Haynes read the bible every day, all his life. To him, God was real; and he waited for the day God would speak to him. He lived his life in a kind of dream. And at last, God spoke to him in his sleep, deep in the night. God told him truths he’d never imagined. God told him to go to the bowling alley immediately, and told him what he must do.
Ten-pin bowling (commonly just “bowling” in the United States) is a competitive sport in which a player (the “bowler”) rolls a bowling ball down a wooden or synthetic (polyurethane) lane with the objective of scoring points by knocking down as many pins as possible.
Haynes stood next to the front door of the bowling alley. He spoke loudly to the people entering the building. His raspy voice echoed in the concrete entryway. He told them what God had revealed in his dream—what God had told him to tell all the bowlers. The dream had been real, and powerful. God had truly touched him.
Don’t go in there, he said—if you bowl badly, you will end up in hell—the giant devils of bowling in hell will get you when you die. Don’t go in there—
The 41.5-inch (105 cm) wide, 60-foot (18 m) lane is bordered along its length by “gutters” — semicylindrical channels designed to collect errant balls.
Please, oh please, only go in there if you’re a great bowler. Bowl a bad game and it’s hell for you—
The bowler is allowed ten frames in which to knock down pins, with frames one (1) through nine (9) being composed of up to two rolls.
Make sure you keep score, said Haynes—do everything properly. Just going in to fool around and roll a few without keeping score is the same as a bad game—listen please listen—
In 1930, British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie, along with a team of archaeologists, discovered various primitive bowling balls, bowling pins and other materials in the grave of an Egyptian boy dating to 3200 BC, which was over 5200 years ago, very shortly before the reign of Narmer, one of the very first Egyptian pharaohs.
If you can’t score at least two hundred fifty consistently, you’re a bad bowler. Don’t go in there if you’re a bad bowler—the great devils in hell are horrible—ten stories tall and a hundred feet wide—
Modern American ten-pin bowling is most closely related to the German nine pin game Kegeln.
They pick you up in their ten foot wide hands and compress you into a ball—and roll you down a flaming alley to where it’s not ten pins standing, its ten jets of blue acetylene flame—
The modern, indoor game of bowling has long been seen as a sport of the working classes.
And you slam into a wall of razor sharp spikes and you’re rolled back to the devils through a choking smoky hot tunnel and once more you become a person and get back in the line leading to the devils—
The period from 1940 to 1960 is known as the golden age of bowling due to the sport’s great popularity increase and advances in its play.
This goes on forever—forever! Don’t go in, oh please, oh please, don’t go in—
Ten-pin bowling was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1960.
People, cried Haynes to an approaching group—don’t go in there unless you’re a great bowler—no! Don’t go in there! Tell me your average score!
Haynes stood in the way of the group and they pushed around him without even one of them looking him in the eye.
Until the mid 1980s there was little, if any, new investment in the sport, with the decline in interest being partially attributed to the complex scoring system – especially as it was a manual process then.
As the door closed behind the group Haynes shouted at the closing door.
You’ll be sorry—YOU’LL BE SORRY!
The door opened and a burly man in bowling shoes came out.
You, he said. Get out of here—you’re bad for business—
A game of ten-pin bowling is divided into ten rounds (called “frames”).
Who are you, said Haynes, puffing out his chest,
I’m the manager, said the ham-handed man. People are complaining—
Haynes raised a hand.
Oh wait—wait—you’re the manager—do you know what you’re doing here?
I think so—I run the place.
He glowered at Haynes.
There are generally two primary styles of rolling the ball down the lane.
You’re letting people go in there who don’t know how to bowl—you’re condemning them to damnation in hell—
You let bad bowlers in. And once someone bowls a bad game, or just fools around, they are condemned to hell.
Do you really believe that?
Yes—yes, I do.
There are systematic ways of using the lane arrow marks and approach dots to make it easier to line up a shot, increasing consistency of hitting the pins at the correct location every time.
Well, said the manager—I want you to go away. You’re scaring people who are coming in here. Take a hike.
No, said Haynes. If I go away they won’t know—
Then I’ll call a cop—if that’s what you need, I’ll call a cop. Its against the law for you to be hanging around here trying to scare people away.
I’m not hanging around. I’m doing God’s work.
Your choice, said the manager. He went inside.
The conventional bowling footwork styles use either a four or five step approach beginning 8 to 16 feet (2.4 to 4.8 meters) behind the foul line.
