met more recently in bowling alleys where I went before my physical condition made bowling totally out of the question.

Other things about the episode recalled memories that, though different were very vivid.   When I was a pin setter in the bowling alley in Pocatello, Idaho, the process and equipment was totally different.  Back then (not in the same establishments) there were two types of bowling:  duck pins, and regular bowling.  Duck pins were quiet small and the bowling balls were not much bigger than a competition soft ball.  There were no holes in the balls for fingers and the pins were all set by hand.  A pin setter had to clear the lane (pick up all the fallen pins) by hand, and for a new frame, each pin was hand set by the pin-setter.   I tried that and found myself totally unable to do the job without slowing the game down to nothing.  One evening on the job was quite enough for me, and much too much for the owner of the lanes. (ignominiously fired after about two  hours of incompetence)

The next episode came in a real bowling alley with full size pins and balls in lanes owned and run by a really terrific guy called “Tuff” (or “Tough”) Nelson (who in an unrelated  fact had a really beautiful daughter who was one of my closer friends through Junior High School and on whom I had a crush for about three years.  Having a “crush” can really make a plain friendship complicated.  I am not sure whether she knew  I was bonkers about her, but if she did, she was kind enough no to let it intrude on our general friendship ).  I can’t remember the name of the bowling alley but it was on the west side of Pocatello, not far from the Portneuf River.  My older brother started working there before me, and somehow recruited me, or got me in touch with the boss.  Setting pins in a bowling alley at that time was a hot, physical, and exciting job. ( By the way, I called the owner, MR. NELSON, Tuff was for friends and equals.)

Nowadays, bowlers are accustomed to throwing the first ball, seeing the rack come down and pick up the remaining pins, sweep the fallen pins away, returning the ball and resetting the pins in their proper places all in one, sort of, mystic act.  Back then, when you bowled your first ball, a pinsetter had to jump down, pick up the ball to return it and clear out the fallen pins and put then in the proper slots in the rack.  .  He/she (she’s were rare but those who were willing to put up with it were good) then had to jump up on a bench and try to be out of the way when your next ball came down the lane. When your second ball had been thrown, the process was repeated, the ball returned and the rack was manually dropped to put the pins in place for the next frame.

Pinsetters were paid by the line (a completed score for one bowler on a score sheet).  Most games, if I remember right were good for at least two lines (at about a dime apiece, I think)  If bowlers were fast, playing more and talking less, you could make pretty good money (especially with tips, which were common and expected.)  Beginning bowlers were a pain, and I think that we  had an uncomplimentary name for them.  (Though if it were as uncomplimentary as I recall, it was nothing that I would write in a blog. )

The best job was to set pins for a league.  Each game would use two lanes and, most of the time, one pinsetter worked both lanes, jumping from one lane to the other.  If a guy were good enough to keep both lanes moving for an entire league series  ( I don’t remember  how many games on a league night but it must have been ten or more) one could rack up pretty good cash and often make a tip of five or ten bucks.  The guys who were really good were often requested by teams, and that was great.  I was pretty good, ( good enough to make good tips), but not good enough to often be requested.

Accidents were frequent in the pits, but not so often in leagues.  Beginning bowlers would often make a second bowl while you were still in the pit clearing pins.  I can think of very few things less pleasant that looking up to see a bowling ball speeding toward your head while you are still bent over picking up pins.   My brother got a broken nose from a pin that was hit by a ball while he was still in the pit.  Fortunately he was not hit by the ball itself.

One of the nice things about working there was that, when the lanes were slow, even if you couldn’t make much money, you could trade off with a friend, set pins for him one line and then he would set pins for you and you could have a lot of fun bowling free.  I got to be a fair bowler before I quit, bowling in the high hundreds or low two hundreds pretty often. (160 to 220, I never bowled a game over 250, a perfect game is 300 and I only saw one 300 game while I was working there.

We worked pretty till pretty late, especially on league nights, but Pocatello had a pretty good bus system and most of us were able to get the bus home.  I don’t remember any of the pinsetters except one guy who was in his forties or so, and had been doing it for a long time, having cars.   I do remember a few folks getting picked up by their  parents.  If we missed the bus it meant a long walk home for most of us.   Sometimes we created a little trouble.  I blogged, several years ago, I think, of one occasion where six or eight of us were walking home down Center Street when we came to the Rialto Theatre, where the movies for the night were still playing .  There was a little Japanese or European car the looked like a small box, sitting in front of the theatre, and as if on cue, we picked up the car, stood it on its rear bumper and slid it behind the box office, letting it down carefully so that it blocked all the exit doors.  We never considered the possibility of a fire or something like that, and I suspect that if the police had ever discovered who did it, that we would have spent our lives with a police record, but it happened.  That was the only time I remember when we did something really stupid on the way home.


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