I have always believed that bowling is not a sport. Those of you who take this game a little more seriously than you should may find yourselves slightly perturbed at that statement, but let’s face facts here — bowling is something you do while cracking jokes and eating nachos while wearing comfortable shoes. If you see bowling as anything more than that, I weep not only for you, but for and all of the hours you could've spent doing something productive.
Y’know, like writing for the internet.
Regardless of who thinks what about bowling, I decided to hit up the lanes for my Rec Games class, which featured an entire unit dedicated to rolling a heavy ball across the floor. Sounds like fun, I thought. Better than pickleball and shuffleboard and backgammon or whatever the hell we did in that class. So I was all set to bowl. I forgot one thing, though — Rec Games was my first period of the day, which meant that I’d be bowling at seven o’clock in the morning. Every day we’d take a bus to the local Pioneer Lanes for a game or two, and then wheel it back to school in time for second period.
The thing about bowling is that it’s something you get the guys together to do when you just feel like hittin’ some pins. Absolutely no one feels like “hittin’ some pins” when they haven’t even digested their breakfast yet. And it’s not just the bowlers. Just about everything about the bowling experience is different when you bump it up a few timeslots. For instance:
ALL OF THE STAFF SEEM TO BE CLINICALLY DEPRESSED
The first thing I noticed when I walked in the doors is that there were only two people on staff at 7:00. In fact, according to the print on the windowed door, the bowling alley wasn’t even scheduled to open until 10:00. So these two unlucky clerks were stuck holding the fort against a swarm of plucky teenagers at an hour when everyone was at their most irritable. Knowing that this kind of duty would break lesser men, their manager assigned this duo to the sunrise shift, confident that they could handle the strain. They couldn’t.
Verbal exchanges were brief, slurred, and half-hearted. Their eyes shined not with the idealistic sparkle of impetuous optimism, but with the weak, lulling afterglow of something that would be desperately trying to escape, if it hadn’t given up long ago. I’d say that they could cry, but I don’t think that they could really feel sadness or really much of anything anymore. That’s the perfect way to sum up these morning managers — they were absolutely numb. These clerks were unfeeling, emotionless zombies. Soulless prisoners of a war that they never wanted to enlist in, and cannot remember losing.
I really wish that I could stress just how depressing these men were, but it’s actually very difficult. Let’s try a metaphor: you’re invited to a birthday party by some kid you don’t really care much for, but you decide to go because hey, birthday parties are fun. When you get there, everything is just fantastic. There’s lots of colorful balloons, a smorgasbord of assorted junk foods, and a bouncy castle. But in the corner of the kid’s yard, you see a dirty little kid wearing a flatcap, a ragged coat, and fingerless gloves, hobbling on a walking stick because no one can give him medicine for his polio or smallpox or whatever. Except instead of just being a dirty little kid, he’s an orphan, and he has like four different kinds of cancer, and in fact, is actually an adorable puppy named Scraps that sits at the pound because no one wants to adopt him. That’s what having these clerks was like. You’re at a bowling alley that you “kinda” wanted to go to, and you’ve got the equivalent of abandoned smallpox orphan cancer puppies operating the lanes. Any small smidgens of bowling enthusiasm you’d have at 7:00 AM are just smashed into nothing the second you see this.
BOWLING BALL SCULPTORS LACK A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THE HUMAN HAND WORKS
In the words of Jim Gaffigan:
”I always have to pick out my bowling ball. You can never find the right one.
‘Oh, this one’s too heavy…this one’s good, but it’s pink...my fingers don’t fit…
how do they decide on those finger sizes? They’re either for a five year old girl
or the Incredible Hulk. How big are some people’s fingers? Some
guy wearing a catcher’s mitt, ‘Yeah, it’s good.’”
As the video clearly demonstrates, Mr. Gaffigan and I share a very similar stance on bowling. None of his words ring more true in me, however, than his observations on the architecture of bowling balls. To put it in simple terms, these balls are off the wall in terms of nonsensicalness. Absolutely flabbergasting. Preposterous beyond words, one might say. To illustrate this point, I’ve provided a simple visual aid. I present to you four bowling balls, and beneath each ball is the handsome chap to whom it may best benefit. However, one of these balls is not quite like the other. Try to find out which one it is, and why.
Answer: The first one, because it’s the only one to simply not exist.
