Roy Bongartz says that his fingers have been numb for about two months now. Still, they seem to have been functioning well enough for him to work the keys of his typewriter, and the result—Bongartz' profile of bowler Earl Anthony—begins on page 66.
After interviewing Anthony in Tacoma, Wash., Bongartz returned to his farmhouse in Foster, R.I. to celebrate Christmas with his family. On the morning of Dec. 27 he hiked across the snowy yard to get down to work in the "skunk house," a one-room hunting cabin that smelled decidedly of skunk 13 years ago, but has more recently served as his office. The only heat in the 12' by 20' room was provided by an old wood-burning stove, but it wasn't long before the cabin seemed to warm up nicely. A little too nicely. The skunk house was afire. Because there was no water at hand, Bongartz tried to snuff the blaze with snow. After several ineffective minutes, he gave up and called the fire department. Then, despite the fire, the smoke and frozen fingers. Bongartz dashed back into the burning cabin to grab his typewriter and, happily, his research on Earl Anthony.
The $100,000 Bowling Machine is the 52-year-old Bongartz' third contribution to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in the past six months. All three articles have touched on a favorite theme of his: the obsessed person who succeeds. "I am fascinated by such people," he says, "people who concentrate their entire life force on one aim, no matter how bizarre, and succeed."
His earlier stories for us were about a Cincinnati Reds fan who ended up with most of Crosley Field in his backyard (Sept. 20, 1976), and a man who tramps around forests to record wildlife sounds (Jan. 3, 1977). Now it is Anthony, who is obsessed with—well, with sending a 16-pound ball down a 60-foot lane to knock over 10 plastic-coated maple pins.
Bongartz' own obsession is writing. "I have to be writing something all the time," he says. "I can't go anywhere without taking notes." Even on vacations, a note pad and pencil are the first items in the suitcase.
After living in France for eight years and contributing a series of short stories to The New Yorker, Bongartz returned to his native Rhode Island in 1963, bought a rundown farmhouse on three acres of land and set up shop there as a full-time free-lance writer. For a while he traveled six months a year ferreting out obsessives, but currently he seeks them mostly on assignment.
And now with winter on the wane and his fingers on the mend, Bongartz is busy with plans for a new office/workshop. Plans include neither skunks nor wood-burning stoves but, we hope, more stories for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.