Originally published in Luke O’Neil’s Hell World newsletter.
Bill Moro remembers 9/11 fondly. He’d gotten up early that morning to go to work at the paper mill like any other day. Tucked into the southwest corner of Massachusetts, not far from the New York and Connecticut borders, the area around Great Barrington, where Bill has lived his entire 67 years, was one of the centers of paper production in the country until they closed nearly all the plants. Bill’s plant, now known as Onyx Specialty Papers and the last mill in the area, sits on the Housatonic River, which winds its way south from there nearly 150 miles to Long Island Sound. If he’d picked up a copy of the Berkshire Eagle that morning, Bill would’ve seen headlines that didn’t seem all that out of the ordinary. “Pittsfield’s Postmaster transferred,” read one. “Experts say Mideast talks already in doubt,” read another.
And then it was 9/11.
“I was at work when it happened,” Bill said. “Of course we didn’t have a television there, but we had a radio and a newsflash came across the radio. So of course everything was dead silence.”
Bill and his co-workers finished out the day, and not knowing what else to do he said fuck it, let’s go bowling, and, man, is he glad he did because it was the best game of his life. He’d never bowled so well in decades of trying. He’d never bowl so well again. Amid the chaos and fear and uncertainty of the world changing in ways neither he nor the rest of us yet understood, Bill Moro went and bowled a perfect damn game on 9/11.
I first heard about Bill’s game this summer, when someone on Twitter posted a picture of him. When you bowl a perfect game at the Cove Lanes there in Great Barrington, they go and put your photo on the wall as a way of commemorating the occasion.
I knew instantly I wanted to talk to Bill when I saw the photo, but he wasn’t so easy to track down. I reached out to the bowling alley and after a couple weeks Juanita O’Rourke, one of the owners, wrote me back.
“I do believe that the bowler who bowled the 300 on 9/11 no longer bowls at the Cove and has not for many years,” she told me. “I do not have contact information for him although I do believe he is local. Hope that gives you something to go on,” she wrote. “Sorry I’m not much help.”
O’Rourke bought the lanes with two of her nephews in 2003. Both of the nephews had worked there doing odd jobs in exchange for unlimited video games when they were kids. The timing of the purchase was perfect for one of them, Michael Hankey. He was looking to try something new after he’d lost his job of 10 years at the Rising Mill, which had been shuttered by new ownership the year before. Built in 1873, the Rising Mill was once the biggest employer in the area and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
I asked everyone I knew from the Berkshire County region if they knew anyone named Bill Moro. Why, they’d ask. Uh … because I saw he bowled a perfect game on 9/11, and I wanted to interview him about that, I said, which made me feel like a pervert of some kind.
And then, finally, on 9/11 of this year, I found what I thought might be the number and address for a William Moro in Great Barrington. Could it be him? Would he even still be alive?
It was our man. The man. Bill the man.
His lovely wife answered the phone and didn’t seem all that surprised when I explained sheepishly what I was calling about. “Seventeen years ago today he bowled a perfect game down there,” she told me with pride. It was as if they’d been waiting for someone to call this entire time.
Bill and I had a great chat, and then the next day my computer crashed. Motherfucker.
The interview, along with a ton of other work I’d been doing, disappeared forever. Was I getting too close to the truth?
A couple months later, I said screw it and decided I’d call Bill back and do it all over again. I didn’t want to let his story go untold. He was happy to oblige me. After all, 9/11 was one of the best days of his life.
Bill and I talked about his big game, the changes to Great Barrington and the paper industry, and his opinions on everything from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to, well, let’s just say the pins weren’t the only thing Bill was surprised to see fall so fast that day.
Walk me through the game that night. When was it?
Well, we started at 6:30 in the evening for practice, and then at 7 the league starts. So of course everybody was talking about the events of the day.
And you all decided, despite what happened, you might as well go bowling anyway?
Yeah. They still held the leagues. Everybody else was going to be there, and they didn’t cancel anything, so all the teams showed up.
How regularly had you been bowling?
Once a week. We bowled every Tuesday night.
Tell me a little more about the day.
I was at work when it happened. Of course we didn’t have a television there, but we had a radio and a newsflash came across the radio. So of course everything was dead silence. We’re listening and listening to all the things that are going on. We stayed at work. When I got out of work, I went home and watched the news, got home probably 3:30-ish, had supper, then I got ready to go bowling. Just had the TV on all the while listening to all the updates and the reruns, the constant reruns they were showing.
When we got to the lanes, of course everybody was talking there, and they had TVs on at the bar. It was a lot of conversation about … wondering what would happen next.
Do you remember what you were all thinking? Were you scared? Did you think we were going to go to war?
Well, we knew it was a terrorist attack, and the investigation was where they came from, how they got in, how they managed to do all that. It was a high alert for everything, railroads, planes. Of course they grounded all the planes. There was no war, we weren’t worried about war, but the talk was about getting back at them. Find out who did it and strike back.
Was that your first perfect game?
Yes! My one and only. It was fantastic. I had been bowling steadily in leagues probably, let’s see, I started in leagues when I was around 28 or so. I’m 67 years old now.
Was it common for other guys in the league to bowl perfect games?
Well, there’s a few guys that … they have a lot of pictures on the walls down there of people who bowled 300. Once you get one, they put your picture up. There’s some guys, I’ve got a couple of nephews, I think one of them has probably 30 perfect games.
