Butch's Big Hustle: 1976
I had worked on Wall Street for a few years and rose through the ranks quickly, I became the manager of the margin dept at Bache and then Reynolds & Company. I was very unhappy working for someone so I quit and purchased a NYC Taxi Cab medallion, much to the disagreement of my wife, who loved the idea of being the bosses wife at the office parties, what a put down it was to say my husbands a cab driver.
I decided to work nights, which at least put me back in my environment. My workday began every night at 6 PM after the rush hour; I would stop at about 12 (short hours) and go to where it all started, the bar on Ovington Ave. The bowling alley part no longer existed, the poolroom was expanded, but I was there for the card games that went on right at the bar. I would meet my partner Larry who also went to work on wall St and then purchased a cab with me. We both supplemented our night's pay from the card games each night; the other players just weren't in our class. It was like taking candy from babies; besides, they were all drunk on top of it.
One night we were having a drink and just talking, I think we wiped every body out. Larry was saying we should start getting some exercise, why not go bowling. At first I said no, but then he talked me into it, It was a Tuesday night about 2 in the morning and we soon found out that none of the local lanes were open 24 hours any more. I actually got a sick feeling in my stomach; I was 30 years old and felt as though my era had slipped by me.
We decided to take a gamble and drive out to Long Island to see if Green Acres Bowl was open. On the way out we started to reminisce about all the years of action we were involved in and could it be possible that it doesn't exist any more, I felt that was impossible, it was always there. It took about 40 minutes to get there, as we approached the shopping center, I found myself almost praying that it would be open. A great relief came across me when I saw the outside lights on. As we walked into the alleys my eyes were searching everywhere at once, Green acres was a very large establishment. Would there be any action, would there be anyone I new. All of a sudden I spotted something going on way down at the end of the right side of the bowling alley. I found my heart actually racing as we walked down there, sure as shit! It was a match game. I felt a great feeling of relief go through my body, it was only one game, but that really seemed to mean something to me.
I didn't know anyone that was there, they were descend bowlers, bowling for a few hundred a game, with about 8 people betting on the side. One guy was covering all the action for this one bowler called the beeper, he was called the Beeper because he didn't talk, he beeped. The person backing him was named Barry Bernstein, a middle aged Jewish man who owned a successful business in the garment center, and loved to gamble. After watching a few games, I did what I hadn't done since I was 11 years old. I rented a pair of house shoes and started bowling with a house ball. I bowled a few games with Larry, we both bowled pretty bad, which was nothing new to Larry; he never was much of a bowler.
The match game was over and every one was just sitting around shooting the shit. From where I was sitting with Larry it wasn't hard to over hear them, it gave me a little insight into what was going on in the area. Thursday nights, the action was at Kuskies in Lynbrook Long Island after the Classic league, a rich trucking company owner by the name of Mac, was the big money backer there, Mac was in his mid sixties. Saturday night the action was at Raceway lanes in Yonkers, a 2-floor movie house, converted into a bowling alley. The big names came from all over for the weekend action. Friday night was Whitestone lanes in Queens. The biggest action around was being backed by Bill Daly, A thin guy about 5ft 10, in his mid 20s. Bill was a 190s bowler himself, but only went head to head with someone when he had a big advantage. He figured people were willing to take a shot at his long money. His #1 horse was a 16year old by the name of Jeff Kidder; Jeff had ice water in running through his veins, and was maybe the best action bowler I ever saw. Where Bill Daly's money came from, nobody knew, he went into the Army broke, when he came out and started backing Jeff and Cliffie Bergman, he covered all bets, no matter what the amount was. It was fun watching Jeff bowling against some of Macs horses from Kuskies, Mac sponsored quite a few top pro bowlers on the PBA tour. When some of his guys were in town, Jeff would bowl them, usually coming out on top.
Instead of going to the bar every night we started to check out these different action houses, stayed quietly in the background, and just observed what was going on. Most of the players were different from the last time I was involved. To some extent the action was even bigger than when I was in it, but there wasn't as much of it, another big change was how careful everyone seemed to be about whom they bowled, they all kept looking for an edge. I was driving with Larry to Green Acres on a Monday night, this time I brought my own bowling ball and shoes; I kept them from years ago. Larry said I should get back in shape and bowl some of these guys. I agreed, but not the way he meant it. I told him my plan was for us to act like big money pigeons, I told him I wanted to bowl the backers, Barry Bernstein, and then Bill Daly with Mac betting on him. Larry said it'll never happen, some one would know me from the past and kill the deal, besides, where would I get the type of bankroll needed to bowl these guys with.. I told Larry to leave it up to me, I could con them, and the cash would come from Dougie, who was doing very well with a Amcco transmission business that he owned, Doug robbed all his customers blind.
It was some years since I saw Doug, but I new if I told him I had a pigeon he'd come running. The first thing we did that night was bundle up all our singles from the cab business with some big bills on the top and bottom. I managed to start up a conversation with Barry, mentioned that I use to be a fairly good bowler years ago but can't seem to recapture it. I figured this way I was covered incase any one told him about me. I also mentioned that I owned a cab company. I then started bowling against Larry a few alleys away and started flashing the bankroll after each game to pay off Larry for the game I just lost to him. That was the hardest part, being bad enough to actually loose to Larry.
