Saul Kaufman may be entering a late frame, but his game is going strong. The 100-year-old bowler, who two weeks ago racked up a turkey and a score of 162 in his Gateway Vets Bowling League, was celebrated by teammates and friends on reaching a numerical milestone notably below his average.
The April 18 gala, which featured a cake, singing and selfies, was held at North Versailles Bowling Center, and although Kaufman didn’t play that night, he still managed to be in the groove.
After entering the venue through a back door, the Oakland resident greeted guests with an announcement, “Look how I’m walking. I’m rehearsing for my old age.”
The joke was a high hit for Kaufman, who followed it up with a sarcastic spare, “Do you know why my skin is so smooth? Because I use botox.”
While the birthday boy lofted jests, more players arrived.
“We all love Saul,” said Steve Weiss, of Squirrel Hill.
“If someone could pick their grandfather, you’d pick a guy like Saul. He’s awesome,” said Leah Maretsky, of the East End.
As players enjoyed the decorative pastry, Kaufman, through quips and chronicles, recalled how he was born at “The German Hospital of Brooklyn” and that his family moved from New York City to Pittsburgh when he was 2 years old.
“Do you know why my name is Saul?” he asked. “Because I was the last of five children. When I was born, my mother said, ‘That’s-all.’”
“Jack Morris was on our team,” recalled Kaufman, who was forced to leave school three credits short of graduating. “I had to go work in a grocery store.”
After Star Markets, Kaufman entered the military and served “a lot of different details, mostly in the States.”
In 1944, as a mess sergeant at Fort Meade, Md., the Jewish enlistee was overseeing a group of German prisoners of war.
“One of the guys said if he would have met me in Germany he would have killed me,” he revealed. “I grabbed a knife and almost killed him.”
Years after the war, Kaufman met Miriam Snitzer Liebling. They married in 1960, but in 1965, she died of cancer. Several years later, Kaufman married Phyllis Soloman, who died in 2001 from scleroderma. Between both wives, Kaufman has three stepchildren, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Prior to retiring, he operated a toy store, furniture store and mattress store, “all in Lawrenceville.” The latter endeavor led him to bowling, as he was forced to give up swimming “about 25 to 30 years ago.”
“I hurt my shoulder lifting mattresses,” he said. “If you listen close it will crack.”
Dan Blumenfeld, chairman of the bowling league, mused about Kaufman’s complaints.
“The more he hurts, the better he bowls,” said the Squirrel Hill resident.
“I’m very serious about my body,” he explained. “If I don’t feel right I get it checked out right away, which is not always good for my doctor.
“Boiled, broiled and baked, no fried foods and no salt,” he added. “I talked about salt years ago.”
Looking down at the black cast coming out from his left sleeve, Kaufman said that it not only prevented him from bowling but reminded him of an old ailment.
“When I was 13 years old I broke my wrist,” he said. “Ossie Bulldog Harris was picking on my friend.”
To defend his pal, Kaufman punched the bully. Before continuing with the story, the centenarian added some historical context: “He became a professional boxer.”
Note to readers, Harris was more than a mere fighter; he twice took Sugar Ray Robinson, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, to the scorecards.
So what happened after Kaufman punched the later pugilist? “Nothing. He was surprised someone stood up to him.”
As players finished up their cake and took to the lanes, Kaufman, though restricted from recording a “five-bagger” or a “Dutch 200,” still showed his athletic prowess.
After posing for photographs, he perched short of the approach before busting out a shuffle reserved for each time he gets a strike.
“He has some good moves,” said Martin Huttner, of Squirrel Hill.
“We love watching him bowl,” added Weiss.
“It’s a big thing to be able to bowl at 100 and at his level,” said Eddie Stein, of Squirrel Hill.
For the rest of the night the praises kept coming, but Kaufman eventually closed out the party’s fill frame with a final crack: “I hate to bowl with these young guys. I’m so much better than them. When I beat them I have to go over and apologize, it’s embarrassing.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.