I had occasion to visit a bowling alley the other night and was sorely flummoxed. First my relationship with bowling has been on the rocks. I just don’t want to lift the ball anymore, and once I’ve lifted it I don’t want to let it go, even if it does eventually come back. There’s also the fact that once I’ve released the ball it very seldom goes where I want it to. Let’s face it, bowling is about control. Those engaged in the act of bowling will receive constant reminders of how little control they actually have.

I was with a group, a party if you will, celebrating a man’s birthday. My own most recent birthday party took place in this very bowling alley and though it was a pleasant occasion, I was not eager to repeat the experience. One of the highlights of that event was with Kat - who had recently found out she was pregnant with a boy. When she told me this we both started to cry. During the drama I dropped and broke one of her presents for me. It was a bottle of green ink.

Ballet is about manners. Bowling is not about manners and that’s part of the beauty of bowling. There is such a thing as bowler’s etiquette, and it’s a good thing. Unfortunately most people don’t know anything about it. For instance the people in the lane next to us, a boy and girl somewhere around the age of twelve; the boy had an alarming habit of dropping the ball as he wound up to throw. He did this over and over again. It was freaking me out. The person in the lane next to them also had an unusual ritual. Every time he threw the ball he stood just on the other side of the line flailing his arms and chirping. Then he would run back to the ball rack with his arms in the air. His hair stood high like a rooster’s comb. I saw him later, involved in a skirmish in the parking lot. I don’t think the term bowler’s etiquette applies to him.

Like most people my age, as a child I was forced to bowl at gunpoint. My father (like myself) is not overly fond of sports, and figured that bowling would be a good sports-related activity for us to do on Saturdays. So for a few years that is what I did with my father and at least one other sibling every Saturday morning. At that time bowling alleys still dotted every landscape in America and they were clean relatively fresh-smelling affairs. They smelled like cigarettes, polished balls, processed cakes and the lounge (and I liked those smells). We didn’t bowl because it was kitsch or ironic, we bowled because our lives depended upon it.

Consequently, today I can still (occasionally) throw the ball with some authority. This is why I like to keep score. On Saturday my friends did not want to keep score and had some freeform approach to the whole game that was completely foreign to my thinking. The joy in bowling is not having control and striving to gain some, even if in the end it is illusory. Bowling without keeping score is having no control and not wanting any and it goes against human nature, we may as well be Lycanthropes. So I didn’t really enjoy it that much and as I mentioned, my relationship with the activity is strained. The peak moment for me was in the lobby after it was over. There was a row of coin-operated games offering the usual stuffed toys and key rings as prizes, but in one of them was a prize worth playing for. It was a small human fetus made of rubber.

©copyright, gordon henderson, 2004