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King Pins

[whitespace] bowler Americana: Fun, exercise, and colorful shows--who could ask for more?

Michael Amsler


Bowling may be right up your alley

By Mary Bishop

IT'S THURSDAY afternoon at the cavernous Double Decker Lanes in Rohnert Park, one of my favorite spots. It's spacious, well staffed, and doesn't smell funny--I don't know why some bowling alleys have a funky odor; maybe it's all those old shoes. Today, there's league action here. And these folks are serious. It appears to be a mixed-seniors league. Average age: about 60. The five gals to my left seem more suited to a luncheon social than a bowling alley. Hair is perfectly coifed, nails professionally manicured, each is sipping a cocktail.

At least one of them is also swearing like a sailor.

Yet there's something quintessentially American about this scene. Indeed, bowling just might be the perfect American sport. What other pastime allows us to wear colorful shirts emblazoned with our names (or, in the case of vintage bowling shirts, the names of people we'll never know), dorky shoes with the size screaming off the heel, and requires very little exertion?

I confess: I'm a bowling freak.

For years, I've collected and worn bowling shirts, amassing a dozen or so very cool ones, each with a personality to match its moniker. My favorite is Spider, a shirt of the finest-quality rayon, deep navy with a red bowling ball stitched over the pocket. When I slip it on I'm oozing charisma, a drop-dead charmer. Spider was a ladies' man no doubt, a rangy sexy dude with his hands everywhere. He was also one hell of a bowler.

Of course, a true bowling freak owns his or her own ball. I once fit this dubious category, but my ball was pilfered from the trunk of my car a few weeks back, an act that has left me seething. A bowling ball is a personal thing. Mine was a marbled-purple sweetheart, a mere nine pounds.

Her name was Penny, and she could fly.

I profess to having no form, so a lighter ball suits my style. I've watched countless bowlers over the years gracefully sidle up to the lane, head for the corner, and hurl the ball with a cunning curve that spins it directly to the middle. Not me. I approach the lane tentatively, with short pigeon-toed steps, and flick my ball straight down the center of the lane.

That's why Penny was so great; it's easier to throw a light ball straight. It didn't matter that she was a flyweight--if she hit the center pin, everyone was going down.

These days, the scoring system at most lanes is fully automated and displayed on an overhead screen--visible to the entire place. The display can prove embarrassing if you haven't bowled in a while or if you're a flat-out lousy bowler. This isn't a problem for the women next door. On the first frame four of them nail a strike, the fifth a spare. The apparent leader of the pack slides an unlit cigarette in her mouth. It hangs there most of the game.

I'm struggling to find a groove with the rental ball I selected. After two pitiful frames I go in search of a different one. The 10-pounder I pick is a hideous pink--like cheap drugstore lipstick or Barbie shoes.

It'll have to do.

THE LEAGUE BOWLERS are into their game full swing. A team of three men and two women who are bowling where I find my ball are an odd group. What strikes me is no one is talking. I peek up to check out their scores. They are good though not great bowlers. But not one word passes among them. Not even after the tall guy picks up a difficult split--after the first frame the only pins standing are on opposite sides of the lane. In order to knock both of the pins down, one pin needs to be hit on its side so that it caroms across the lane and brings the other pin down with it. Not an easy thing to do. Still no one utters a sound. Odd.

This is not the case with my neighbors. They are playful and boisterous. The stout one, who looks like a Church Lady, has a propensity for swearing. After failing to pick up a spare, she grimaces and moans, "Ahh, fuck me."

The redhead casts a disparaging glance at her and threatens to wash her mouth out with soap.

"Oh, fuck you," she retorts.

The new ball I've chosen is a much better fit. I nail three strikes in a row. The league ladies don't talk to me, but I feel all five pairs of eyes on me as I approach the next frame. I toss the ball straight in the gutter. I guess I can't handle the pressure. Two mothers, and four kids all about 10, have joined me on the right side. They are watching as an employee inserts bumpers in their lane. These devices are great, since bowling can be frustrating for children if their ball keeps landing in the gutter. Hell, it's frustrating for anyone, but bumpers are designed with kids in mind.

Here's a tip: Anybody can request bumpers, but if you're not with kids you'll look pretty pathetic.

Next door, the league ladies are enjoying their third Manhattan. I wonder how they are managing to stay upright, much less bowl. Two of them broke 200 in their first game, so I figure they know what they're doing. I don't fare quite so well, and the frantic energy of the kids is starting to grate on my nerves. It's time to call it a day.

All in all, a fun afternoon and it hasn't cost a fortune--two games and rental shoes cost less than a movie.

My suggestion: Give it a hurl.

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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