Fifteen minutes later a young crewcutted policeman got out of his police car and came up to Haynes. The manager came out.
He’s the one, said the manager.
So what’s the story here, the policeman asked Haynes.
I’m doing God’s work. I’m warning bowlers who are bad or not serious to stay away—if they don’t play a good game they’re going to go to hell. The bowling devils of hell are terribly cruel. I—
The policeman raised his hand.
If people want to bowl, they have a right to, he said. It’s not for you to tell them all this. You should mind your own business.
But God wants me to help keep people out of hell—
Then go become a priest or something—but you can’t hang around here. It’s against the law—
I am governed by God’s law, snapped Haynes.
The policemen looked closely at Haynes’ eyes.
When was the last time you used?
Used? What do you mean, used?
Used drugs. You’re obviously under the influence of some drug.
I use no drugs.
The regulations listed here are generally based around regulations set by the United States Bowling Congress and the British Tenpin Bowling Association.
Mind if I search you?
No. I’ve nothing to hide.
Here lean against this pole.
The policeman frisked Haynes.
He’s clean, he told the manager.
Of course I’m clean. The lord wants me clean.
All right, said the policeman. Now I’m giving you an order. Move on, or I’ll have to take you downtown.
I’ll have to arrest you for loitering. I don’t really want to do that. So I’ll tell you again—move on.
I—I can’t—the lord needs to tell me to move on. I can’t obey you.
All right. I’m tired of fooling around with you. You’re under arrest. Turn around—
I’m going to handcuff you. You’re under arrest.
Haynes turned around and was handcuffed. The policeman took him to the car and told him to sit in the back seat and slammed shut the car door.
The sport of ten-pin bowling is performed on a straight, narrow surface known as a lane.
You know you’re causing people to become condemned, said Haynes to the officer from the back seat. There’s no one there to warn them.
Well, I guess if people want to be condemned it’s their business.
Have you ever bowled a bad game?
Then you’re condemned too. All just because there was no one there to warn you away from the bowling alley.
I don’t think you would have kept me out of the bowling alley. I would just have thought you’re some kind of weirdo. What have you got against bowlers?
I love bowlers. I’m put here to save them. I don’t want them to be condemned like you.
Funny. I don’t feel condemned.
You’ll find out the day you die. You’ll meet those devils.
The devils of bowling.
USBCrules specify that a pin must be 15 inches (38 cm) tall and about 4.7 inches (12 cm) wide at its widest point, where a rolling ball would make contact.
The police car arrived at the county jail. Haynes got out of the car and was taken inside to be processed. After talking to him and confirming he was not on alcohol or drugs, they told him he needed a psychiatric evaluation. He was ushered into a small bare room with a table and two chairs facing one another. He waited there three hours, alone. At last a bushy-bearded man came in. He wore shiny cheap shoes and a shirt and tie. The man closed the door and sat across from Haynes. He folded his hands on the table.
All right, he said. I’ll say it right out. How did you find out about them?
The devils of bowling. How do you know so much about them?
I—I—The lord told me about them.
Have you ever bowled a bad game, Mr. Haynes?
No. I’ve never bowled. Are you one of the devils of bowling?
No—but I know all about the devils of bowling. How did the lord tell you this?
In a dream.
Was this recently? Or as a child—at what age did you have this dream?
How recently? This week? Last week? Last month? What?
Yesterday? You’ve just known this since yesterday?
Is that right—who have you told about these devils of bowling?
Just the people at the bowling alley, the policeman, and you.
The bearded man leaned back with one hand flat on the tabletop.
The circumference of the ball must not be more than 2.25 feet (0.69 m), and the ball cannot weigh more than 16 pounds (7.26 kg).
After rubbing his chin briskly for a full five minutes, the bearded man leaned forward and spoke.
You never bowled? Ever?
Everybody bowls sometime, Mr. Haynes.
No—no they don’t—
You will one day.
Now why would I do such a stupid thing?
The bearded man leaned forward.
Because there are worse things than the devils of bowling, Mr. Haynes. You’ll be forced to choose to bowl—or it will be worse for you.
What could cause me to bowl—what could be worse?
Have you ever played games, Mr. Haynes. Baseball?
Have you ever played ping pong Mr. Haynes?
No—yes—yes I have. But it was just fooling around—
There you go! Aren’t you worried about the devils of ping pong?
