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The Pinsetter
by Jerry McCarty

From the Summer 2003 issue of
Fifty Something Magazine

Fifty Something Magazine

In 1944, the car companies were all making tanks for the war effort so used cars were scarce. On my 14th birthday I was finally, finally old enough to qualify for a drivers' license and by that afternoon was the proud owner of same.

That brought my longing for a car to a saturation point. It was no longer just something I wanted, it was mandatory, it was a compulsion. And, sigh ... I had very little money.

For months I had retrieved and sold empty bottles, mowed lawns, caddied, bussed cafeteria dishes, and accumulated a scrawny 30 dollars. I scoured the car lots, devoured help wanted ads and lowered my sights again and again until I found a model-A Roadster for $45, a beauty and a bargain.

Well, it had a little rust here and there, a headlight dangled; there were no brakes and no floorboard and the top was mangled - minor flaws. The real problem was the $15 between price and savings. Car prices were spiraling and I also fretted that I wasn't getting any younger.

My morning routine was to scan the "help wanted" ads. I saw a new one! "Pinsetters Wanted." I had watched my mother sew. She pinned the seams together before she stitched them. Was that pinsetting? I could handle that.

"Apply at AA Bowling Alleys."

Strange place to pinset.

I worried all day at school that someone would beat me to the job and the clock chose that day to slow down, but it was finally 3:30 and I rushed to the bowling alley. I had never been in one, and saw nobody who seemed even vaguely to be setting pins. But there were people taking turns throwing a big ball at some Indian clubs and a boy picking up and putting the clubs in a basket-like thing and rolling the ball back.

Maybe they needed more club handlers.

I watched for a while and noted that whenever anyone tried several times to knock down all the clubs and gave up, the boy lowered the basket so all the clubs were standing on end again for someone else to try. No brainer!

The room had seven gleaming tracks with clubs at the end of each. I might as well talk to the manager. He, at least, might know who needed that pinsetter.

I saw a thin man in a worn suit standing separate from the bowlers. He seemed anxious and fretful and, my experience was that this was a universal characteristic of bosses, so I approached and asked if he had any job openings.

He nodded toward the boy I had been watching. "I need pinsetters. You had any experience?"

From his nod, I surmised "pinsetter" must be the name of the boy's job even if it wasn't appropriate.

"No," I replied, "but I've been watching that boy and I have the game figured out."

The manager squirmed in thoughtful debate. He watched a group of bowlers waiting impatiently for a pinboy so they could start their game. They were fidgeting like they might leave any minute. Hire an inexperienced kid or lose customers? He had to gamble. He waved to the back of the room and said, "Go to it. Alley four."

I walked to the back of the room where I saw an aisle behind the pin machines and continued to the pit with a big 'four' printed above it. I watched the pinboy from this new vantage point. He was in the next pit putting the clubs in slots in the 'basket-thing'. He lowered it with a lever, released the clubs and hopped up onto a padded backstop. I looked around and saw a lever on my pit. This was going to be a snap.

I looked back down the alley and there was a ball hurtling toward me. I realized too late that if I didn't dodge it, I was going to be clobbered. Pins slammed against my legs and the ball landed in my lap.

Other than a bruised shin, I wasn't hurt. I got to my feet, picked up the pins and threw them into the 'basket-thing'. I looked from under the pin machine, took aim and rolled the ball back down the alley toward the surprised bowler who dodged the ball and then chased it to the snack bar. He was at least puzzled. I figured, since he wasn't throwing the ball again, he had given up, so I threw the rest of the pins in the basket and lowered it. The bowler saw his spare disappearing and howled in dismay.

The manager burst out of the office. I sat on the edge of the pit, well out of the way of any more flying clubs, watching the group shouting at the manager and pointing in my direction. They were too far away to hear. They hadn't held any conferences while I had been watching. Why now? Why didn't they just play their stupid game ?

Then I saw the manager stomp off to the side wall and head for me. I waited curiously. Maybe I was supposed to turn on a buzzer or light or something. I looked around for a switch or button.

"I thought you said you knew what to do," shouted the livid manager.

"Well, I thought I did. Things look different from back here. Did I do something wrong?"

"Why did you roll the ball back down the alley?"

"Didn't he want it back? I thought I saw them using the same ball over and over. The other pinboy was returning used balls when I was in the front of the room."

"You almost killed him!"

"I didn't throw it any harder at him than he did at the clubs."

The manager's voice became a shriek. "They aren't clubs. They're pins!"

"Pins then." I rubbed my shin. "Those things can hurt a guy."

"You were supposed to be up on the rim."

"The guy didn't warn me he was going to throw a ball at me."

The manager sputtered, "You're fired. Get out of here!" He stomped away, turned back, picked up a ball from a rack and put it into an inclined trough. "This is where you put a ball to return it," he snarled, "Go to some other bowling alley and scare his customers away. Git!" He walked back lost in gloom.

Now that I knew all that, he might as well have let me pinset, I grumbled to myself as I trudged unpaid out into the night

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