You see, bowling balls aren’t uniform. This is because not everyone has the same size hand — some people have longer fingers, and some people have smaller palms, and all that jazz. But in trying to accommodate those unlucky members of humanity with freakishly disproportioned hands, all of us regular folk get left in the dust with uncomfortable, awkwardly designed globes. Do you have any idea how horrible it is to go to fondle a pretty looking ball’s holes and find out they weren’t meant for you? I’ve been there, and it’s awful.
It gets worse, by the way. In the unlikely event you find a ball with holes placed in formations that actually sorta-kinda maybe perhaps in a post-modern kind of way match your hand, you still have to deal with the shape and depth of the holes themselves. When I thought that I had finally found a ball that suited my grasping needs, the finger holes were way too tight — I couldn’t do anything with this ball aside from hold it like a baby and lovingly caress its lovely, shiny exterior. It’s something you might take home to meet the folks, but it’d be garbage on the lane. The next ball I tried was the counterpoint of the same problem — this time, the holes were too loose. If I had tried bowling with it, it would’ve flown off my hands and into the air like an underhand shot put, and last I checked, that’s not a very good way to deliver the ball down the lane.
When I finally did find a ball that was the right spacing and circumference for my fingers, I was treated to the straw that broke the camel’s back — the holes weren’t deep enough. I could hardly get my fingernails in. Screaming, shouting, and bleeding from the eyes and ears, I went on a murderous rampage throughout the bowling alley, brutally murdering four other bowlers and one of the depressed clerks before calming down. With the lane drenched in blood and gore, I settled on the clerk’s hollowed-out skull as a ball. Noticing that the eye sockets and nasal cavities formed the perfect construction of finger holes, I was overcome with a serene bliss that can only be described as “orgasmic”.
In reality, I went through about three more balls before settling on the one that was a bit too tight. Why did I go through so many balls? Because it’s not just about finding one with the right finger holes, it’s got to have the right weight, too. Let me tell you, there are only three weights for a bowling ball: “fat whale”, “neutron star”, and “your mother”. Maybe it’s just my weakling physique speaking, but it was damn near impossible to find a ball that not only met my hand size requirements, but was also light enough to manhandle all up and down the lane. In fact, it wasn’t just damn near impossible, it was impossible. So in the end, I settled for the too-tight ball with the acceptable weight.
BOWLING IS HARD
Like, really hard. I mean, I’m sure that if you put a lot of time and effort into your bowling prowess, you’ll really light up the lane, but when you’re first starting out, bowling really is hard. Now of course, everything is difficult when you’re first starting out, but bowling just looks so easy that it’s really hard to grasp how frustrating it can be. All you’ve got to do is roll a ball down a lane and hit some pins that aren’t even moving. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that. And yet, I as a beginner managed to screw up the simple process of bowling in more ways than you can imagine. Once, I ran a gutter ball down the tube so fast that the sheer wind of it actually toppled the gutterside pin. That’s right — my bowling sucked so much that a routine gutterball looped the Spectrum of Suck all the way around and knocked down a pin. It really doesn’t get much worse than that.
What sucks about sucking at bowling, though, is that there’s really not much you can do about it. Bowling “technique” doesn’t consist of much more than “follow through and don’t miss”, leaving the more creative aspects of a delivery up to the bowler. Now, I can act, I can write, and I can draw — but when left to my own devices to devise a bowling roll, I absolutely butchered every aspect of the program. Gutterball after gutterball after sad, sad gutterball, I switched up my technique every throw in hopes of finding the one in a million that would send the ball the way I wanted it do go. However, in a collection of deliveries with titles like “Pregnant Stork has a Miscarriage” and “The Decapitated Dancer” and “Skinny Nerd Forgets How to Let Go”, I think it’s pretty obvious that none of my strategies quite made their mark.
And all the while, an array of television monitors hover above your local table, displaying ads for nearby businesses or upcoming specials. Occasionally, though, they will outright mock you with hilariously unhelpful “Bowling Tips” presented in a Wii Sports theme, as if to remind you that if you really wanted to bowl at 7:00 AM, you could do it in the comfort of your own home, for free, and perhaps while naked. These “tips” are unintentionally hilarious gems such as “Remember to walk towards the lane when rolling the ball”, and “It’s better to roll the ball underhand instead of throwing it overhand”, and “Try to knock down as many pins as possible”. Thank you, insentient television, for your absolutely precious input on the situation. I very well indeed will try to knock down as many pins as possible. Without your advice, I may have never thought to have taken this course of action. Thank you.