In general, one point is scored for each pin that is knocked over.
What? There—there are no such things—
What do you mean? Of course there are. And you know what happens to anybody who plays a bad game of ping pong?
The bearded man got up and went over and whispered into Haynes’ ear. Haynes’ jaw dropped.
No! he said. It can’t be.
Oh yes it can, said the bearded man, standing by Haynes a moment before returning to his chair. Haynes’s hands trembled atop the desk.
It’s much worse in hell for poor ping pong players. And I should know, said the bearded man. I’m close to God just like you. I have dreams too, Mr Haynes. I’ve dreamed many more dreams than you.
He shot a piercing stare through Haynes, and he nodded.
The bearded man went on in a deadpan voice.
And the last game you play poorly before you die decides the punishment you get.
What? But I—
But play just one outstanding game—in the case of bowling, one perfect game—and your reservation in hell is cancelled.
Yes. But you must never mention any of this again, to anyone.
That’s God’s law. You’re infected with condemnation. Those infected with condemnation should keep their mouths shut. Else, there’s no escape from hell for you.
Good night, Mr. Haynes. And good luck.
The bearded man winked, patted Haynes on the shoulder, and left the room. As he passed the policeman, he paused and told him what had happened.
He’s harmless now. He won’t loiter again.
Oh no? How do you know?
He’s got other things to worry about now.
The policeman smiled and nodded.
Later that night, Haynes was released.
Why are you releasing me, he asked the woman behind the counter who signed him out.
You’ve been processed, sir. That’s all I know.
You’re free to go.
She smiled at him. The smile frightened him. It was empty somehow.
At home he did not dream again, because he did not sleep. Why had God misled him so? He imagined it was for some kind of purpose. Yes, a good purpose that reflected God’s love.
God meant to save him. Without realizing it he had been condemned, and God came to him to save him.
When all ten pins are knocked down with the first ball (called a strike and typically rendered as an “X” on a scoresheet), a player is awarded ten points, plus a bonus of whatever is scored with the next two balls.
The next day Haynes went to the bowling alley, to do the first thing he had to do. The manager met him at the door.
Well? said the manager. Going to try to scare my customers away again? Get out of here—
No, said Haynes. I’m here to bowl.
What do you mean you’re here to bowl? I thought you were telling people if they bowl they’ll go to hell.
Haynes glanced down, then up.
I—I’ve changed my mind. I’ve got to bowl is all. I’ve a right to.
Well, I suppose so—your money’s good. Come on in.
The manager waved him to enter, and he went in frowning, head bowed.
And he bowled poorly, having never done it before, cheating the ping pong devils, and reserving his place in hell with the bowling devils, whose punishment was less. He thought he heard coming down through the ceiling the wailing of the pong pong devils—but this was no time to be happy.
He had to bowl on now.
He had to improve.
He had to get out of hell. Get out entirely.
He had to bowl one perfect game before the day he died.
A “spare” is awarded when no pins are left standing after the second ball of a frame.
He bowled every night after that, for the rest of his life. He constantly practiced, to improve his game. He sought the perfect game, he came close—seven strikes in a row—eight strikes in a row—and then the horrible letdown of a spare. Books and magazines about bowling cluttered his apartment. He sought out good bowlers to get advice. The few friends he had wondered what had come over him.
Haynes—bowling again tonight? asked a co-worker in the warehouse Haynes worked at during the day.
Why are you so crazy about bowling these days?
It’s a long story.
Care to tell it to me?
Haynes leaned back.
No—but to tell you the truth, I’m sick of bowling.
What—then—then why do you do it every night?
You ever play games Frank? Ping pong? Bowling?
No—I was just playing for fun. Why?
Knowing he couldn’t say anything, Haynes chewed his tongue bloody.
Haynes’ bowling magazines tell him the story. Today, over 100 million bowlers play in over 90 different countries. More men and women worldwide bowl than play any other sport, and new bowlers continue to delight in learning the game. Every person’s first game is a lousy game. This all makes Haynes want to puke and puke again. Bowling’s a cancer. A fast spreading, always terminal cancer on the human race. And how many other games have devils, besides baseball and football and bowling and ping pong, and how many more millions have been caught in those traps—but Haynes can’t deal with that right now. He’s out for himself. He just bowls on, alone, obsessed, but at the same time dreaming of the day he can stop, if that day ever comes. He had faith that God would bring him that day.
