Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rolling with life’s challenges, sparingly

The good news of the week is that I’ve gotten the okay. After six months, my physical therapist says that finally my arm is up to this. I feel ready, at last. And boy oh boy, I’d better try to keep my mind out of the gutter.

I can already feel that bowling ball in my hand.

But I’d better keep my perspective, for bowling isn’t what it used to be. When I first played in St. Michael’s School’s league at Whitestone Lanes in Flushing, there were rules. I mean, there were rules. You wore bowling shoes, or you weren’t allowed onto the alley. You never stepped over the foul line—if you did, a buzzer went off and you lost your score for that throw. You kept quiet when someone was bowling. This meant you never hollered, since at a 48-lane bowling alley, someone was always rolling a ball on some lane. And if you valued your life, you let the bowler to your right roll first.

If you can find a bowling alley in New York’s Westchester County, you’ll find bowling today radically different. Big speakers constantly blare dancing music, and there’s almost no lane you can bowl without being near one or another children’s birthday party. Just try to bowl when next to you, two or three bowlers from one such gathering are going at the same time, on their own lanes and adjacent ones, while bowlers awaiting their turn stand immediately behind holding their bowling balls. And dropping their bowling balls. Whoever isn’t actually on the lane is buried to the belt into 55-gallon drums of Cheetos, moments before approaching the lane and grabbing a ball, probably yours, with yellowed, greasy hands. And those are just the parents.

Then there’s an invention that, at first blush, seemed a way to make kids enjoy bowling: bumper bowl. If you asked that your lane have bumpers, the counter folk would flip a switch. Guard rails would rise on both sides of the lane to block any ball from going into the gutter. So no matter where even a small child rolls the ball, if it makes it down the lane at all, it will hit pins. Loud cheers and clapping ensue to celebrate each and every glorious triumph.

To parents, bumpers keep their kids interested, so bowling-alley management has to oblige to stay in business. But there’s a dirty little secret to bumpers. Imagine if you spent your entire early youth bowling with these self-esteem guards safely in place. Eventually, you get into your teens, show up at the bowling alley with some friends. Then comes the shock. You all realize you’re too embarrassed to ask for the bumpers, so you tough it out. Gutter, Gutter. One pin, Gutter. Three pins. Gutter. More gutters. The upshot, once you’ve all gotten disgusted? “Bowling sucks!” You never go back, since none of you had ever learned to aim the ball in the first place.

Which is all fine with me. My concentration on bowling, you see, has developed in a unique way. Besides allowing the bowler to my right to roll first, I let the one on the left go, too. The same goes for the bowlers on the next lanes over. And the next ones from there. In fact, I've come to bowl best when no one in the entire bowling alley is rolling a ball at the same time. While we’re at it, off with the speakers. And none of that hooting and clapping, either. So for the likes of me, bumper bowl means more peace and quiet.

Much as I hate to admit it, though, bowling alleys are bound to go away—at least in the New York metro area—long before I can afford my own private lane. So for my own good as a bowler, I’d better learn to concentrate no matter what the distraction. Okay, then…I suppose I can bowl right next to the party; with three balls going down the lane, my average has to go up. If I’m shooting for a spare, the high frequencies of the screeching could well start the pins shaking before I even release the ball. I might even learn to get more spin on the ball, like the pros have. Just let me at those Cheetos.


  1. Bummed about the bowling alleys in Westchester that have gone (Croton and Briarcliff). Spent many afternoons and weekday nights (school and father/son leagues) in those alleys.

  2. ssshhh dont tell anyone but i still use the lightest weight bowling balls -- another phun one thanks eddie

  3. I concur, Anonymous, knowing of four other Westchester ones besides those. Homefield in Yonkers is the closest to a "purist" alley I know of these days.

    Bonnie, thanks! And you get the best altitude with the lightest balls anyway, huh?