Bowling: America’s pastime. A hard rubber or plastic composite sphere hits the oily wood lane and races down to a bunch of plastic coated, wood pins. The object of the game is to hit as many pins as possible in the span of ten frames. It seems kind of pointless when described as forensically as that, but like most activities, there is more to it than that.
My first memory of bowling goes back to my 9th birthday party in White Plains, NY. Bowling parties must have been different back then. For one, I don’t think that lane bumpers had been invented yet. If you were a gutter-ball bowler, your technique would be painfully displayed for all to see. As a “pin challenged” beginner, it wouldn’t be uncommon for your score to hover around 25. I’ve seen kids today use the bumpers like the bumpers on a pool table. If you have a grade point average of ‘C’ or better in Geometry, you can clear 100 points easy in one game. As a parting gift, the bowling alley employees gave me a real bowling pin. It might have been slated to go into the trash. It was chewed up and cracked from the pin setting machines behind the lanes. Today they give kids new pins as souvenirs.
My Mom and my grandparents were bowlers. We used to play around with my grandfather’s bowling ball after finding it and pulling it out of his closet. It was black and it weighed a ton; at least that’s what we thought at the time. It only had two holes: one for the thumb and an oval shaped hole for the index and middle fingers. If there were a movie about extraterrestrials bowlers, this could easily have been one of their balls.
Early in my league days, I had a green marbleized plastic ball. I bought it at Kmart. They may have even drilled the holes in the store. It didn’t weigh very much, but it sure looked cool. That Kmart is now a Home Depot, but that’s neither here nor there. While bowling, I would snack on M&Ms that I’d bought from the bowling alley's vending machine. It was my little secret that when I ate the green ones, I would bowl a strike.
I bought my current bowling ball many years ago, used, at the recommendation of popular pro shop. I remember that the color didn’t appeal to me very much, but it was a ball that had quite the reputation for its hook and strength. It was heavy, 16 pounds, and had a bunch of plugged finger holes from a previous owner. In explaining the physical properties of the ball’s core, all I can remember is that it has some kind of shaped weight inside that gives it specific dynamic control. I believe that it is the shape of one of the Lucky Charms, but I don’t remember which one. Is there a chance that it is a placebo ball – and there is no diamond or four leaf clover inside? We’ll never know, because I don’t plan on ever cutting the ball in half.
I used to bowl in a lot of leagues. There were weekend leagues, weekday leagues, summer leagues and Vegas leagues. I remember that most of the team names that we used were pretty ridiculous in retrospect: Strike Force, Who Dat? and The Pinbusters – you get the idea.
My ball never let me down. It did what it was supposed to do, when I did what I was supposed to do. We bowled together through my back and knee problems. You’d think that I was a national pro the way I would bowl through the pain. I hardly ever bowl anymore, but when I do I still like to use my ball. As old and beat up as it is, it gives me an edge that shows off my bowling technique. House balls have never quite worked for me. And, maybe it's a sad commentary on my personality, but I still don't like to lose - even it it's at a kid's birthday party. Pride over mercy, I should probably work on that someday.
Today, a lot of the alleys that I used to bowl at have been converted into auto dealerships or Best Buys. I notice that there are a lot of ‘designer’ alleys popping up at outdoor shopping centers. I’m not sure that these alleys are for serious bowling as they are for social gatherings and parties. There is a lot of loud music and low-key lighting that isn’t conducive to focus and real concentration. You can’t really see the dots on the lanes (which some people actually use for their aim).
I also have that old birthday pin tucked away. Yes, it’s chewed up and most people would consider it garbage, but it’s a piece of me just like my old Lucky Charm enhanced bowling ball. I say, “Game on.” And don’t forget the green M&Ms.