Action Bowling in Brooklyn – 2 Stories I’ll Never Forget! Bowling Memoirs of Johnny Petraglia

Story 1:

I grew up and worked in a 12 laner under a movie theater in Brooklyn called Fortway lanes. It was built in the late 20’s and as tough as nails. But since we didn’t have much to compare it to, it seemed normal. At 14, I wasn’t a real good bowler yet, but I was good in Fortway, and when I was 14, I looked 11.

There was a loan shark in the area named Sammy and he had a bodyguard named Bobo, both big and mean looking. One day Sammy comes up to me and says, “Listen kid, I’m going to get some guys down here to bowl you. If you lose, I lose, you don’t lose anything. If you win, you get 10% of whatever I win. That’s a deal you can’t turn down. Besides, who’s going to say no to Sammy? A couple of weeks later I’m hanging out on the corner with my friends and a Caddy pulls up. Bobo gets out and says, “Get in Sammy wants you.” We get to the lanes and there’s 3 guys there. One of them says, “This is who I’m going to bowl?”. Sammy says, “Yeah.” The guy says, “Let’s go.” Now at that time in my life, I hadn’t seen a hundred dollar bill yet. Sammy says, “What’s the bet?”. The guy says, “A grand!”. He throws ten hundred dollar bills on the table and Sammy matches it. The first one I’ve seen and I’m looking at 20 of them. Now I’m scared to death. I bowl terrible and lose. Now my 14 year old brain takes over. I’m getting thoughts like the newspaper’s saying,

“Fourteen year old found shot behind the Fortway theater!”

Sammy comes walking over, I think I’m dead and he says, “Listen kid, you’re a lot better than this guy, just relax, you’ll get him next game.” I said, “Next game?! You mean you have ANOTHER thousand dollars?”. Sammy looks at me like I’m crazy and says, “There’s going to be a lot more games.” I lose the next game by five pins, I win game three, but I lose game 4. But now I know this is a marathon and I’m getting more relaxed each game. I win 4 games in a row and the guy quits.

Sammy says, “You did real good kid.” He gives me two hundred dollar bills and says to Bobo, “Take him home and make sure he gets in the house.” I’m thinking Of course, he doesn’t want anything to happen to his new horse. Which I thought was pretty cool because now by extension I now have a bodyguard!! When I get home, I go in my room and stare at the two bills. I then realize, what am i going to do with them, I don’t even know how to break one. I can’t let my parents know I have them, and if I could break one, what am I going to do with it, buy a hamburger? So I just stuck them in a box in my drawer. I asked Sammy to pay me in fives and tens after that. In a couple of years I had more money than my father was making at work. I finally figured out what to do with the money, but that’s another story which I’ll tell later on down the road.

Story 2:

In the 1960’s the famous action place was Central Lanes in White Plains, NY. Action bowlers came from seven or eight states on Saturday night and left Sunday afternoon. Central was famous, but for local action there was Bay Ridge Lanes in Brooklyn. Bay Ridge had a huge group of guys that loved to gamble. They would bet on anything. Pinball machines, pitch quarters against the building, rip the back off matchbook covers and flip for money, throw pencils at no parking signs, and of course cards. But the thing they loved most was bowling. They would bowl pot games, bowl each other, stick broom handles in the thumbhole of bowling balls and shove them down the lane, you name it, they did it.

One day two guys that would bowl each other a couple of times a week were getting ready to bowl. One guy was, “Joe the Kangaroo.” Joe got his nickname because he took a three-step approach and was so out of time when he hit the line that he would hop in a half circle and have to look over his shoulder to see what he got. He was bowling, “Frankie the Leaper.” Frankie was a short, powerful construction worker. Every time he let go of the ball, he would fall forward onto his hands and have to do a pushup to get up. They both averaged 130, maybe 135. There was 15 to 20 guys watching the match. They were getting ready to start when I heard the most incredible statement I’ve ever heard in action. Sitting in front of me were two guys that were going to watch the match. One guy turns to his friend and says, and I quote,

“I’m going to bet on the Leaper today…he looks lined up.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

cento anni’…Johnny Petraglia


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