I needed money for albums and art supplies and I needed a job. We hadn’t been at the base for too long before I was looking for work. Although there weren’t many opportunities available for a twelve year old, I managed to find work during our stay at the Naval Shipyard. My brother Joe and I worked in the mornings selling 10-cent newspapers to grizzled ship workers shuffling in to work. We were stationed at the corner of Langley and Broad Streets in the shadow and smells of a large ship. We stacked our piles of Inquirers and Daily News under the roof of a dark blue plywood hut where hot coffee, cigarettes and snacks were sold. It wasn’t much money for a couple hours of work, but I was able to save enough to buy a used shoeshine kit and set up shop in the lobby of the movie theater. Officers and sailors on dates, sorting their dress Khakis, summer whites and blues needed their shoes shined.
I set up hand-painted a sign with a fancy-colored lettering: $.25 cents for a shine! My oak wood box had an angled foot rest on top where the shoe rested comfortably while being professionally polished. I had a variety of Kiwi shoe polish colors that included black, brown and neutral for white shoes. With hand daubers I scooped up small amounts of the wax polish and massaged it into the leather then rubbed briskly with wool rag buffers. The last step was finishing the shine with a soft bristled brush. I was good at it and fast, but there wasn’t a lot of time before and after movies so I rarely made more than a few bucks over a weekend. One of the perks was I was allowed to slip in and watch a current movie.
I recall seeing a couple boring long-in the-tooth John Wayne westerns, but enjoyed “To Sir with Love” with Sidney Poitier. Poitier was a cool cat. For a change, a Negro was helping poor white kids. His class was made up of a majority of surly punks and sluts and he taught them self-respect and passed on a few personal grooming tips. Lulu’s song, “To Sir with Love” was the number one song of 1967.
My dad joined the men’s league at the base’s bowling alley and was a good bowler. He claimed to have had a 188 average, which was very respectable. I wasn’t that familiar with bowling, except for watching Fred Flinstone’s bowling prowess. His twinkle toe approach was a marvel to behold. Monkeys pulled up the remaining pins with their extended tails and re-set them for an inevitable spare. I don’t recall how I got a job there, but I would have the monkey job.
The 8 bowling lanes there were old school with manual pinsetters like myself. The mechanical pinsetter was invented in 1936 by AMF, so this alley had been around for a while. We were perched on a shelf above the pin racks. After the bowling ball rolled through the pins and thudded against the pit or back wall, I jumped down into the pit, lifted the ball and rolled it back to the bowler on the return track. It was basically a steep slide that used gravity to get the ball back. After the second roll, I engaged a sweep bar that cleared the fallen pins from the pin deck. Jumping down again, I collected the pins and filled a new rack, then engaged the pins for the next frame. Each game had ten frames or twenty rolls, except the tenth frame had a bonus roll or two if you had a spare or strike. The highest possible score was 300, also called a perfect game.
It was hot back there and it could be dangerous when a freak pin would ricochet out of the pit like a 3 lb, 6oz. missile and could put a hurt on you. Then there was the drunken sailor who would try to take you out with a deadly roll when you were in the pit. So you had to be weary and quick.
An anthropologist unearthed primitive bowling artifacts that dated back over 5,000 years in ancient Egypt. Though some historians of the game attribute bowling to a religious rite practiced by German monks around 300 AD. In Medieval England during the 1100’s, a variety of lawn bowling games were played, including half-bowls, ninepins and skittles.
In the 17th century, Dutch and German settlers brought the 9-pin version of the game to the Americas. It was played in NY State in an area still called “Bowling Green.” Fondly, I recall the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving where Rip follows the sound of thunder deep in the Catskill mountains and discovers a group of small bearded men in antiquated Dutch clothing playing nine-pins. He drinks their liquor and falls into a deep sleep. So deep, he sleeps through the Revolutionary War and wakes up as an old man. As I mentioned early on, Arthur Rackham beautifully illustrated this story. Bowling was popular during colonial times and endured as an American pastime.
The hard wood bowling ball was replaced in 1905 by the Evertrue rubber ball. In 1914 Brunswick created the rubber Mineralite ball and now balls are made or urethane plastic and weigh up to 16 lbs. There are sixty-five million bowlers in the United States.
One long weekend I made Thirty-three bucks pin setting. I was paid with a tall stack of ones. I laid each bill side by side and covered my bed before jumping into the cash pile and literally rolling in the dough.