Saturday, October 03, 2009

Lawrence – My Hometown

The English Social Club

By Richard E. Noble

The English Social Club was one of a million such places in Lawrence: the French Social, the Polish National, the Irish Social, the German American, the Sons of Italy and on and on and on. Needless to say, these were all barrooms of one nature or another. Barrooms and churches, corner variety stores, sandwich shops, pool rooms and back alleys, mills and smoke stacks, penny candy and 10 cent Bea’s sauce sandwiches - Lawrence, my hometown.
There was a small duckpin bowling alley in the back of the English Social, five or six lanes I guess. How the "gang" and I incorporated ourselves as the official pin boys at the English Social Club is a matter of debate.
My recollection is that me and some of the guys were playing stickball out in the back parking lot. Jimmy Bowan was pitching to Busty Royle. Busty had brought it to a full count. Jimmy says, "Okay, now this is getting serious." He takes off his T-shirt and drapes it over the trunk of a parked car. He returns to the mound and proceeds to go through all the motions and shenanigans of a major league pitcher. He zings one right down the pipe. Busty swings and fouls it off. Jimmy gets the ball back and commences in a Bob Feller manner. Busty decides to throw him off balance. He holds up a hand indicating a break in the action. He steps back from the plate and pulls his T-shirt up over his head and tosses it over on a section of broken telephone pole that was lying over by the back of the garage that we were using as a backstop. Busty returns to the plate. Jimmy winds up, then bends over and stares down towards the plate - pretending to be getting his signals from the catcher.
"Wait a minute! Wait a Minute!" Jimmy says stepping off the mound. "I ain't throwing another pitch until you get that damn rat off your shoulder."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Busty inquires, dubiously.
"I'm talking about that damn raccoon or whatever it is that you got covering your damn shoulder. What the hell is that damn thing?"
"You mean this?" Busty says pointing to what looks to be a beaver pelt or some kind of animal flopped over his left shoulder.
"Yeah! That's right. Whatever that is, get it off your shoulder. It's distracting me. You can't have a damn dead cat over your shoulder while a guy is trying to pitch. That's against the rules."
"This ain't no dead cat. And I can't take it off my shoulder. It's a birthmark."
"Birthmark, my ass. That's a birth territory, or a birth continent. A birthmark is a small dot, a pimple or a little splash of color. A birthmark don't cover two thirds of someone's body. Stop breaking chops and get that fur coat off your shoulder or I ain't pitching."
"It doesn't come off. Now come on and just pitch."
"Oh no! Oh no, no, no, no! ... Sheehy!” Jimmy screams to our honorary commissioner of behind-the-garage stickball. “Check that thing out. If it ain't real, make him get it off there, or I ain't pitching."
Jack Sheehy strolls over to the plate. He examines Busty’s shoulder. He looks it over very closely. "It's the real thing, all right. It’s a mole or something. It is a giant, goddamn mole or something."
Jimmy Bowan drops the ball on the mound. "It can't be. I don't believe it. I gotta see this." Pretty soon there is a crowd around Busty. Everybody is ohh-ing and ahh-ing. Nobody can believe their eyes.
"You know Frankie Speers has six toes on each of his feet. Did any of you guys ever see that?"
"Six toes? You’re kidding? Nobody can have six toes. God doesn't do things like that."
"Didn't you ever see one of them freaks at the circus?"
"That's baloney! They just make them up to look like that. It's a trick. It's all phony."
"Well what is that slab of goop on Busty’s damn shoulder then?"
"That's something Busty just put there. I'll bet it peels off. Look, grab a piece of that thing and pull."
At just about the time that one of the guys was about to grab hold of Busty’s birthmark and rip it off, a little bald-headed guy poked his head out of the back door to the English Social Club and said; "Any of you kids want to make some money?"
We all rushed to the back door and pushed and shoved our way in behind the short, fat, bald-headed guy. He led us through some swinging doors and into the bowling alley. We were all excited. We were not only excited about the thought of earning some money but about being allowed into a barroom. There were too many of us for the number of alleys so we decided to take turns. We would each set up one string and then sit out and give another guy a shot at setting up a string.
We started walking down the center of the alley and instantly all the men began yelling at us. "You gotta walk down the gutters. You can't walk on the lanes, you boneheads. Them lanes is all polished up. You'll get 'em all scuffed. Don't you guys know nothin’!" We all scurried over into the gutters. Some of us guys even took off our shoes.
This was exciting. This was almost like a real job. There were rules to it and everything. That's what makes something important, you know - rules. Things with rules to them are more important than things without rules. No walking down the middle of the alley - that was a good one. Like it mattered to this group of “professional” duck pin bowlers if the lanes were polished or not. In an hour or two of 10 cent beers any of these guys will be lucky if they can roll a ball and hit any one of the several different lanes never mind a pin – with or without a kid’s sneaker print scuffing up the polished finish.
Okay, so there I am at the bottom of a bowling alley. The pins are all lying in the hole behind me. On the lane in front of me are a bunch of round black circles. The circles are set down in the shape of a diamond. Very simple - put the pins on the circles. Then you jump up onto a bench that is behind the hole. The guy up at the front of the lane throws the ball down the lane. The ball hits the pins. The pins fly all over hell and you learn to duck and cover your head. I figured that was why they called them "duck" pins. Every time the ball hit them, the pin boy had to duck.
As the men who were bowling got drunker and drunker, it seemed that they purposely tried to catch the pin boy before he got out of the hole and up onto his perch. You had to put that last pin onto the black spot and then run for your life. There was no dallying around in the "black hole." If you weren't paying attention or you dallied too long, you'd be ducking duckpins right and left. They were heavy suckers too. If you wanted the job you couldn't bitch about getting hit by the flying pins - that was all a part of it. If you wanted that ten cents a string you had to tolerate the drunken shenanigans of the fathead bowlers, too, after all, they were the adults. If you complained, they called you a sissy and told you to go home. Home was never the place that any of us guys wanted to be.
In retribution for the bowlers throwing the bowling balls at us ninety miles an hour and trying to catch us in the pit behind the alleys, we stationed some of our little people up in the bowlers’ territory. It was the duty of these “scouts” to steal glasses of draft beer off the various tables and hide them under the line of folding chairs at the back of the hall when the bowlers weren't watching. Between all the pilfered glasses of beer under the chairs and the half-full glasses left on the tables at the end of the night, we had a party each and every night. I can still remember the taste of that first beer. It was strange, bitter, warm and flat – but at least it had no cigarette butt floating in it. Nevertheless, it was the fruit from the forbidden tree. And it was ever so sweet, especially when followed by the sinful, exotic, smoky flavor of a Lucky Strike or Camel cigarette. If I close my eyes, I can taste and feel it all. Ah yes, those were the days. How I managed to live this long, is the 84,000 dollar question.

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Ma. and is now a freelance writer. He has published six books. All his books are listed on Amazon. For discounts and special offers contact Noble Publishing – buy four or more books and receive a 40% discount on the retail price. Shipping and handling included.

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