This went on a few days a week for the next 2 months, I formed a nice relationship with Barry, a few times he asked to join in with us and make it a 3 way pot game. I declined, I told him I've seen him bowl and I wasn't back in shape yet. Barry was a low 170s bowler; I was already shooting 190s or better in other houses when I practiced for real. By locking him out I was setting him up for the big kill, then I figured the money I beat him for would be used against Bill Daly, with hopefully Mac betting on Bill, If all went right, I could make a few years pay. I already was forming a relationship with the both of them, whom both disliked Barry. I mentioned how Barry was trying to hustle me, and that if I could just get a little better I would bowl him, don't forget, Bill was a much better bowler than Barry. I kept coming off as a has been, with lots of fresh money.
Through out this period they saw Larry beat me for what seemed to be a small fortune, he would kid around with me and ask how much fresh money my cabs brought in for him that night, he acted very obnoxious. It got to a point where they all wanted a piece of me instead of just Larry getting it all. He actually would wink at them, as though to say, this is my private fish. I called my friend Doug in New Jersey, told him what was going on, and just as I had hoped he said to set it up, money was no problem.
That night at Green Acres I managed to barely beat Larry for the first time and started talking like a big shot to Barry, I said it's finally coming back, that I'm ready for him head to head. I think he thought I was nuts. Larry kept on saying that I shouldn't even consider bowling Barry, as planned, I got mad at Larry, told him to get fucked, and in the heat of anger told Barry to name the day. To my surprise, Barry said the only place he would bowl me was at Times Square Lanes in Manhattan, 42nd St & B'way. That really threw me for a loop, I couldn't figure it. Turns out that's the general area where his business is, and that's actually his home lanes. I was never in Times Square Lanes let alone bowl there, I said no problem. The match was set for that Wednesday night.
I met Doug and his brother in front of a coffee shop near the bowling alley, Larry didn't come because he and Douglas weren't on talking terms, I gave him a piece of the pie anyway. Doug's older brother came with him, had arms like tree trunks and a permit to carry. The bowling alley was right around the corner from the famous Ames poolroom, where the Hustler with Jackie Gleason was shot. Times Square lanes was below street level, as we entered, we saw quite a few people waiting for us, we were amongst the few white people there, I was beginning to wonder if this was a mistake, maybe Barry knew I was hustling him. He greeted us and asked where Larry was; I said I was still pissed at him. I introduced Doug and his brother, who accidentally on purpose, let his piece be seen. We started practicing, after about 10 balls each; we were ready to start the match. I asked Barry what he wanted to bowl for, to my astonishment, he only put down $200, At this point Douglas stood up, faced the crowd of about 25 people, took out a tremendous wade of money, all $100s, and boldly announced, I'm covering the house, put it up gentlemen.
At that moment I felt sky high, it was a long time since I felt like this last. I went on to beat Barry 7 straight games, after purposely loosing the second game. The hardest part was keeping it close. Barry kept going into the empty office of the bowling alley and getting more cash, liked he owned the place, maybe he did. We took him and the crowd for $9000 cash; the last game was a $2500 marker. I was paid the following week at Green Acres; Barry told me he'd never bowl me again. I told him that if I get better I'd like to bowl Bill Daly next, I think he knows what happened, he said to me, let me know when you set up the match, I like to bet on you, and then he winked at me. It took another month to set up a match with Bill Daly. Douglas was broke from the trotters; I got in touch with Paul, who made arrangements with his bookie Cubbie to back me. The match was set for Kuskies on a Thursday night at 1:30 am.
That night to prepare mentally for what I hoped to be the biggest money night of my life, I left my house the regular time for work, instead I went to the Manhattan Beach hotel and checked in. Went to my room, took a shower, asked for a wake up call at 9:30, laid in bed nude with just the sheet on me, I wanted to totally soak up the moment, daydream about beating Bill and Mac for about 50 big ones, all of a sudden the phone rings, It was my wake up call, I had dosed off. I met Paul and Cubby, we went to a steak joint on the way to Kuskies. Cubby kept asking me if I was sure I could beat this guy, Paul had told him it was a shoe in, which was not true, Bill Daly was a good bowler. Cubby wanted to know how much to bet, I told him to start off at $2000, he choked, but said OK. Paul said he would do the betting. I told him, Bill would just say to name it, just tell him the amount, no bluff plays. We get to the alleys, picked a pair, and started practicing. Just like I hoped, Mac was there. I'm hitting the lanes real well in practice, Paul does what I told him not to, he asks Bill Daly, what do you wanna bowl for. Bill Daly immediately shoots back, 5 grand, Mac chirps in from the background I'll take 5 more on Bill, to save face for Paul I had to say, I only wanted to start for two. I win the first game, tie the second game, win the 3rd and 4th, Bill comes over to me and has the balls to say, my lowest game is 214, and I haven't won a game yet. He said I had one of 2 choices. Change lanes or bowl Jeff Kidder on these lanes. I said no to both, he said if I didn't pick one of the two, I would never get the chance again to get into his money. I told him to get fucked, and put my ball away. We ended up winning $10,000, I never bowled him again.
As I was walking out Barry Bernstein was walking in, he really got pissed off when he found out about the match and I didn't call him. He said it wasn't the money, it was the chance to rub it in Bills face, that he really disliked him. It was mixed feelings on the way home, the money was good, but we felt cheated. Once again, Larry wasn't there, because he and Paul also don't talk anymore... butch
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