Frankly, I’m all in favor of Sam Dunn’s proposed bowling alley on Uncas avenue in Oak Bluffs, complete with restaurant, bar, game and event rooms. We need it. More to the point, Oak Bluffs needs it. Family entertainment there has been in short supply lately. I’m betting there are not many other American towns with two dead movie theaters. That’s two out of two.
Bowling is overdue for a comeback. It is not only sporty entertainment, it’s a family activity — or can be. A whole generation has grown up since we’ve had a bowling alley on the Island. It’s been decades since O.B. had one, not far from the Flying Horses.
Bowling was big during my adolescence. Then again, so was nuclear proliferation. Back when each time you took a shower you imagined creepy images of Tony Perkins. Ah, the good old days.
For the sake of family unity and father-son bonding, I was initiated into the sport of bowling (tenpins) at an early age — around eight, just a few years younger than the average pin boy, who would soon be replaced by my first sign of dehumanizing automation.
My mother saw bowling as the safe and sane sport. How much trouble could you get into? How badly injured can you get? Whoever heard of someone getting conked with a bowling ball?
It’s an indoor activity, something you can do alone or with friends, something you can do while eating, drinking or texting. There’s a very limited time for concentration. You need not devote all of your brain cells to the game, just when it’s your turn. The rest of the time there’s a lot of sitting.
Because it doesn’t necessarily require strength, speed or agility, it was my father’s choice of sport. He saw bowling as a test of coordination, dexterity and aim. Your arm becomes the shortest distance between two points, not a cue, a club or a racquet. Skill is in the art of pushing a ball with your hand. And as entertainment goes, bowling is fairly inexpensive. You pay by the game, rent the shoes and have a free play date with a ball that fits your fingers.
The sport also welcomes both sexes. Women tend to wear smaller shoes and throw lighter balls, but they can score as high as men. It was just easier playing with the men in my family. It was a personality issue.
When it came to bowling and my family, women were more emotional than men. The guys were not looking for a lot of excitement, just a good way to pass the time. You have your on-days, you have your off-days, it’s just bowling. For the women, it wasn’t so much competition as it was life-and-death. If we’re going to pass the time, there had better be a damn good reason why we’re bowling. This better be my lucky day. But, come on, the ball only shook the alley; it did not shake the earth. No matter what Rip Van Winkle thought. It was a game, just a game.
When it came to having a good time, my mother shortchanged herself — and those around her. My mother didn’t give herself to exaggeration; she hurled herself at it. Given half a chance, she could see the bad in just about anything. It’s not that the glass was half full or half empty; it was just dirty. Maybe even germ-infested. In fact, her motto was “Why have a headache when a brain tumor will do.” Would you want to bowl with this person?
For my father and my uncle, bowling offered a more athletic alternative to canasta. They joined the men’s bowling league and brought me along for good luck, or practice. So I became good at the game, too. If there is a conventional way of doing something, count on me not to do it that way. Bowling is a good example. I am right-handed, yet I find that my best shot at making a strike is to start on the left side, walk at a slight angle to the left of the center and bowl right for the space between the head and the two pin. If the ball is on the money, then blam-o, all the pins fly.
I bowled throughout my teen years in Denver. That’s what you did while your hormones were kicking in. You ate burgers and fries loaded with ketchup, then jammed your greasy fingers into that ball and let ‘er rip. It was pure “American Graffiti” and sure beat concussion-style football as an after-school sport. And you could bowl on a date with your date.
So, let’s go bowling again. The Island already has its fill of golf courses. I don’t play golf. Golf talk is usually about corporate shenanigans. And you can cheat in golf. You can’t cheat in bowling, unless you’re alone or your partner is in the bathroom. And bowling talk can be about anything, including a deep analysis of that bowler-stoner movie “The Big Lebowski.”
I close with the immortal words of the late great bowling champ, Don Carter, who said: “One of the advantages bowling has over golf is that you seldom lose a bowling ball.”
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.