D. Keith Mano, whose look into the world of jai alai begins on page 40, might readily be identified by SI readers as the whimsical inventor of "feetball" (SI, Nov. 18, 1974), a game that requires nothing more than three living-room walls and an old Spaldeen. But Mano, 33, is more than a feetball player. He is the chief movie critic for Oui magazine. And when he isn't reviewing movies or consoling parishioners in his capacity as chairman of the Board of Advisors of St. Anne's Episcopal Mission near his home in Blooming Grove, N.Y. or rehearsing for a summer production of The Taming of the Shrew—in which he plays Petruchio opposite his wife Jo's Kate—he probably is reviewing a book for The New York Times or writing his column about manners for the Notional Review or polishing off his latest novel. "To make a living writing fiction you must produce a book every year," says Mano, currently working on a seventh novel, which he hopes to complete by next spring. "If you want to take two years, you've got to buy time somehow."
During an eight-year span beginning in 1965, when he was employed nine to five as vice-president of X-Pando Corp., a cement factory in Long Island City, Mano produced his first half-dozen novels. The critics were mellow. "Mr. Mano is very young in years," wrote The New York Times critic John Leonard, "and very old in miracles, scars, mysteries, talent." "At night I wrote fiction," says Mano. "During the day I wrote things like 'Ray, the cement you ordered is ready for pickup.' "
Two years ago Mano's book The Bridge caught Senior Editor Pat Ryan's eye. She invited him to write us a story. The result was It's Workmen's Compensation (SI, Nov. 5, 1973), an account of aging Americans caught up emotionally in playing Softball—a story "about love, not athletic prowess." For Mano, who has since left the cement business, the piece not only "bought some time," but also "made me important in the eyes of my son Roderick, who doesn't read fiction." Roderick is 10. Son Christopher, 4, remained unimpressed, Mano says, because he doesn't read anything.
Covering jai alai went surprisingly smoothly for Mano, even though he had never seen the game played before. "I liked the idea of having no idea what I'd find," he says. In Miami he met a ticket seller who invited him to a bar where the players hang out. "I thought, well, that might be interesting, but it didn't turn out to be, possibly because I don't speak Spanish and that's all they spoke there." Intrigued mostly by the restrictive policing of the whippetlike Basques who play the game, Mano developed that angle. "Unlike any other athletes in this country," he says, "jai alai players are still very closely supervised. Management—in its own words—is oversensitive to displays of exhibition or rebellion."
June 22, 1975
One problem was the matter of Mano's own finances in relation to jai alai, a betting game. "I bet quinellas that seemed obvious and kept doubling my bets," he says. "Unfortunately, I lost most of the expense advance I had received for the story." No way, Keith, to buy time.