Let me take you back to a time when things were very different than today. Much of the world was at war. The U.S. was a sleeping giant that had yet to awaken to world events. The depression was just starting to abate and jobs in the war industries were there for the taking.
Big Guy was a little guy at the time just before WW II. This story takes place when he was 12 or 13 years old. Even though the adults in the family were working, and there was food on the table, Big Guy’s family were poor: they just didn’t know it.
Big Guy wanted to help out and decided that he would get an after-school job. His brother had just joined the Navy. His sister was in high school. Big Guy had just started junior high school. So, the Mesa Bowling Alley’s ‘Help Wanted – pin setter’ sign was right up his alley (sorry for the pun).
Pin setting wasn't a particularly prized occupation and the folks at the Mesa weren’t too picky about who they hired, as Big Guy was soon to find out. His fellow workers looked as if they had spent most of their lives working the midway at the circus: disreputable didn’t begin to cover it.
The pins were hand-set in those days. The pin setter had to send the ball back to the bowler, get the pins that had been knocked down out of the way, make sure that the others were in their spots, and get out of the way before the bowler started again.
When there weren’t any bowlers, the pin setters would relax in a little room at the back of the lanes. The older men had “big little books” lying about that featured cartoon characters doing things that they never did at the Saturday matinees that Big Guy had gone to not that long before.
When the game was over, the bowlers would usually give the pin setter a tip. If they didn’t leave a tip, a voice would come out from behind the pins at the end of the alley berating the players.
Big Guy had been on the job for about 2 weeks when there came the fateful day: the juvenile officer showed up. “Son, how old are you?” he asked Big Guy. “15, sir.” The ‘juvie’ officer looked at him, “Do you have a work permit, son?” Big Guy started to squirm. “I left my wallet at home” “Then, home is where you’re going, ‘cause you’re not working here anymore. Go collect your wages.” Big Guy’s career in pin setting was over.
Henri and I go bowling occasionally. The bowling alley that we go to is state-of-the-art. We never have gutter balls because we get the little railings put up. The pins are automatically set, the score is kept by computer, our game generates cartoons that celebrate or disparage each play, and we get a print-out of our game when we’re done. We don’t have to worry about knocking down the pin setter and there’s no one to leave a tip for. For all its bells and whistles, I’d kind of like to see a pin setter back there. I wouldn’t stiff him either.
Please give what you can to Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).