Amleto Monacelli pops out of the dim light of the Galaxy Lanes in Venice, his bangs bouncing, his pleated trousers billowing, and shields his eyes against the midday Florida sun. He has already blocked out his failure, moments earlier, to make the round of 24 at the Bowling Proprietors Association of America U.S. Open, not to mention the thought of the 30-hour drive to Chicago that awaits him the next morning. But Monacelli can't ignore the iridescent glare from the monogrammed, rainbow-striped alpaca sweater that's dead ahead.
It is draped on the squat body of J.O. King, a gravel-voiced 60-year-old West Palm Beach retiree and bowler of dubious repute whose mastery of bluster—"When the pins go crash, I pick up the cash"—has earned him tenuous license to hold court around young pros. As King modestly explains, "These guys know they'll never meet anyone like me again."
"Am-LE-to Mo-na-CHEL-ly," King shouts from the parking lot with Cosellian grandeur. "Choked. Died on the lanes like a dog. Sorry, kid, it's time to go back to the Orinoco River basin."
Monacelli smiles at the allusion to his Venezuelan homeland, where 24-year-olds are expected to show respect for even the most obnoxious of elders. But this is America, and, particularly on the bowling tour, ego-busting is a game for all ages. "Never forget, buddy," he tells King in a voice that is part Dead End Kid, part Julio Iglesias, "I kick a lot of butts out here. Especially old hackers who wear ugly sweaters." King has to laugh.
Monacelli has a gift for making just the right adjustments, even as he battles the uncertainties of a new language, a strange culture and a nomadic existence. It's a talent that serves him well in his sport, in which success often depends on discovering the best combination of speed, angle, spin and ball composition to negotiate the thin but ever-changing sea of oil that flows almost invisibly across each lane. "Adjust or perish," the saying goes on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, and no one among the 100 or so competitors who make a living from tournament play has had to adjust more than Monacelli.
In just four seasons in the U.S., Monacelli has established himself as the best foreigner ever to compete on the PBA tour. Last year he finished 13th on the money list, with $81,083, and fifth in per-game average, with 212.978. He made the televised finals in five tournaments, finishing second three times. This year he has made $31,700, and two weeks ago he finished second in the Lite Beer Open in North Olmsted, Ohio, losing to Mal Acosta 235-195. In fact, Monacelli is so well adjusted to tour life that his peers now refer to him as the American Dream. He may even become the PBA's first sex symbol.
"I've never seen a bowler go from being seemingly very mediocre to the verge of stardom as impressively as Amleto has," says PBA Hall of Famer Nelson Burton Jr. "He knows he belongs, and when he gets a win under him, it's going to be the start of something very big."
The PBA hopes so, because Monacelli's bright disposition and exotic flair give him the aura of a dashing prince, something not easy to cultivate amid the motor homes, smoky lounges, suburban shopping centers, all-night eateries and roadside motels that make up life on the tour.
For example, Monacelli does not cotton to the polyester collection of snug Sansabelt slacks and stretchy, shiny shirts that are the staples of bowling fashion. It's a look that PBA veteran Guppy Troup, who favors green-and-yellow flowered ensembles and shoes decorated with fish (get it?), speaks for when he says, "I think those guys on Miami Vice ought to gain 50 pounds so they can fit into their clothes."
Monacelli, grandson of a tailor and son of a haberdasher, is apologetic but firm. "I'm sorry," he says. "I hate this polyester." Instead, he wears loose-fitting, contemporary styles by designers like Enrico Coveri and Giorgio Armani. "Amleto has got style," said a young spectator at the recent St. Louis Open. "The stuff he bowls in, you could wear outside and look sharp."