BOWLING ALLEY FOOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLY OVERPRICED
When humiliating yourself at the bowling alley, it’s only natural to develop a hardy appetite. When your tummy gets grumblin’, you ought to head over to the snack counter, where you can pick up a cardboard dish of some mysterious substance that met its end at the deep fryer. One day I had a lighter breakfast than usual, so I got a little hungry around the middle of the trip, so I decided to throw away my dignity and pick up some bowling alley brunch. Then I saw the menu — turns out that along with my dignity, I’d be throwing away half of my wallet.
A hamburger? Four dollars. Want cheese on it? Four seventy-five. Even a simple plate of nachos will rob you of six buckaroos. The sheer cost of these rather mundane food items astounded me. I’m at a bowling alley, not a freaking Charlie Trotter’s. I shouldn’t have to sign away the soul of my first born son for a plate of chicken nuggets. Starved, yet thrifty, I made the tough choice of giving in to the food item that maximized substance while minimizing cost — cheese fries.
BOWLING ALLEY FOOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLY TERRIBLE
Oh my god, the cheese fries were beyond revolting. When the clerk handed me my “food”, I sincerely thought that he had scraped the dried waste from the walls of the closest nearby septic tank, sprinkled some bacon bits on it, and handed it to me with the expectation that I would consume it. I was about to voice my objections, but being well-aware of the clerk’s dangerously low levels of self-esteem, I was afraid that anything I said to degrade him or his work would drive him off the deep end once and for all. In all honesty, I think he knew what kind of abominations he was serving to his unsuspecting customers. But he just didn’t care anymore. He couldn’t care anymore. To him, it was simply more economical to ignore the screams of his patrons innards as they burn from the inside, condemned to instant death the moment his foul culinary creations passed their lips.
With great caution, I carefully brought the platter of alleged cheese fries back to my bowling table, where I could get a closer look at the beast. The paper saucer was crinkled and drenched with grease, cheese drippings, and other substances I really do not wish to contemplate the identity of. The very structural integrity of this questionably edible mass was compromised by this flimsy excuse for a plate. I hadn’t even eyeballed the dish itself and I was already disgusted.
The fries themselves were a war crime. Half-melted chunks of rotten potato that weren’t fried, but merely moistened with lukewarm oil smothered in cheese of disputable identity. A light sprinkle of bacon bits decorated the surface of this indigestible mass, but to call them “bacon” is an insult to all things delicious. I’m pretty sure that they were actually the lightly toasted bunions from an overweight woman’s feet. I wisely decided not to eat them.
WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU EATING CHEESE FRIES AT 7:00 AM ANYWAY, YOU FREAK?
Like, oh my God, am I really that gross? Ugh.
IT’S ONLY FUN ONCE YOU STOP SUCKING, AND EVENTUALLY, YOU DO
After the encounter with the cheese fries from the black lagoon, my loss of appetite somehow transferred into a real determination to dominate the alley. But predictably, I didn’t — at first. It turns out that everyone has a “trick” when it comes to bowling, whether it is a certain ritual, good luck charm, or some kind of unique delivery. No matter what the method may be, everyone has some kind of trick to unlock their inner bowler. And after plugging in my iPod to drown out the screams of the many sorrowful souls that must have perished in the satanic sacrifices necessary to create Beelzebub’s cheese fries, I discovered my trick in the form of this man:
That’s right. All I had to do was pop in my Scatman John playlist and all of a sudden, I was bowling like I’ve never bowled before. I even got some honest-to-god strikes in, all thanks to the ski-ba-dohp-bahp-bee of John Paul Larkin. By the end of the trip, I’d bowled a good sixty points more than my previous best — a 94. Not too impressive, of course, but it was a real thrill to see the ball actually make it all the way down the lane before going off-course.
So over the course of about two weeks, I managed to learn a lot about bowling, and a lot about myself. Maybe not too much about the latter, but I did learn how to bowl respectably — my highest score by the end of the season as an adequate 116. Certainly nothing to write home about, but for a groggy teenager trying to suppress his gag reflex at the haunting memory of a half-aborted mutilation of a cheese fry platter, I think I did okay. All things considered, I suppose bowling in the morning isn’t too bad. But would I do it all again?
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