Haynes loved God.
The two sat in the Luncheonette booth, ordering; a balding man in a red plaid flannel jacket and a bushy-haired man in a black t-shirt. They fingered their menus as the spoke.
Please let me have a hamburger—and a diet Coke, said the man in the jacket.
And I will have a cheeseburger and a coffee.
The waitress wrote the orders down, got the menus, and hustled away..
Whew! said the jacketed man. What a morning. Thank God we made it to lunch.
I know, that Panko works us half to death—hey!
The man in the t-shirt gripped the edge of the table and leaned at the other.
What? said the jacketed man.
That’s a nice red plaid flannel jacket. Where’d you get it?
Target. Like it?
Yeah—I wish I had one like that.
His eyes took on an odd sheen.
Well—go down to Target and you can get one, said the other.
The waitress came up and looked at the man gripping the edge of the table and staring.
Here you go boys—diet Coke—and coffee.
He continued to lean forward and stare glassy-eyed.
Burgers will be up in a minute, said the waitress, eyeing him.
When she had walked away scratching her head, the t-shirted man lifted his face and spoke.
Tell you what Jack—let me try it on.
What? said the other, sipping at his soda.
The t-shirted man’s knuckles whitened gripping the table dge.
The jacket, he breathed. Let me try the jacket on.
I want to see how warm it is. I want to see how I look in it.
The other shrugged, said Sure, and rose and took off the jacket and handed it over. The other slipped it on. A large hole showed in the t-shirt of the man who’d worn the jacket. He sat back down as the newly jacketed man spoke.
Thanks—boy, look, he said, tugging the sleeves. A perfect fit.
The jacket’s owner picked up his soda and brought it to his lips.
Nice and warm too, said the other.
He folded his arms before him.
I know, said the owner.
The man in the jacket leaned forward on his elbows and hooked his glassy eye into the other man’s. Steam curled from the hot coffee between them.
You know what now, Jack?
The bushy haired man leaned back and fished in the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his wallet as he spoke.
I’m not going to take this jacket off—here—
He pulled money from his wallet and slid it toward the balding man.
What? What do you mean you’re not taking it off—what—what’s this money for?
The jacket. I’m buying the jacket. There’s forty bucks.
But I want my jacket back, Fred.
Fred waved in the direction of the door.
Go buy one at Target. You say they sell them there.
Well sure they do—but I—
The jacketless man gaped at the other, incredulous, as the waitress came around.
Here’s your burgers boys—hamburger, and cheeseburger.
Thanks, snapped the balding man abruptly—the waitress stared as she walked away.
The balding jacketless man pressed a finger on the table.
Hey listen—I don’t want to buy one at target—I want mine back. Okay? Come on, get up, take it off, give it back—this isn’t funny anymore—
I’m not trying to be funny. I said, go to Target.
Plus you gave me forty bucks—it cost more than forty bucks.
Oh? What’d it cost then?
He applied ketchup to his hamburger as the other answered.
Well here, said the jacketed man, chewing—here—
He produced another two bills from his wallet and tossed them on the table.
There. Twenty five more bucks. That covers it. Take the money.
He looked down at his hamburger and picked it up and continued to eat. The other hadn’t touched his food. His face reddened as he pushed the money back toward the other.
I don’t want your money—come on, Fred—take it off—
No. Go to Target—plus—eat your burger. It’ll get cold.
I’m not hungry.
I want my jacket—
The jacketed man put down his burger and pointed into the chest of the other.
So what are you going to do? Rip it off of me? Forget it, Jack—if you’re not going to rip it off of me, I’m keeping it.
You’re a rotten bastard Fred, said Jack, his lip quivering. You know that?
Fred brought his burger to his mouth and spoke quietly.
You know what Jack? You need to learn to relax. You’re wound about as tight as a drum.
He took a bite. The other burger remained untouched.
Jack waved an arm to the side and spoke loud.
What do you expect Fred? You’ve got my jacket—
Fred looked up, chewed, and swallowed.
It’s just a jacket Jack, he said, putting down his burger. There are more important things in the world. Plus—the money should make it right. The world revolves around money.
It doesn’t make it right Fred. That’s my jacket.
Why’d you give it to me to put on then? said Fred, holding out his hands palms up.
Jack gripped the tabledge tightly. His knuckles turned white.
Because you asked me.
Fred leaned back smiling and waved a hand.
