There are only three situations in this world when my knowledge, experience and physical gifts make me feel in complete control and 100% comfortable with the task at hand. Sitting down talking to child, swinging a baseball bat and standing on the second dot from the right gutter on a bowling lane, ball in hand. (Luckily, one of these situations lines up with my chosen profession! You can guess which one…)
This is not to say that I am a virtuoso in any of these endeavors or likely to become “The Greatest of All Time” in pediatrics, baseball or bowling. But I firmly believe that I was born to talk to children, swing a baseball bat and roll a bowling ball. When I do each of these activities, it feels like a natural extension of myself.
Bowling was one of my first loves in life. I remember watching it on TV many a Saturday morning after cartoons were done for the day. Even now, I still catch myself lingering on ESPN’s coverage of some bowling tournament when I happen to flip past the sports section of the online programming guide. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I find there to be something supremely poetic about the rolling of a bowling ball down the lane.
The bowler stands in silence for a moment, then slowly and methodically advances with steps that he has exactly repeated thousands of times before. His arm gracefully swings through his body with the ball firmly in hand until it is released with a resounding POP! of the thumb hole piercing the silence. But the silence is quickly restored, save for the low rumble of resin on wood, as the ball spins out and away, casually flirting closer and closer with the teetering edge of the gutter. A brief holding of the breath and a skip of the heart as you wonder if the ball will careen over the edge. But in the blink of an eye, friction, gravity and spin take control and the sphere snaps back on course towards its true destination. The previously languid ball has turned angry and aggressive and quickly gather speed out of nowhere, becoming a blur of color as it bores in on the pins until it destroys the silence with a deafening explosion as the helpless pins scatter like startled birds on a pond. Kind of makes it seem unfair that the better bowler that you are, the less times you get to throw the ball.
Frequently, I would go with my dad to his Monday night bowling league at the bowling alley a few minutes from our house. He bowled on the team sponsored by his father-in-law’s company. For a handful of years, grandpa would bowl on the team, too. I would bring some homework to do or a notebook to draw in. I can still feel the ripples in the old wooden table that I would sit at and watch the bowlers bowl and keep score on the plastic sheets that would get projected up on the screen over the lane. There was a guy from one of the other teams who would always had candy bars on him and he would invariably give me one. It was one of the highlights of my week and my childhood.
I think of the bowling birthday parties that I attended. Or the countless times going bowling with my brothers and my next-door neighbor/best friend Ken when we moved to northwest Indiana. How we would always compete to have the best score, but if you were having an off night it might be time to change things up and start palming a lighter ball and trying to spin it just like the pros on TV. Watching Ken accidentally loft the ball like a slow-pitch softball again and again, worrying he was going to break the lane and get us kicked out. (“Hey, Noah! Where’s your arc?” Gotta love impromptu lame bowling jokes!) Bowling with Ken at the Purdue bowling alley the night before a final because I couldn’t stand studying anymore. Getting wild and crazy and going bowling with the “Brothers” on Scott’s 21st birthday.
Up where we vacation in Wisconsin, one of the neighboring towns has a bowling alley that also had a nice restaurant attached to it. It was and still is one of the mandatory restaurants on the weekly list. For many years, I wanted to go bowling at the lanes there, but we were never allowed. Of course, this made me want to bowl there even more. Finally one year we got to bowl a few games (I think that was one of the few particularly rainy weeks we spent in Door County) and we try to at least bowl a few frames up there every year. Including the year, I thought my dad was going to lose his finger when it got smashed between two balls in the ball return. Luckily, it “only” crushed his wedding ring which snapped and one of the edges embedded itself into his finger. That was the fastest I ever ran to try and find a pair of pliers in my life.
Despite it being a common setting of romantic comedies and television sitcoms (and my love of bowling), I don’t think I ever went on a “bowling date”. However, this horrible oversight on my part does not mean that my lovely wife was left out of my love of bowling. In fact, some of my best bowling memories come from our years in the church bowling league.
Even though in our first year in the league we ended up not being on the same team, we both had pretty momentous seasons. My parents smartly got each of us our own bowling ball and bowling shoes for Christmas that year which propelled us to earning Most Improved Male and Female Bowler in the league.
We made some friends and met some interesting people. Even though we changed churches after our first year in the league, we continued for two more seasons. Unfortunately, the impeding demands of residency were going to make participating in the bowling league too difficult and we had to withdraw. But it was fun while it lasted.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how natural it feels to have a bowling ball in my hand. It is a feeling that never goes away. Until this afternoon, I hadn’t bowled in months. Yet as soon as I got on the lane, my mind and body knew exactly what to do. Where to stand, how to hold the ball exactly right. How to swing the ball calm but fast. No matter what pin combination was left up after my first roll, my mind could quickly and easily determine exactly how to pick up the spare like I was doing simple arithmetic. It was like I was at home. Like I had been doing this my whole life.
It can’t just be the fact that I took a bowling class in college (which was actually quite educational in terms of technique). For even when I wasn’t very good, when I would stutter-step up to line because I would start with a different foot every throw or try to hard to power the ball down the lane, something felt so right about bowling. And it can’t be my extensive training in science and my love of Physics, because none of that does me a lick of good on the green felt of a billiards table with all of its angles and trajectories. Something about my body and soul is in tune with the essence of bowling.
Bowling is a part of me and always will be. I look forward to being able to share my love of the game with my daughters. (Hannah has already seemed to taken a liking to it!) I am not sure if there are any bowling birthday parties in our future, but I am confident that if there are any bowling dates, my girls will be able to hold their own. And their date steps out of line, I just might be lurking. Waiting to unleash a well-placed, silent but powerful arcing blur of colored resin.