Them Catholics sure know how to make themselves miserable, let me tell you. I know, ’cause I used to work with one. Fred Murphy, that was his name, he used to work down in the supply cage, only decent guy in the whole department. Everybody on the shop floor knew to go to Freddy if you needed something, ’cause he’d actually listen to you and do whatever he could to help. Maybe he couldn’t always fix your problem, but he’d go to bat for you every time. I never knew anybody who didn’t like Freddy, except maybe the old fart who used to run the supply cage like it was his kingdom and we were the serfs. Anyway, ol’ Fred was a good guy.
Now we were all second shifters back then, including Fred, and somehow or other we started up a Friday morning bowling league. Might have been Mel Gordon’s idea, he was a pretty good bowler before his heart attack. The rest of us were just in it for a good time, you know? Couple of beers, some greasy food, who cared about the score? It was a great way to unwind before the last shift of the week, and you knew the weekend was on the other side. Fred was kind of a quiet guy, not pushy at all, and it took awhile before someone thought to ask him to join our league, since it was all guys from the floor. But once he joined us, he never missed a Friday, not so long as the league lasted.
We were all glad to have Freddy with us, but it turned out he wasn’t much of a bowler. He said he’d bowled before, but that might just be the only lie that Fred Murphy ever told. He was tossing more gutter balls than anything else for the first month or so. And we could tell he was reading some kind of bowling books or something, ’cause then he came up with his famous approach and started trying to spin the ball. It cracked us up, and we used to ride him about it, but ol’ Fred, bless his heart, he was a real gentle guy, and he must have known we all liked him, ’cause it never seemed to bother him when we kidded him about his lousy bowling. He’d just smile and order another Dr. Pepper, never any beer for Freddy. And he’d be the first to slap a guy’s hand for getting a strike. Real friendly guy, ol’ Fred.
And as far as him being Catholic, you never would have known it, not like he ever talked about it, except he’d pick the pepperoni off his pizza on account of it being Friday. And he’d keep that smudge of ashes on his forehead from Ash Wednesday all day long, like it was a sin to wash it off or something. Other than that though, he kept his personal business to himself. He never acted like he was better than anybody else. He might not even have liked being Catholic, for all I know.
Anyway, one Friday morning we’re putting on our shoes, and Bill Haller says, “Where’s Freddy?” ‘Cause Fred was always there before the rest of us for some reason. And I said, “I don’t know, he didn’t say nothing about it last night.” And everybody knew Freddy never got sick, and he’d never missed our Friday league since the day he joined it. So we decide to wait a few minutes, you know, out of respect, and we toss back a round, and we’re just about to start without him when we see Fred come through the door looking like he’d just lost his best friend. I mean, Freddy wasn’t one of those guys who goes around looking happy all the time, but he was looking pretty grim.
So I say, “Freddy, what’s wrong?” But he just shakes his head and doesn’t say nothing, just puts on his shoes with this grim look on his face and drops his ball in the ball return like it’s got germs on it. Well, by now, Mel Gordon’s getting a little hot about having to wait so long to play, so we start the games and act like nothing’s wrong. But we’re all worried about Freddy, ’cause that wasn’t like him at all. And then it’s his turn, and he picks up his ball and goes right into his delivery, without so much as a second’s look down the alley, and would you believe that ball has the perfect spin on it, and his first ball’s a strike! We’re giving each other high fives, none of us can believe it, and poor old Freddy just shuffles back to his seat and plops down without a word. Doesn’t even want a Dr. Pepper. We can’t figure it out.
Next ball he does the same thing as before, just grabs his ball and throws it down the lane in two seconds, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t get another strike. This has never happened before, and we’re going crazy. “Freddy! Freddy! You’re doing great, Freddy!” But it’s like he couldn’t care less, and it’s starting to creep us out. I mean, what’s wrong with this guy? But he won’t say nothing, just stays slumped down in his seat staring at his shoes, and I figure there must be trouble at home, right? That would explain why he was late. Before I can ask him about it, though, it’s his turn again, and this time he leaves a Woolworth split. Now, ordinarily, Freddy was about as good at picking up spares as he was at bowling strikes, which is to say not at all. But this time he pulls off a textbook spare without taking any more time to study the lane than he did before. And the guys are going bananas, ’cause they know Freddy has bowled entire games with a lower score than he’s just picked up from his first three frames.
So I plop myself down next to Freddy to make him spill the beans. “Okay, Fred,” I tell him, “out with it. You’ll feel better if you tell somebody. You in the doghouse with Bev?” He doesn’t want to talk, but I keep at him, and every so often he gets up and throws a strike or picks up a spare, never leaves a frame open. Unbelievable. And finally he cracks and tells me that Bev didn’t want him to go bowling that morning, that he was almost out the door when she started giving him hell for going bowling.
And I say, “Wait a second, Freddy, this makes no sense. How long you been bowling with us now? You’re telling me your old lady’s just now figuring it out?” But Freddy says that’s not it at all, and then he lays it on the line. Suddenly it all makes sense. The lateness. The haunted look on his face. The total lack of any joy from frame after frame of the best he’s ever bowled. He tells me – get this – Bev didn’t want him to go bowling because it was Good Friday, and it was a sin to enjoy yourself on purpose on Good Friday.
Can you believe that? And here I didn’t even know it was Good Friday until Freddy told me, not like I would have cared one way or the other, but there you go. Not allowed to have a good time on Good Friday. What the hell’s good about it, then, I want to ask him, but I got too much respect for Freddy to ride him for that. It just makes me sad, seeing him so glum and worried he’s doing something awful just because he’s doing what he does every other Friday, and it’s not like he’s not a hard worker or nothing like that. It also makes me kind of mad, because if that’s what religion is, I tell myself, I don’t want no part of it. Imagine, the best game a guy ever bowls, and he can’t enjoy it. Freddy ends up with a 256, which is what he usually has to bowl three or four games and add up the scores together to get, and he goes off to work just as sour-faced as he came into the bowling alley. And the next week, he’s his usual cheery self, and he’s back to being a lousy bowler.
Some Good Friday, huh? But like I said, them Catholics, they know how to make themselves miserable.