So—well—I asked you. And you gave it to me, and I put it on. Didn’t it occur to you I might not want to take it off?
Jack continued gripping the edge.
Decent people don’t do things like this, he said shakily
Decent people? said Fred, leaning forward and picking up a French fry. What’s decent mean?
I don’t know the definition.
Fred shook the limp French fry and put it in his mouth and spoke with his mouth full.
I’ll tell you what decent means—it means average. Regular. Polite. Boring. Well I’m not regular polite or boring—
He reached for another fry.
I never thought you were this kind of person Fred.
What kind of person, said Fred, eating the fry.
I—I don’t know. Rotten I suppose.
Oh, there you are—now I know what you really think of me.
No wait—now listen—I only think that because you took my jacket—
Oh and all of a sudden, if I give it back, I’m a decent person again?
Fred picked up a fry and swung it back and forth before his face as he answered.
A person can just go from decent to rotten to decent to rotten and back and forth like that?
He popped the fry down his throat.
Yes they can, I guess, said Jack.
And you really want this jacket back? This jacket that turned me rotten? If I give it back to you it’ll turn you rotten too—so I’m doing you a favor by keeping it. Don’t you think? Don’t you think so Jack?
I—I don’t think so—
Fred raised a fist, and brought it down on the table. The dishes and silverware rattled.
I don’t want to turn you rotten Jack! You’re pure! I don’t want to turn you rotten!
Fred, breathed Jack—everybody in the place is looking at us.
Well, said Fred, lowering his voice—I’m willing to be rotten instead of you Jack. I’m going to do you that favor. I’m going to keep you pure.
But if you give me back my jacket I won’t turn rotten—
But the jacket turned me rotten! exclaimed Fred.
But if you give it back to me—
The waitress came up, her long face frowning.
Is everything all right here, folks?
Oh yes, said Jack.
Yes, sighed Fred.
That’s good. I hope you’re enjoying the food.
Oh yes, said Fred.
Yes, nodded Jack.
The waitress smiled and walked away.
When she was gone, Fred leaned forward.
You lied to her Jack.
You said yes when she asked if you were enjoying your food. You haven’t eaten a bit of your food. You lied to her jack—
I didn’t lie to her—
Fred’s hands formed to fists as he talked over Jack.
—see the little while you wore this jacket made you rotten too—you should be glad you’re rid of it Jack! Or you’d be even more rotten, like me!
Fred—listen—I never expected anything like this to happen—
As he spoke he pushed the money back toward Fred.
—take the money back. I want you to give the jacket back. This isn’t funny. It’s not funny anymore—
Suddenly, Fred swept his hand across and knocked Jack’s hand away and the money flew off the table.
You’re not going to bribe me with money, Jack. Why are you so anxious to turn rotten? Tell me—why are you?
Visibly shaken, Jack rose and got the money and brought it back to the table. As he sat down again, a balding man in a bloody apron and fat bellied t-shirt came up from the kitchen.
Men, he said—are you guys okay? I saw what you did—do I have to ask you to leave my place? You’re getting pretty rough here—
Oh—we’re okay, said Jack, smiling. Aren’t we Fred?
Sure, intoned Fred darkly.
Well—one more move like that and you’re out of here.
Jack and Fred nodded, Jack with a smile, Fred frowning and looking down through the tabletop, as the owner walked away after flipping the towel he was carrying up over his shoulder.
Fred, said Jack softly.
Just give me my jacket back okay?
Fred looked up.
I’m rotten, Jack, he said—just plain rotten.
He folded his arms on the table and let his face into his arms and began to sob. The entire place was looking at them then—and the waitress, and the owner. Jack rolled his eyes and took Fred’s money and rose and went toward the door, mortified.
Where are you going, said the owner—where’s our money—
Here, I’ll pay for the food, he said reaching for his wallet.
Mortified, he paid. He left. He slammed the door behind him. Once outside, he headed in the direction of Target. In the luncheonette, Fred continued to sob for a while, then rose and took off his red plaid flannel jacket, left it in the booth, and moved toward the door of the luncheonette.
Your jacket, said the owner. You left your jacket—
You can have it, said Fred. I’m through with it.
It’s not mine anyway.
Fred left the luncheonette. The owner went to the table. He leaned down and fingered the material of the jacket. Suddenly stricken glassy-eyed, he picked it up from the booth, and slowly slid it on with a smile.