Anyone who feels hard done-by in the struggle to exist or awash in self-pity from a particularly bad day should walk a few steps in Bob Purzycki’s shoes (frequently of the bowling persuasion, which the world-class sportsman has worn while winning tournaments from the age of twelve to the present day), then realize how fortunate they actually are.
Becoming permanently blinded in his left eye while playing high-stakes croquet with a boyhood friend was just the beginning. As he began adjusting to life unable to totally see, the disabled pipsqueak was always welcome in the home just across the street where he was sexually molested by an opportunistic teen (the attacks went unreported: “I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” recalls Purzycki in one of numerous candid confessions to filmmakers Tom Malloy and Ross Marroso). Horsing around with his four elder sisters, the youngest surviving male (a brother died in infancy from cystic fibrosis) has his arm broken.
His comeback in the local bowling lanes was filled first with embarrassment (nothing but gutter balls from the wunder kid who seemed on track to take a spot at the World’s Fair competition) then pride as his 12-hours-per day retraining began producing consecutive strikes and victories.
Hilariously, he became the “Black Bowler of the Year” when adherence to the rules allowed him entry into the other NBA’s (the all-black National Bowling Association) singles championship.
Physical tragedy strikes again. While running errands with sister Patricia in Manhattan, Purzycki can’t see the taxicab as it flies through a changing light, crushing both legs and ripping open the already battered face. He’s pronounced dead at the scene but no one told the victim who responded with a great deal of life to his sister’s screams of anguish. 169 days at Wayne General healed much of the super bowler’s injuries, but sent him merrily down the road of drug and alcohol dependency (if the accident hadn’t occurred, Purzycki was about to join the Professional Bowling Association’s tour).
Much of the next few years has been (literally) blacked out or left in a “drinkin’ druggin’” haze. The sisters recall a Thanksgiving from hell where the near-zombie showed up to give thanks with his family: “This was not a human being, this was a chemical.”
Next, he joined the ranks of NYC’s homeless. Years later, he shamelessly gives the camera the tour of his former crack houses and 25-cent peep-show parlours where the main attraction was a quiet place to “enjoy” innumerable vials of crack (cross-reference below).
After a death wish went awry (he slipped and the barreling truck missed) salvation came in the form of Brother Gregory Lucrezia and the St. Christopher’s Inn (Graymoor). Few details are given as to this bout of tough love, prayer and pain, but the treatment worked and for three years after “graduation” Purzycki remained sober, drug free and his own man. However, the arrest and conviction on extortion and racketeering charges put another spike into this regained life (earlier reports of “Mafia” ties and living off the avails of bowling are short on evidence).
The climax comes at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas where the victor claims $100,000 (just compare that amount to an average golf tournament for a quick measure as how America ranks its professional sports. The two finalists are Purzycki (his father renamed him Perry to avoid confusion and spelling problems when just 6; the reborn Perry reverted back to his original name to further emphasize his quashing of demons within) and 23-year-old Chris James.
After the last frame has been scored, the film’s strength is showing how desperate change can happen even in the vilest circumstances. During the tour back through his childhood, the house that Purzycki (born June 2, 1952) grew up in is revisited. We learn that it burned down in 1972 but was rebuilt on the original foundation, not quite the same above ground as it used to be. There’s no better metaphor for one of the few who’s made the trip to hell and lived to tell the tale. JWR