Compact and intense, as if steam is going to shoot from his ears, Pork Chop winds his ball up in his left arm, and his stocky body snaps as he releases it. It speeds in a perfect arc from his left hand and slaps all ten pins around.
The 30-something steam engine averages 219; the pins had no chance.
Next up, it's Jazz, the pink-shirted, baseball-capped godfather of the team. His ears stick out elfishly behind his cap as he calculatedly approaches the lane.
He throws, and the ball rips down the right side. The pins on the left breathe a sigh of relief... that is, until the ball takes a swift left curve and crashes through them, one and all.
Jazz has just bowled his first strike of the tenth frame on the last night of league play for the Tuesday Manor Classic. It's fortuitous, because his team, Pork Chop's Posse -- so named for the meaty maestro -- is trying to hold on to third place. Then Jazz rolls two more strikes for a perfect tenth frame.
It's a beautiful thing to see "XXX" so close together on the scoreboard, but it's even prettier when the rest of the team -- Pork Chop, Zealy, and Dooley -- gets the exact same result.
Forty-eight-year-old Zealy is a tall, blue-eyed man with an easy disposition. He turns around with a Bud Light in his hand and says, "We got 300 in the tenth frame."
Manor Lanes, the 48-year-old bowling alley with a retro vibe in the heart of Wilton Manors, doesn't have an empty lane at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday. But the most interesting team in the house is also the most lowbrow, debauched, drunken, and pleasantly pornographic. In short, Night Court's kind of people.
Jazz brings over a round of shots of Jägermeister, the herbal liqueur that looks like tobacco spit and tastes like Dimetapp -- especially on the way up. But PCP loves it and loves lovin' it. The team shoots them, and then in the first round of the next game, they're off to...
"Every time I do a Jäger shot, I get a strike," Jazz says. "Unfortunately, I can only do three."
"The more they drink," says Iggy, the sober, handlebar-mustachioed member of the five-man team, who averages a 198, "the drunker I get."
Dan, a tall, gray-haired man from another team, comes over to their lane and says, "It's impressive for Pork Chop's Posse to continue to bowl as good as they bowl and continue to drink as much as they drink."
OK, OK. You get it: They're drinkers.
But they're not just any drinkers. They're athletes. And they're different from their competition. Looking down the lanes at Manor Classics, you see a few scattered beer bottles on the tables. Tuesday-night boys are serious about their bowling, and across the board, they average around 200 -- some of the best in the county.
But the table behind lane 12 looks like a frat party is under way. You've got a deck of Hustler cards that PCP uses to play rounds of poker between turns during this Boy's Night Out. And frankly, if you watch them, you'd conclude that the actual game at hand is the least of their concerns. But their high scores tell another story: They have among the lowest handicaps in the league -- which means they are perhaps the best out on this night.
Pork Chop and Dooley, a six-foot-three Irishman on the team, whose Jägermeister bowling moniker is "Doolmeister," grew up watching Zealy and Jazz dominate tournaments at local alleys. When the now-roughly-35-year-old juniors on Pork Chop's Posse were kids, they were taking notes... and spare change. As Zealy tells it, "When we used to bowl at other alleys like Flamingo Lanes, we'd give Dooley and Pork Chop quarters to go play video games and leave us alone. They were 9 and 10 years old. When my name was called over the loudspeaker that I'd won the pot, they'd come, and I'd give them $1."
Zealy, who Jazz says "could have been a professional bowler," tells his story thusly: "Years ago, in my late teens, I tried to go pro. The guy who owned Flamingo Lanes was going to back me. But I broke my ankle playing basketball. So I took a five-year hiatus when I was 22 or 23 and got messed up with things you shouldn't get messed up with." Rock 'n' roll? Drugs? Or something more sinister?
Anyway, now he's bowling with his former pupils, who consistently throw games in the mid-200s.
Steve, an old friend of the team's, hollers at Dooley, "You've been bowling with Zealy too long" as he goes up to bowl his first frame of the second game.
"I know," the pale, young-faced adult says. "I learned from the master."
"I taught him everything he knows," Zealy concurs. "Straight is great."
They're too cocky. Dooley rolls a seven split and walks away with an eight, which is an uncharacteristically bad leadoff for him.
How does this bunch of bandits deal with such a disaster? They do another round of Jäger, of course. But this time, the team loses its edge. As the game proceeds, Pork Chop starts to miss his spares. Others do about as much damage to the pins as an LSD-tripping lumberjack on a unicycle might do to a Pacific Northwest pine forest. Someone even rolled in the mid-100 range.
About midnight, the tournament ends. When the scores are tallied, Pork Chop's Posse has fallen back to fourth. The boys are packing up their balls and heading out.
Someone points out Mike Tagariello from team Cuban Sandwich and says, "Talk to that guy. He's bowled more 300 games than anyone in here."
I stop him, and he says, "I'm kind of offended that you didn't talk to me earlier."
The large, dark-haired man talks fast, and his point of view comes across like a whip. Donning an 800 ring (for bowling three games that come to more than 800), he's like the foil to Pork Chop's Posse's easy ways. "I come in here, and I have the utmost expectations. I'm a better bowler than anyone in this house. I love competition. One-on-one battle. Recognition. Respect for being left-handed. Lefties don't get no respect."
Mike says he works hard, plays hard, and doesn't sleep too much.
I suggest that he try to work naps into his hectic schedule.
"I wish I could take naps, baby. It just don't happen. I used to have sex before bowling. It was all so I could drop a nut, so that I could be relaxed when I went bowling. I want what I want, and I'll never settle for second, ever."
Zealy's attitude stands in stark contrast. His beer almost to his lips, he says, "We hate to lose. Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser. But if we lose, we know this is not our job. Some teams in the league think that way, but if it was their job, they'd be bowling in the pro tour." Then he takes another swig.