Wayne Coutinho was the first person I ever saw dive headfirst off of the old pier at the Pay Beach. That doesn’t sound like too big of a deal until you realize that the pier was about eight or nine feet above about six or seven feet of water, depending on the tide. And he didn’t just dive; Wayne ran half the length of the pier laughing enthusiastically and leaping with abandon — just like he lived, loving the water above all else. I think Wayne was the first person to elevate the verb urinate to the noun “pissah” — the appellation he used to describe just about everything long before Paul Hebert of the television show Wicked Tuna (who reminds me of Wayne).
We made Hawaiian slings from inner tubes and tridents to spear fish and, with our friend Richie Steele, probably crabbed out Sunset Lake and first bridge by ourselves. Wayne could hold his breath longer than just about everyone, and I was among the fastest kids so we did pretty well coin diving at the Steamship dock, usually making close to three dollars apiece per ferry. That was real money back in the 60s.
We also worked across the street at the Oak Bluffs Bowling Alley as pin boys where the pay was about $1.25 an hour and tips meant a lot. The bowling alley featured duck pins, short stubby pins, and balls without holes that were somewhat larger than softballs. We sat above the pit at the end of the alley and after people bowled we jumped down, put a foot on a lever that raised metal “pins” and put the wooden pins on them for the game to continue. Having big hands, I was able to grab two to three pins each time, which was faster and earned bigger tips from appreciative bowlers. Waiting for bowlers to come in — especially on hot sunny days when everyone was at the beach — we entertained ourselves playing poker and hanging out with friends who came by to pass the time. The bowling alley was where I met lifelong friends like Buster and Richie Giordano and Georgie Giosmas. The Giordanos were across from the Flying Horses and Georgie was next to the bowling alley at the Captain’s Table Diner where Pirate Jack’s is today.
So I was really excited to read in last week’s Gazette that Reid (Sam) Dunn is proposing opening another bowling alley where that ugly, never-was-a-laundromat despoils Hiawatha Park at the other end of Circuit avenue. What a positive economic engine that could be for the town of Oak Bluffs at a location that deserves it.
I hope that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission — whose mandates include protecting unique historical and cultural qualities and maintaining the character, social fabric and sustainable economy — would be encouraged to review the project quickly.
Oak Bluffs got its first bowling alleys in the late 1800s and could use new, year-round employment. Revenue is difficult to come by. In Oak Bluffs in 2012, 79 per cent of town revenue was derived from real estate taxes and 8.4 per cent from state aid. Twenty-eight per cent of state aid came from hotel room and meals tax. In perspective, our marina, the next largest contributor to town revenue, generated $831,627 in 2012 compared with the hotel room and meals tax of $566,876. A new bowling alley would certainly add to our culture and character.
At town meeting in two weeks (Tuesday, Nov. 12) among the things for consideration are the reconstruction of town hall and the fire and ambulance building. The capital improvements are feasible thanks to town leadership whose efforts to agree often and disagree cordially have attracted the capable administration of Bob Whritenour whose talent and wide board of selectmen support have led the Island’s best-known town to fiscal stability. With the Oak Bluffs School’s debt all but satisfied, we are in the enviable position of addressing our infrastructure over the near term. I hope there is the will and inclination to look at Oak Bluffs over the longer term. For example, our top-flight police department’s quarters are going to require attention probably sooner than later. It occurs to me that having a police station situated in the middle of our annual July and August traffic jam might not be the optimum choice for the rapid response public safety requires. Somewhat shallowly one might question such a use — across from the ferry terminal, adjacent to Trinity Church (built in 1882) and across the street from arguably the Island’s most attractive park with water views from Cape Cod to Nantucket. Might the existing town hall or the fire and ambulance center be more practical locations for the police department? That should be given some architectural consideration. If so — and I encourage all to vote in the affirmative for Articles 5 and 6 — but not the motion that the article be voted as printed in the warrant. Both articles should include our police station, yes?
It turned out that I knew Wayne F. Coutinho almost all of his life. He was also the first person I ever heard use the term “metastasize.” Born on the Island August 15, 1946, he died after a long bout with cancer on June 3, 2002. After our bowling alley days I went to school and he joined the Army Reserve and we stayed friends while he pursued a career fishing. He was a great cook, often preparing meals at the Rod and Gun Club. Wayne’s claim to fame was convincing the state legislature to designate the limpet — which he found a way to cook — as a fish. We used to call limpets “suck-ons”; they’re the toenail-looking shells you find at the Inkwell that are sometimes called Atlantic slippers.
Wayne would agree — a bowling alley in Oak Bluffs would be a pissah. Keep your foot on a rock.