In my last post, I wrote about a man named David Ranta, who had been, for reasons beyond his control (something to do with a flaw in the legal system), somewhat isolated from the world at large since 1991. He was shocked at how much the world had changed in 22 years. He couldn’t even wash his hands in a restaurant restroom because he didn’t know how to turn on the motion-activated faucet.
I know exactly how he feels. I, too, recently reentered a world I had not experienced for over two decades, and found myself feeling lost and out of place.
I went bowling.
Now, before I continue, let me just say that I used to be a pretty good bowler. I was in some serious leagues. I had my own ball and shoes, and an odd-shaped bag to carry them in. I had a resin bag. And one of those wrist braces. And a towel. I habitually carried a container of talcum powder.
I knew who Dick Weber, Earl Anthony and Don Carter were.*
I liked bowling because you didn’t have to be naturally athletic or even particularly fit to be good at it. You didn’t have to wear a uniform unless your team had those neat retro shirts with your name over the pocket. You could drink copious amounts of beer while you were playing. And it was an entirely non-contact sport, except for slapping your teammates’ hand after a strike. About the worst injury you could get was a blister on your thumb from releasing the ball.
Bowling was also a very simple-minded game, both by nature and necessity, because of the copious amounts of beer. There was no strategy involved. No complicated rules. No playbooks. You just had to knock over the pins. They didn’t even try to get out of the way.
But then bowling fell out of favor. There were a lot of reasons for this. Foremost among them, perhaps, was the perception that it was just a bunch of out-of-shape guys wearing weird polyester shirts and drinking copious amounts of beer.
So when it came time to try to revive bowling (because people try to revive everything that was once popular, usually with some updates that negate whatever qualities made them popular in the first place), the companies making the attempt focused on trying to make bowling cool.
Anyway, we were recently invited to a midlife crisis bowling party, thrown for people who were turning 50 and didn’t want any of the usual midlife crisis stuff like exotic sports cars or affairs with much younger people.
I mentioned earlier that I hadn’t bowled in more than 20 years, but it had been a decade before that when I had last bowled regularly, and after that one time 20 years ago, my arm hurt for days. So, this time, we arrived bearing Advil and Band-Aids (for the thumb blister I was sure I’d get), and we entered the new, cool world of bowling.
To start with, we were not in a bowling alley. We were in a Grand Prix racing establishment. There was a glass-encased indoor race track on which people in miniature racing cars were zipping around, pretending they were in Formula One automobiles instead of glorified bumper cars. It seemed like they were going really fast, but that may have only been because the track was really small. They didn’t look that comfortable, either, crammed into a racer only slightly larger than a Hot Wheels car.
Then there was a smallish video arcade which seemed like it was there only as a half-hearted obligatory gesture. Not a single game was being played, not even the huge video arcade version of Connect Four, which I couldn’t imagine anyone ever playing because, really, why would you?
At least, they bore some slight resemblance to bowling lanes. It was hard to tell because it was so dark. I figured they didn’t have enough power to turn the lights on what with all the technology that is apparently now involved in knocking some pins over with a ball.
There were blinking, strobing lights that seemed more intent on causing seizures than illuminating anything. And there was loud, bass-thumping music because, as you know, bowling alleys are normally just too quiet. It was almost as if they were expecting John Travolta to show up in his white suit to bowl a few games.
Over the pins, where there used to be a triangle that would sometimes show you which pins were left standing on the rare occasions when it was working, there were now giant screens showing music videos. The paper score sheets had been replaced by computers connected to overhead monitors that kept score and showed cartoons calling everyone’s attention to the fact that you had just thrown a gutter ball.
We got shoes. This part actually hasn’t changed much over the years (the shoes even still look the same), except that they didn’t keep our shoes on deposit, which meant that we could actually steal the bowling shoes if we had any inclination to do so, which I anticipated might turn out to be the case if, after bowling, we could no longer bend over to take the shoes off. Then we chose balls from the racks. Bowling balls aren’t black anymore because that is not cool. They are all sorts of bright hues, color-coded by weight. I first chose one in yellow, but then I picked one in aqua because it went better with my eyes.
Okay, we were ready to go. After taking several minutes to figure out how to enter everyone’s name into the computer, the lanes were turned on and we had to start. Immediately. No practice rolls. Even back in my league days you got practice rolls. After twenty years, it would have been nice to see if I even remembered which fingers went into which holes. But, no, the Nazi computer scorekeeper was unforgiving, so everything counted.
I stepped up to the line holding my ridiculous aqua bowling bowl. “Where did I used to stand?” I asked myself. “How many steps did I used to take? Why am I doing this?” I looked up, trying to concentrate on the lane, which was difficult because of the close-up of Taylor Swift appearing right over the pins so that it seemed like I could roll the ball right into her mouth.
I tried to recall the footwork involved, approaching the foul line, swinging the ball back. I stumbled slightly while releasing the ball directly into the gutter.
As the game progressed, I started to knock some pins down, and I fell only twice, although one time I embarrassingly traveled quite some distance down the adjoining lane on my face. After awhile, I noticed that the repulsive scorekeeper screen had some sort of countdown timer in the lower corner. I wondered if it had some way of knowing when my arm would fall off.
It turned out it was counting down how much time we had left to bowl. Because they don’t charge by the game any more, they charge by the hour. Which is stupid, because when you’re playing a game that has a finite end, what happens when time runs out? It would be like adding a clock to baseball and ending the game at the buzzer regardless of what inning it was.**
It seems to me–and I think David Ranta would agree (remember him from the beginning of this post?)–that we’ve made some things just way too complicated. You get water from a sink by turning a handle. You knock objects over by rolling a ball at them. What could be simpler?
What would The Dude think?***
See you soon.
*They were professional bowlers.
**Can you imagine how slow a baseball game would be if the team in the lead was trying to run out the clock?
**The Big Lebowski reference.