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Back On The Lanes

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Last week, I laced up my bowling shoes for the first time in two and a half years.

I hesitated a moment before selecting the ball – could I throw a 14-pounder?

Or would I drop it like a dumbbell I’d never used?

Then I spent the night laughing, chatting, hugging (with just the slightest nervousness) and not just throwing…

but having a ball.

Why bowling ?

And why now?

Good questions.

To answer in a way befitting the game, let me break it down in 10 frames:

There’s gotta be more to life:
I suspect my return to my job as a high school counselor had something to do with returning to the alley. To me, a bowling league helps broaden life beyond “work, church, home – rinse, repeat.”

Good to have a goal:
I joked that, in memory of Queen Elizabeth’s passing, I’d have been satisfied with a 96. Fortunately, while my scores were 10-15 points below my March 2020 average, I didn’t feel like I’d completely forgotten how to bowl.

Time to take reasonable risks:
The lanes closed in spring 2020, with good reason. For months after my COVID-19 vaccinations and subsequent boosters, I questioned when I’d feel comfortable with heightened exposure and risk. After 18 months with students – and returning to Mass at church from the confines of my living room – I realized the lanes were next. 

It’s activity that I like:
I’m not much of an athlete. Although I’ve worked out much more in the past year and a half, I remain likelier to be a spectator than participant on a basketball court, football field or baseball diamond. But the lower-key stakes of league bowling suit me just fine.

The mental as well as physical challenge:
Bowling isn’t just about being able to release a ball in a certain way, at a certain speed, or with a certain aim. It’s about psyching yourself up and not out – not allowing a spare to paralyze you when you go to build on it, or coming back from a gutter ball and not allowing it to kill your mood.

The soundtrack!
Love it or hate it, the pumped-in music revs you up and is often a topic of discussion. I once complained to the management when their satellite radio played the unedited version of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” while our LGBTQ+ league was midway into our evening. (Not everyone agreed with me, which was fine. I needed to make my distaste clear.)

Sensation overload:
So much to take in: Not just the music but the lights (especially when “disco nights” bring floor-level lighting and a strobe effect), the smells (and, if you dare, the tastes) from the snack bar, the laughter (and occasional curse when a split or gutter ball results). It’s like a carnival or the state fair but in a weekly, condensed form.

Week-by-week progress:
Scoresheets and averages help you see not just how your team is doing in the league, but also how you are progressing through the season. It’s a way to measure progress, but not so high-stakes that you feel anything of life consequence is at stake.

A bridge to the past:
It’s not unusual for me to remember:
• My dad’s arm around mine showing me how to lift and release the ball.
• My best friends in high school, laughing as we misfired into the gutter on more than one occasion.
• The bowling class I took as the required P.E. elective in college.

… And the night league of teams across departments from the afternoon paper where I worked in South Bend, Indiana, in the late ’80s and ’90s.

Nothing broke down divisions of class, education, background, job like uniting to win a series…

…or even better, a season. 

And most important:

The people:

My teammates are great folks. When we’re on, our evenings resemble not so much the PBA as The View.

Everything – from our work woes to our love lives to the craziest dealings of the day – becomes fodder for conversation.

It’s not unusual for one of us to tell another, “You’re up,” so immersed are we in our chat that we have to remind ourselves… oh yeah, there’s a game to play.

I almost always come home with food for thought (much easier to digest, as I fall asleep near midnight, than anything from the snack bar).

And as we can see, a lil’ bit of bragging rights, too.

I hope you have something that brings you similar joy. And if the pandemic has forced it to cease?

I hope you, too, will find a time for yourself when you’re ready to give it another try.

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 8 years (together 30 this November).

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Virgindog
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Virgindog
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September 20, 2022 9:34 am

I don’t bowl often but it’s the same every time. I play terribly for the first few frames. Then I get really, really good. And then I suck again for the rest of the night. The same thing happens playing pool.

Maybe it’s the beer.

