When the world abroad is being shaken, buffeted and torn, as it was last week, everyone needs a place of refuge from the images of misery and failure that come through the news.
Such a place is the All Star Lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard, where the Childrens Hospital Bowling League still faithfully reports each Monday night to pursue a meaningless but diverting game. No matter what is happening outside, life goes on there in the infinite trajectories of the rolling ball and in the subtle weaving of human lives.
Change never comes too fast to absorb from week to week almost without notice. Not much is new at all since my last report in April, near the climax of last winter's league. At the time, Earl Hendrex, a lithesome and crafty bowler whose motto is "no mercy," was locked in a psychological battle with the intense and muscular Luis Colon, each trying to will his team to the title.
The only real news since then is that Earl's team, the Quiet Assassins, won it by a few pins. There was a banquet in the dance hall behind the bar. League President Randy Vanderstay, also of the Quiet Assassin, awarded the trophy to his own team and then announced that romance had blossomed in its ranks. Annie Mills and Michael Eubanks would be married over the summer, he said, and henceforth would play for the Quiet Assassins as husband and wife. A band played '60s music, and the dancers danced.
Summer went uneventfully.
Sometime in the fall, the price per hour went up from $6 to $7, still a bargain.
A few unexpected bits of maintenance have been done, for the time being arresting the deterioration that had become the cause of a lot of grumbling. The ingenious machines that reset the pins--but had developed quirky habits such as dropping them like bombs--have been replaced or repaired. There are fewer calls for a human being to intervene in the whirring, clanking world behind the lanes. The old all-purpose carpet has even been replaced with white linoleum.
The most significant upkeep has been to the row of tables at the foot of the alleys, one for each set of odd and even lanes. They are wired for lights and for an overhead projector that shows the score card on a wall above. Last spring they were in sad repair. One erupted in a show of sparks one night as Tony, the ever-patient young man who is sent to solve all problems, tried to get it working. Also, the red lights on the top of the projectors went out, one by one, until none were working. The red lights, when on, summon the barmaid, allowing bowlers to take on fuel without leaving the fight.
Electrical hazards demand immediate attention. But there was a rumor on the lanes that the barmaid, Lydia, complained that the bowlers were going straight to the bar to get their drinks, and she was losing her tips. All of the red lights are working now.
The coffee shop is under new management. That's for the good. Its menu still goes from hamburgers and fries to pork noodle soup and Philippine egg rolls. Now, though, a young woman from the kitchen rolls out a red wagon each night with hot dogs and South Pacific tidbits.
The Childrens Hospital League has a slightly new look. There is a new team called Tsamba and another called No Mercy. A couple of its strong bowlers, Edmundo Angeles and Emerald Villa, sometimes come in postal workers' clothes. That's OK. The Childrens Hospital League isn't terribly exclusive. It also takes newspaper reporters.
It is now a third of the way through the winter league, enough to spot a strategic shift. Tsamba rolled along in first place for several weeks, then dropped almost to the cellar. But No Mercy proved to be legitimate. It's 10 games ahead of the pack, enough to leave second place as the only spot in contention.
Right now it's a four-way race between Luis Colon's Hang Inn Babe, the Quiet Assassins, M&Ms (the Mancilla family foursome) and D.J.S. Rock & Roll.
As of last week, D.J.S. Rock & Roll was holding on, which was a big thrill for Sarah Mason, who is in charge of payroll at Childrens Hospital. It's the team she landed on when Three Women and a Baby split up this summer. Pedro Magdaleno, the man who went with the three women, was seeking a more competitive environment, so he joined Luis Colon.
Luis still runs the side pot, an institution that redistributes a dollar a game each week from the merely optimistic to those who know their skills. But he seemed to lose some of the edge off his intensity when Roxane Alidon joined the team. She is young and effervescent and shrieks with pleasure or pain each time she bowls, depending on how many pins fall down. Luis doesn't seem to have the will to scold her.
Meanwhile, Pedro's wife, Rosie Magdaleno, joined Kathie Klein, Gloria Simington and me. I vetoed the obvious name. Anyway, Rosie's going to have the baby in the spring so the Challengers will need a substitute.
Not much else has happened.
Everyone worries that All Star Lanes will be the next bowling alley to close. They seem to be going the way of gas stations.
But the white linoleum and the row of red lights have been encouraging.