I never bowled a perfect game again. I haven’t bowled in probably 12, 13 years now.
Because of the establishment. They weren’t taking care of the facilities very well. The league started, well, we think they were screwing around with the money, so our team voted to drop right out. We got tired of it.
You didn’t go to another lane?
The only one nearby is up in Pittsfield, about 14 miles from here. It wasn’t worth traveling all the way up there, bowl for two and half, three hours, then come back late at night.
Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. You recently retired from the paper mill you worked at?
I’m gonna retire next March. I’ll have 50 years in. Now it’s called Onyx Specialty Papers.
Personally? I finish and ship rolls. It’s a machine, you’re operating a machine, and then you’re on a clamp truck, where you load trailers. You do office paper work. … I started in the paper mill when I was 18.
What’s changed about it since then?
There’s a lot. The progress of the equipment, different papers they make, new procedures. A lot of changes in 50 years!
People don’t seem to use as much paper as we used to, right?
It depends on the papers now. It’s different papers that we make. It’s a specialty. It’s not writing paper, it’s not newspaper, it’s papers they use in transmissions, friction papers. One of our biggest items now is a blood paper they use for sampling blood ― that goes all over the country. We make paper for laminates.
I guess people don’t really think about paper that much.
Were you in a union there?
No, they never had a union. They had a couple of votes years ago, and they never passed, so we’ve never been unionized.
They treat you OK though?
Yeah. The pay is good and the benefits are good.
The reason I’m interested in your story is because there’s something fascinating about going bowling directly after a terrorist attack, right?
That was the concept. Rudy Giuliani at the time said America’s gonna go about their duty, we’re not gonna let this divert us in anyway. We’re America, we’re not gonna be scared by this. Everybody should do what they do, and we did. The whole country did. We didn’t just stop. We had jobs to go to, functions to go to.
Do you remember what people were saying, any conversations?
No, just discussing who did it and why and how they managed to get on board. You can think about it now, but there’s all these conspiracy theories they have out there now, too. I’ve been looking at a lot of that online.
You find it a little suspicious how the buildings came down, right?
Oh, yeah. When you hear experts say it was a planned demolition, the way they came down. Thermite and different things that were used, and how fast they cleaned up and got rid of evidence. You gotta admit they did a quick job cleaning up that mess to get things back in order. And Building 7, which was not affected at all. That just came down? That was very suspicious to me.
Do you believe any of these other conspiracy theories they have going around now?
There’s a few. The biggest one they were talking about on the news just recently was about the Kennedy assassination. The anniversary of that. The government hiding things.
Who do you think did that?
Oh, well, from what I understand [Lyndon] Johnson had a lot to do with it. He and [John F.] Kennedy were always feuding. Kennedy said something or did something to Johnson, and Johnson said he wasn’t going to let him get away with it. They had an interview with Johnson’s mistress. She gave a lot of evidence too, so …
Interesting. The world is pretty crazy.
You’re not a Trump guy, though, right? What do you think about him?
No! I despise the man. He’s not doing a good job at all. I don’t like his arrogance. He’s manipulative. He wants to be like Putin. He wants to be a tyrant. He wants total control, control over the judiciary, over everything. He gives his family, who are not qualified for the positions, he gives them positions.
Were you a Clinton supporter?
Well … much of what she did was good, but because of all the allegations and stuff, we were kind of tired of Clinton for a while. Eight years of her husband, then all her positions in the State Department and everything else. I really don’t know, just time for new blood.
What about Bernie [Sanders]?
Bernie had very good ideas for the people. Universal health care, that’s one of the big topics. One thing Trump wanted was to get rid of Obamacare. He was gonna make it better ― repeal and replace, all that. He hasn’t done anything for health care!
You prefer candidates that care about working people.
Absolutely. The rich are getting richer. The tax plan just showed that. That was supposed to be trickle-down. Look what’s happening with GM now. Closing plants, thousands of people going to be out of work. It’s just not working.
What’s Great Barrington like? Kind of artsy and cute?
Yeah, it’s a tourist place now. Antique stores, just a lot of shops. A quaint little town.
Has it changed since you were a kid?
Yes, it has. It’s gotten … it’s changed a lot for the wealthy people. You’ve got tourists that come in from the cities, so that changes prices and attitudes. Some of the out-of-towners have gotten involved in restructuring the view of the town. They redid the whole Main Street, which is a mess. It’s not very good.
Did they put a marijuana dispensary out there? What do you think about that?
We have one here. I never had marijuana. I don’t do drugs, never did. So I don’t … I guess it’s OK. If alcohol is legal ― they’re just going to have to monitor it the same way they do alcohol.
I think I read somewhere that Cove Lanes was supposed to be an influence on the Farrelly brothers. You know those guys? [Editor’s note: In fact, the Coen brothers, who made “The Big Lebowski,” are the directorial duo said to have bowled at Cove Lanes as college students.]
No, I don’t know them. I never heard that.
They made the movie “Kingpin.” You ever see that?
Do you have a favorite bowling movie?
Oh, I don’t know that there are many.
What about “The Big Lebowski”?
Oh, you gotta watch it. It’s so good.
Luke O’Neil is a journalist in Boston. Subscribe to Hell World here.