It was neither always desirable nor possible to hike or sled on all winter weekend days. In that trusting era, parents could take a group of young boys someplace warm and cozy for a good part of a Saturday and leave them knowing that they were in safe hands. Our winter refuge was a new bowling alley built on a hillside cut on route 8 south of town – Lar- Wick Lanes. The bowling alley was a modern, clean and uncrowded place on a typical Saturday morning. One mother would drive us down about ten and we engaged in a ritual that varied little from week to week. We bowled three slow paced games with no sense of urgency or hard-nosed competition. Bowling had the wonderful quality of being relatively easy for beginners and also allowing a fairly nice learning curve that provided the illusion of continuous improvement with almost no effort. When we began we were able to break 100. Soon we were in the range of 160 with the pleasant feature of almost never having any one of us dominate.
When the bowling was complete we moved to the pool table where a quarter could buy you a game on a quality table. If you caught the balls before they fell irretrievably into the reservoir, you could extend your game for quite a bit of time. While some played pool, others queued up to play the one and only pinball machine within proximity to our neighborhood. The game, Monkey Jungle, featured a scenario where a man with a pith helmet was earnestly looking for something in a place that could have been Florida or it could have been Panama. Exactly what they were looking for we never knew, but Tuesday Weld and Gina Lolobrigida –or their look alikes – were also along for the adventure dressed in outfits that left a lot of room for mosquito bites. A succession of light-up monkeys in ever-ascending positions along a bent coconut palm indicated how well you were playing. If the monkey could make it all the way up to the coconuts, you could get a free game.
Sometimes I would ask the cashier if she had any Mercury dimes or Buffalo nickels which were still in circulation. She would oblige and allow me to buy them for face value. The culmination of the day was buying a fresh hamburger at the lunch counter. I remember the anticipation as we watched the lunch counter lady prepare our meal – it was as if they were there just for us. There was a bit of truth in this apparent personalized service and that meant it was too good to last. After the third year, our having the exclusive run of the bowling alley translated into a failing business. Failing businesses in our region were particularly susceptible to fires and Lar-Wick Lanes was no exception.
Beyond our adolescent field of vision, machinations about the fate of the place were no doubt in motion. One morning we heard on WBUT news (“with the accent on local”) that a fire had consumed our winter weekend lair. We had an emergency neighborhood pow-wow over the phone. We decided that we needed to verify this for ourselves. We jumped on our bikes and rode down to the site where the lanes had until recently stood. We sadly approached the still steaming residue. Sure enough, among the ruins at an outside wall was the display panel of the Monkey Jungle. The happy face of the playful simian was now frozen forever well short of the prized coconuts that still dangled above Tuesday Weld who was smiling, incongruously, at our great misfortune.