A hard-boiled and often funny look at the hustlers, thugs and characters of the 1960s New York bowling underworld.
Before bowling alleys were sanitized into lanes and became family fun centers, they were as colorfully unsavory as any pool hall, race track or smoke-filled poker room, generating thousands of dollars per night in bets, weapons at the ready for those reluctant to pay. Manzione plainly misses those days of “action bowling” (gambling action), which have “faded into an obscure labyrinth of characters and stories.” Characters and stories, as well as beatings and corpses, abound in this book, which mainly serves as a biography of Ernie Schlegel, action-bowling master (and delinquent)–turned–flamboyant Professional Bowlers Association mainstay, reinventing himself as “The Bicentennial Kid,” an elaborately costumed cross between a comic-book hero and Muhammad Ali. It took Schlegel decades to overcome his demons and rise to the top of his profession, but bowling kept him out of prison. Much of the book features side stories and anecdotes about guys with nicknames like “Joe the Kangaroo, who took a three-step approach and then hopped around the approach on one leg after each shot.” Or the guy who bet he could drink a fifth of Scotch straight down, did, pocketed his $50 and dropped dead on his walk home. Or “the adrenaline-hungry kids with dollar signs for pupils.” The author’s romanticizing sometimes pushes the narrative toward purple prose—“By 1980, Schlegel was still waiting for the elevator in the lobby of his dreams”—and his stories can occasionally sound like tall tales. But he loves the sport, the era and the characters and makes good on the promise that “if it is even remotely as much fun for you to read about as it was for me to write about, then the journey will have been well worth the trip for both of us.”
Who knew bowling alleys could tell such entertaining stories?