The Childrens Hospital winter league at the All-Star Lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard is just about over, and the end couldn't come soon enough for The Insane 1's.
That's a team made up of me and my teen-age son, a single mother and a street-wise youth we picked up from the neighborhood in what had seemed a propitious arrangement.
The young man was looking for a team. Our team needed a fourth player. The house, in the interest of moving things along, put us together. Our new acquisition, who had a stinging and flawless hook, contributed both the name, which he never explained, and what seemed a winning touch.
And so, sometime last October, I think it was, we set out with a promising christening from Luis Colon, the short, muscular and intense leader of the Gutter Alls team who always carries a buck knife on his belt.
"You're lucky you got him," Luis said, in his vaguely Brooklyn/East Los Angeles hybrid accent, slapping me on the back. "He's a good bowler."
Anyway, we felt we really had something to prove after the disaster of summer league. We were novices then as was our leader, Kathy Klein, who actually works at Childrens Hospital.
Just why we belong to this group, which includes secretaries, orderlies, service staff and even a personnel director for the hospital on Sunset Boulevard is already lost in history.
No doubt, it was the All-Star Lanes that made the match.
Whatever has been said about the resurgence of bowling as a leisure sport of the young professional set, the evidence has not yet been reflected there.
The alley seems to be in a period of decline. It carries a wicked aroma of cigarettes. The equipment clatters, shakes and breaks down from time to time. Sometimes the pins rack up with one missing. At other times the balls don't return. Then an employee must be dispatched into the machinery to push them along by hand.
It's a friendly place, though. The men and women behind the counter don't take offense at the patrons' frequent irritation.
They're also inclined to give considerable grace on time cards for bowling-by-the-hour, which is pretty cheap anyway at $6.
The alley has a festive air. No one seems to mind that a few toddlers are often there, running up and down the aisles. There are often parties in the adjoining bar and dance floor, usually with an Asian-Pacific flair. Spanish is still spoken there, but Tagalog is the up-and-coming language.
My son and I wandered in last spring when we were looking for an activity. Bowling alleys are usually packed with people who look too intense to give assistance to a novice. They can be intimidating.
This one wasn't. They had time for us. They learned our names and taught us the rules of scoring. And they placed us in the Childrens Hospital league, which, I was later told, uses the All-Star Lanes because it is the cheapest alley in the area.
Summer league was short and carefree. We weren't very good, but we improved.
In a close last game, we even beat the Quiet Assassins, whose leader, Earl Hendrex, is a lean and crafty man.
We were told we had earned trophies. When we collected, though, the trophies each had a bowler throwing the ball between his legs, the sign for last place.
So, 30 Tuesdays ago, we started with something to prove.
At first it was glorious. With our maturity and the addition to our team, we managed to beat teams with experienced bowlers like Earl and Luis.
Luis seemed preoccupied with the duties of the side pot, an institution in which the foolishly optimistic make weekly contributions of $1 a game to those who know what they are doing.
Earl seemed to have given up. Sometimes he'd even clown around and bowl the ball between his legs.
We jumped quickly into first place and stayed there for weeks.
Now 30 weeks have passed and a lot has changed. About 10 weeks ago, our new member disappeared without a word. From scuttlebutt we learned that he may have been detained for activities relating to a local group that, to our horror, goes by the same name as our team.
We started scrambling each week for substitutes. Our record went into a slide. First Luis' Gutter Alls, then Earl's Quiet Assassins climbed above us in the standings. Next Pedro and Rosie Magdaleno's Incorrigibles. It seemed we were still safe in the middle, comfortably ahead of the M&Ms, made up entirely of the Mancilla family, and Family Affair, consisting of Rosie Romero and her clan.
But this week, the M&Ms, who had won 23 straight, beat us three out of four. That brought them to within half a game and moved us perilously close to last place.
Now we're fighting to keep from winning trophies again.
Bowling seems so easy. You throw one good ball, a perfect curve into the pocket, and the pins explode. "I know I could do that every time," you think.
Maria, who's still in last place but threatening, is already talking about summer league. I guess The Insane 1's will be looking for a new player. And a new name.