When we sent our son to college, we had certain expectations.
We expected him to go to class, do his homework, party mostly on the weekends and learn how to live on his own. We did NOT expect him to fall in love with bowling, though I suppose there are worse things in life.
He sets aside Tuesday nights when he’s home to bowl with his cousin and friends at a bowling alley about 20 minutes away. I think the initial draw was the drink specials, but slowly and steadily they’ve become pretty serious about their scores.
We thought bowling was reserved for home visits until we discovered that he’s bowling at least once a week at an alley near campus in Worcester, MA. One night, he couldn’t get anyone to go with him so he used two alleys and bowled 12 games in two hours. Like I said, this kid is full of surprises.
Why bowling? Why not?
It’s a great way to blow off steam and socialize with friends, particularly in the dead of winter when a lot of sports are in cold storage. And it’s probably the most democratic game in the world: nearly everyone has bowled at least once in their life at either a duckpin alley or with the gutters up at a kids’ birthday party.
It should come as no surprise that bowling is one of the oldest games known to man, dating back to about 5,200 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. The game’s primitive roots are obvious: you can just imagine early man picking up a small boulder and rolling it at targets in the distance, can’t you?
Like our hunter/gatherer and maternal instincts, perhaps a need to look, aim and knock down pins is ingrained in our DNA. It certainly would explain why so many people around the world love to bowl, about 70 billion at last count.
I realized that most people have a soft spot for bowling when I organized a 10-pin bowling party a few weeks ago for my Pickleball friends. I had no idea who’d bite, but within a few days nearly 30 people said that they’d bowl and moreover, were looking forward to it.
Most hadn’t bowled for years, but that wasn’t important. They were looking forward to picking up a ball, rolling it down a sleek oiled wooden floor and seeing how many pins would topple. A simple proposition, but not so easy to accomplish as my dismal scores proved.
Getting strikes and spares is difficult, even with a measly eight-pound ball. And hand-eye coordination is no help when rolling a ball that insists on lilting to the left and missing pins, seemingly with a mind of its own. It doesn’t help that my teammates are criticizing my piddly ball speed, which is visible on the overhead score screen.
“Put a little more oomph in it,” the Curmudgeon screams as I roll my second ball. Seriously? Do I really need to be heckled doing something I do once every decade? Bowling is one of the few things besides writing that I do left-handed. And what I’m discovering is that despite being my dominant hand, my left side is very weak.
The biggest challenge is reminding people when it’s their turn to bowl to keep things moving. I swear some of these Picklers came to socialize and bowl between conversations or sips of beer and wine.
But there are also a few ringers in the crowd. The husband of one of my friends scores an impressive 212, notching the highest score of the night. No real surprise though. He was the only one of the gang who entered the alley carrying his own ball in a mesh sack.
On the heels of the Pickleball bowling outing, the Curmudgeon’s workplace organized a bowling party. This would mean I’d be bowling twice within two weeks, a record for me. I skip the pizza and beer party beforehand at a local brewery – I’ve got enough problems without being weighed down by carbs.
But I’m eager to bowl again. I’m even beginning to get the concept of a bowling league, though I wonder whether they even have leagues for raw beginners like me.
The Curmudgeon wore his interpretation of a funny bowling outfit: a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt from a college reunion 25 years ago and a backwards baseball cap. I’m not sure if it qualifies as bowling attire, but he thinks it does so who am I to argue?
As lanes are assigned and people begin to bowl, I begin to realize the magic of bowling. Everyone lets their guard down, focusing on one thing: getting the ball from point A to B. And the letting up of the guard, even momentarily, is freeing and unifying. As corny as it sounds – and believe me, it does – bowling brings out our inner child.
In some ways, I think that bowling is a metaphor for life: roll the ball with confidence, skill and precision and you score well. Roll it sloppily or with indifference and you’re in the gutter, where no one wants to be.
Thankfully in life and bowling, there’s always a second ball to roll and a shot at redemption. And that’s not such a bad proposition in either case.