Phylum of Alexandria
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September 20, 2022 10:38 am

I used to enjoy bowling, until my carpal tunnel pain set in. On the bright side, I can use said pain as an excuse for my poor performance.  😎 

I do feel like I need to step up in terms of community engagement. And the fun kind, not just election-related stuff. I go to a climbing gym once a week, but heaven knows I could benefit from more frequent attendance. Carpal tunnel pain can’t save me from that one…

Pauly Steyreen
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September 20, 2022 12:23 pm

I used to bowl a lot in high school and college days… not often enough to get my own shoes, but a couple of my friends did.

Really miss it, but mainly you gotta have a good group of friends to go with. I enjoy the game itself but it’s not essential. What you need is the buddy to do some elaborate high-five with whenever you roll that strike.

DanceFever
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September 20, 2022 12:52 pm

I’ve taught an Intro to P.E. summer class for the past 17 years (the only interruption was the height of the pandemic in 2020). In the past few years, we’ve taken the last Thursday of the class and joined in with the Fit For Life summer school class and go bowling.
It brings back so many memories of high school and going bowling on a Saturday night.
Although in my 70’s, I hold my own with most of the kids and get the occasional strike that has them shaking their heads!
A couple of observations.

  1. More and more students tell my they have never gone bowling and this is their first time at the lanes.
  2. The boys are super competitive at first but, then as the game(s) go along, they get bored and resort to tossing the ball through their legs or if they are right handed, they try to bowl left handed or bowl backwards.
  3. The girls are super supportive and while they may stop and chatter about girl things, they usually stay into the game(s) until the end

Thanks for the write-up, Chuck and that reminds me, Little Dance is just about the right age to take bowling and I’ll think I’ll do that this weekend.

mt58
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September 20, 2022 2:30 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

This gives me an idea for a bit! Can I use your ‘Dance Fever’ name in an article?

DanceFever
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September 21, 2022 2:13 pm
Reply to  mt58

I don’t know where my response to your question went (probably seeding the cloud somewhere). But of course, my friend. Looking forward to what your adventurous mind cooks up this time.

cappiethedog
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September 20, 2022 1:27 pm

I went to a small high school. Representatives of the football team would come to homeroom and recruit us. It didn’t matter if you were unathletic and didn’t have a lick of talent. All you needed was a heartbeat. I played something called soft tennis, and was the second alternate on my bowling team.

If I could throw a perfect spiral, it definitely would have altered my musical listening habits. Like listen to Def Leppard in my own time.

lovethisconcept
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September 20, 2022 3:37 pm

I haven’t bowled for years. For a relatively short period of time in the 80’s, I went fairly often. A dear friend of mine who was gradually succumbing to “a progressive degenerative muscular disease” (read AIDS, but in the 80’s he was afraid/ashamed to admit that). He gradually had to give up his more athletic pursuits, but he could still enjoy bowling almost to the end. On my days off, I would frequently pick him up and we would travel to the lanes. I was terrible, he was still pretty good, and we forgot about illness for a short time while we laughed and made fun of ourselves. And, really, that was the point. I eventually lost my friend, and, with him, any interest that I had in bowling.

But who knows? Maybe it’s time to give it another try.

Virgindog
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September 20, 2022 3:46 pm

I forget how far from Nashville you are, but there’s got to be a bowling alley somewhere between us. Whadaya say?

lovethisconcept
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lovethisconcept
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September 20, 2022 7:41 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I am in. I will email you.

mt58
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September 20, 2022 7:44 pm

I am sensing that one of the great articles ever to grace this site is in the making…

lovethisconcept
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lovethisconcept
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September 20, 2022 7:46 pm
Reply to  mt58

I think this could be an adventure in the making.

mt58
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mt58
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September 20, 2022 7:47 pm

Atta girl. And atta dog.

dutchg8r
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September 20, 2022 5:21 pm

I wish we had some bowling alleys nearby, I’d love to join  a league just to hang out for awhile.

You know those books some parents keep for their kids through their school years?  Stick a picture in from that year, stash your report cards, discuss who your friends are?  And for up to around 4th grade or so, the ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ question. As I recall, I was fairly intent on being a professional bowler when I grew up each year I was asked, from 6 to 9.  That and a bus driver, cause my bus driver was the most awesome person in the world when I was a kid.  So yeah, even from a young age, salary was not a factor, I just wanted to do something fun!

