A whole new bowl game

June 26, 1996

As my beloved spouse has been out of town at an educational seminar for a week, I have been doing my best to occupy my time so as not to dwell upon the sad fact that I am temporarily wifeless. In fact, on the way home from dropping her off at the Jetport last Wednesday, I found myself drawn toward two of my “comfort zones,” Staples in South Portland and Bill O’Neil’s House of Rock ‘n Roll in Saco. There’s nothing like a good spiral notebook and a colored vinyl Beatles 45 to ease one’s heartache.

Another thing I’ve done is to spend an atypical amount of quality time with my old pal John. On Thursday, we played Frisbee golf around my house and cribbage, Othello, and Museum Clue inside it. On Saturday, it was off to some place in Westbrook for an evening of pool and bowling.

While attending Gettysburg College, I majored in English and minored in bank shots. A decade has passed and, not having lived in a house with a pool table as I did while at college, my game has suffered noticeably, and by noticeably, I am referring to such incidents as the 4 ball catapulting off the felt, bouncing on the floor, and rolling over toward a video arcade game, an occurrence most people would classify as “noticeable,” if not “downright embarrassing.”

Thankfully, the only other similarly pathetic moment came when I fired the cue ball in an upward trajectory (resulting in its landing on the carpet, not unlike the 4 ball), although I still cling to the soothing delusion that anyone witnessing the Woody Allenesque shot from a considerable distance may have believed that we were playing ping pong.

Otherwise, I was a regular Eddie Felson.

I have bitten, do bite, and will continue to bite at bowling, and if any other tenses of the verb bite apply to my skills or lack thereof, feel free to add them here. I won’t be offended.

Actually, I don’t bite too badly at bowling, but I like the word bite. It’s very Old English sounding. “Thou art a scoundrel, and it fitteth thy character and my mood that thou shouldst bite me.” See?

What I love about the bowling world is that it has entirely given up on the hope that people will someday learn how to keep score. Ever since Caligula decapitated a hapless Roman jaywalker and used the head to knock over seven of 10 scrolls standing on the ends, people have anguished over how to tally points in this oldest of games involving a big sphere with holes in it.

Who needs math skills now when you can punch a few buttons, sit back, and let the semiconductors do the rest? Sadly, the guys who were in the lane next to John and me lacked even those meager skills, which was evident as they stared at their computerized scorecard for what seemed an eternity before muttering, “Huh?”

With the old paper-and-pencil system, one could hide his score from the rest of the world, and I use the masculine pronoun “his” not so much because I prefer the traditional usage to avoid the wordy “his or her,” but rather because I am referring to myself.

Well, them days is over. Now, with glowing scorecard screens up overhead, everyone from the kid spraying the insides of recently used tri-toned shoes with DDT to the dorks firing cue balls off the pool tables in the back room can share in the whole scoring process.

After experiencing technical difficulties with their scorecard screen, they guys next to us were far from relieved when the glitches were ironed out and their points were projected to the viewing public in full color.

“Oh, great,” moaned one of them. “Now everyone can see that I threw two gutter balls.”

What he didn’t seem to grasp was that everyone didn’t need to see that he threw two gutter balls. They heard them.

Fellow bowlers also get to hear you make foot fouls. If you set one toe over that line demarcating the bowling preparation zone from the actual bowling lane, an obnoxious buzzer sounds as though you’ve just tried to smuggle an Uzi onto a 747, and the scorecard up on the screen is momentarily replaced with a flashing F, which may stand for foot or for foul, or for the colorful and oftentimes deleted word that may pass through your head when that lovely buzzer, which notifies everyone within a quarter-mile radius that you have absolutely no control over your limbs and are deserving of public ridicule and shame, goes off. Not that that happened to me. Three times.

I didn’t win the first string, which is like saying Custer didn’t win against the Sioux. With the Rocky theme pumping through my brain, however, I won the second string, and was ready to call it quits when John, Mr. Rubber Match himself, called for a deciding string, which he won by three measly, stinking, putrid, Godforsaken points. So, yeah, I had a great time.

As an afterthought, we played a few games of air hockey, and if it weren’t for those little holes blowing cool air up in our faces, we agreed we would have flooded the joint with our collective pool of sweat. Now, that means one of two things: air hockey is a physically demanding sport that requires endurance, concentration, and upper body strength; or, I am Don Knotts.

I better shut up before the votes come in.

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