Albert Torres keeps getting pushed into the kitchen. That’s shuffleboard jargon for losing points. Torres watches as his puck slides to the back of the pyramid painted on the floor. He lets out a quick laugh when his opponent’s puck pushes his further back. He loses this game. The Highland Park Senior Center is over his left shoulder, a paddle stick with his first name on his right. There are no set teams here, but players sometimes pair up. During tournaments the players get competitive but never to the point of being confrontational. Torres gets along fine with everyone here. For the last 12 years Torres has been playing shuffleboard on this sunken court with strangers who slowly turned into friends.
One couple drives in from Sun Valley to play on the Highland Park courts because the courts near their home don’t have enough players to make a friendly community. Everyone knows each other by name in Highland Park and are always looking for more players. But Torres ads one caveat: “They have to be retired to make it even.”
Torres can remember a time before the senior center occupied this space at the corner of Figueroa Street and York Boulevard, when the park had a pool and Highland Park was an entirely different neighborhood. “We didn’t even know we were Mexican,” says Torres, 84, of a time when the neighborhood was a mix of Italians and Latinos, though English was dominant as he remembers it and he spoke little Spanish.
What do you get out of playing shuffleboard?
I get the company. All these people here are nice Christian people. You don’t hear no profanity here or bad mouthing anybody. They’re all friendly. And the only way you get out of this family is if you die or you move away. We’ll all be playing until our 90s. We just lost a guy named Mike. He was 87 and playing until the day he got sick.
What was your profession before you retired?
I was a book maker. With horses and baseball games.
Yeah, you can say that now. Statute of limitations have passed. We used to have an inside guy when it came to the police, so they would tip us off and we didn’t get caught.
You grew up in Highland Park?
I came here in 1937 in the 4th grade. I played baseball and ran track as a child. For a time I lived in the Southwest, but came back when I was older.
It’s great that you’re staying active. How’s your health?
I’m really active, but I’m not really one hundred percent. I was in the Korean conflict, so I’m in the VA a lot. I’ve got diabetes, I take blood pressure pills. I take about 14 pills a day. I smoked up until I got cancer of the throat. They took a sixteenth of my voice box and then they took a half of my colon. And I had a heart attack about eight years ago. (He laughs) If I might happen to look healthy it’s due to my genetics.
Five Questions poses the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Want to know more about people in your neighborhood? Send suggestions to hello@TheEastsiderLA.com.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.