My grandma was on a senior’s bowling league, and she was always traveling all over Pennsylvania for meets.  Totally what peaked my interest – they got to travel alot.  That seemed AWESOME.  I sucked at bowling, but I didn’t care, figured I’d get there eventually.  Wide World of Sports seemed to carry a lot of bowling, I was always watching the PBA as a kid.  Just another item from my ‘BabyDutch was Weird’ list.

So then my junior year of HS my guidance counselor was like- you know, your transcript is great,  but colleges will want to see some sports on there too.  [Cue groan]  I don’t deal well with being coached (such a lousy team player, lol)  So what sport can I do that will have limited coaching interactions…?

Bowling!

Not to mention, the Bowling coach was my sophomore year math teacher, so he knew what to expect with me, ha!

I was average, but I didn’t care, it was fun going around the county to do meets with other HS’s.  I actually had one meet where my 3 game total broke 500, that was a huge celebration. Coach got me patches for it too from the HS Bowling Assn,  cause it was never gonna happen again, lol.

Tell you what though – something you guys don’t need to worry about – found out the hard way you can’t have long thumbnails on your bowling hand while bowling.  Never affected my other nails, but my thumbnail?  Yeah, that ball’s thumbhole ate it.  Repeatedly.  Stupid ball.

😁

Last edited 6 days ago by dutchg8r
Aaron3000
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September 20, 2022 9:07 pm

Back around 1997, I was briefly in a bowling league with my co-worker’s boyfriend. He gave me a bowling ball of my own and they’d pick me up and drive me to the lanes every Tuesday night (this was during a three-year period when I was without a vehicle and rode a bike everywhere… that was probably the best shape I’ve ever been in!). One week something came up and he didn’t pick me up at the appointed time, so I rode my bike six miles to the alley, the last mile of it with no sidewalk, one handed while carrying my bowling ball in my lap. It didn’t occur to me that I could’ve just used the balls provided by the alley (it’s not like my score would be any better or worse either way). Luckily someone was kind enough to give me a ride home afterwards.

The league used handicapping, and they based it off the first game’s score… My score happened to royally suck since I hadn’t bowled in years, which worked out well as I ended up with a high handicap, and I then got progressively better. I don’t think I even finished out the season though, I believe I missed a few weeks due to working late so I just dropped out.

There’s a bowling alley just a few blocks from where we live now; I think it’s time to take the family over and introduce my nine-year-old to the sport before she gets too much older and decides it’s not cool to be caught hanging out with Dad.

DanceFever
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September 20, 2022 10:25 pm

Chuck, this is why this website is so totally awesome (sorry for the 80’s vernacular) but your story has set off a whole new genre, BOWLING MEMORIES!
To me, that is what is missing in our post pandemic society.
The fact that we all have shared memories of our past, whether we are Boomers, Gen X or Millenials, there is something that connects us down through the generations and we can’t let outside forces deny the fact we share a common identity.
Tom tapped into that with music and mt58 has expanded that to movies, books, travel etc.
Done with political presentation but, dammit, we can’t submit to the Dark Side.

thegue
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September 21, 2022 11:05 am

What a fun read!

In the midst of the Covid pandemic, relationships in thegue’s household were strained. Mrs Thegue went to work everyday, while I never left the house. I mean…NEVER (from March-July, not once)!

She would come home from work, and I would go and hide for an hour of quiet solitude, while she wanted an hour before dealing with 2 young children.

Finally, in August, she was upstairs taking a shower when my phone dinged. It was a text from her.

We’re going to go sign up for a membership at the country club today. Book an appointment. It will be cheaper than a divorce.

We took another tour of the place (our third), but this time we didn’t talk ourselves out of it. The final selling point? It had its own bowling alley, which families could use for free!

Suddenly we had an outlet, and we began to repair the frayed threads which held our family together.

Bowling.

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