Monday, July 28, 2014

Bowl at Your Own Risk

The problem is: "Find a way to get this ball down this alley while knocking over the maximum number of pins."
Last week we promised the birthday boy a bowling outing but we ran out of time between the jumpy houses, the pizza and the cake-- in that order, to avoid having to cordon off the jumpy houses for a thorough disinfection. We ate a LOT of pizza and cake that weekend. Experts caution against bowling 30 minutes after eating, and we had no particular 30-minute stretch where we weren't eating, so...

Or is that swimming they meant? Regardless, I feel like the slang word hella should be used to describe all that cake, as in "after we ate all that cake, we moved around like we were stuck in hella quicksand," but I'm not sure that's proper usage. The word hella sounds contrived anyway. So we may leave that one in the bag permanently. Says the hopelessly old man. 

This weekend the calendar was a bit more open from a food standpoint, so we called up the lanes to inquire about availability, and they had open bowling from now until about Labor Day.

The look on my face when I heard the cost of two games of bowling probably gave the guy behind the counter the impression I had swallowed one of the house balls. Wasn't there a time when you could bowl all day, all night, and sleep there if you needed to, for $5 + pizza? Or did I dream that, and woke up really angry?

We got to our lane where everyone got a good laugh over the absurd bowling shoes (ha ha), picked out our balls, then set down for those most tedious bowling tasks...deciding who was going in which order, what name they would use, and typing those names into the machine. I was not expecting to be greeted with a two-page disclaimer at the sign-in screen:

Like poring through the 54 pages of legalese while registering for a Web site offering free pocket lint always seems a bit much, the 2 pages of warnings that accompany bowling were too much for me. But it sounded like we were about to ride a roller coaster through an Afghani piranha tank. Nobody with recent heart problems or medical issues should bowl, nor should pregnant women or sufferers of recent 4-hour erections. They almost needed a 4-foot mini-statue of Earl Anthony with a sign reading, "You must be as tall as my follow-through to bowl without an adult." And whatever you do, don't touch the foul line. 

One safety precaution they missed was, "Don't stick your head in the ball return," which I guess we all thought was understood (now all the bowling lanes will have to post it) until the 2-year-old went to retrieve his ball by climbing "in the tunnel." This was after his first ever throw, which was preceded by much pomp and circumstance. The 7-year-old, self-proclaimed "Boss of the Kids" commandeered a ramp and immediately centered it in the lane while the 5-year-old carried his brother's ball for him and set it on top for him to push. It looked like a bit of an Odyssey of the Mind project, but it was truly a watershed moment in sibling cooperation, one that they would immediately forget. 

Many, many people throughout kids' sports bemoan the concept of "Everyone Gets a Trophy," but easily the most efficient way to artificially inflate your children's confidence is to take them bumper bowling. In particular, our daughter, who I want to say "perfected" the science with a herky-jerky motion that left the ball traveling at a 45-degree angle. Luckily, the force with which her ball hit the bumper often caused a decent enough kickback that the ball ended up down the middle, and she proudly put up a career-best score of 107 when under normal conditions she would have struggled to bowl a minus 6. 

The lanes were not as forgiving to the five-year-old, who pushed a slower ball that meandered over to and then ultimately hugged the bumper, causing many of his tosses to end up in threes or even "bummers." (More on "bummers" later.) As the frustration of minimal pin action--and losing to his sister-- intensified, he decided he would roll the ball instead of pushing it, and in one unfortunate but not unforeseen event, the ball went straight up in the air and landed just over the foul line, inching its way down the alley before coming to rest somewhere between all those arrows the pros think they use. 

The first reaction of anyone when the ball gets stuck is to go get it, but we have ingrained in our children that (1) you never go into the street unattended, more importantly (2) you never, ever, EVER go get your bowling ball. If you've never crossed that line before, it's like ice skating if you've never ice skated before. So oily are the lanes, so tractionless are those clown shoes, a civilian stands virtually no chance of walking without falling onto a plane of goo. So the guy behind the counter has to go.

Today they turned the foul line buzzer off, much to my chagrin. You can learn a lot about your kids by their reaction to a bowling lane's foul line buzzer. My daughter, the careful rule-follower, treats it like an electric fence. So does my older son, but he's clumsy enough to accidentally cross it all 20 times in a game. The two-year-old would have foregone his entire game just to make it go off constantly. 

Whoever invented those ramps and bumper bowling, however, is a genius. Studies published in the Pediatric Bowling Journal (PBJ) have shown that the attention span of every kid in the world is exactly 14 frames. Before helpful items like bumpers and ramps, it was about 5. Now, bowling alleys can suck that extra game out of your wallet, because the kids always say, "Let's Play Two!" and now you've paid double for nothing more than the right to hear how "thiiiiiiirsty" everyone is. By the middle of the second game, the kids are bored, picking each other's ears, arguing over Gatorade and half-assing their turns or refusing them altogether. By the eighth frame, Dad is averting an outright coup by taking everyone's turn and bowling between his legs or with the opposite hand, which initially gets a few laughs and stretches a groin or two.

One feature that tries desperately to keep the kids' attention are the animated recaps of the previously thrown ball on the scoreboard. Pins are put into all sorts of situations...dressed as pirates, pillaging other pins...dressed as cowboys, lassoing other pins...dressed as basketball players ferociously dunking a bowling ball and smashing other pins...each time with a brief commentary. 9 pins down gets you a "Wow Dude", 7 pins down gets a "Good Try" and 1 pin down gets a "BUMMER." So of course, when the 5-year-old asks what "bummer" means, without hesitation we respond that "it's when you only get one pin down in bowling."

He'll continue to use that term until some day when he's out with his buddies and he tries to use it, and they'll just think they misheard him or he misspoke--until he does it again, and then his boys (or whatever friends will be called in 2030) will give him the business about it. I'll miss that, of course, because I'll be old and at home in my easy chair making some asinine predictions like what day Brian Williams will announce his retirement from the NBC Nightly News. (September 14, 2030.) So I'll have to hear about it the next time I see him. Then I'll remember this day.

But until that day, we learned that bowling can be a dangerous activity if you're not prepared. Other than a few smashed fingers between balls, a few hangnails, the near miss with the ball return, and the usual coming out of there looking like you just changed the fluids on an 18-wheeler, however, we were no worse for wear. Everyone had a good time. You might say it was actually really fun. 

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Anonymous said...

The cost of bowling does seem to have gone up alot. I guess part of the reason it feels that way is cause I don't go often.
Some funny thoughts here - the warnings, the scoring,
Glad it was ultimately a good time.

JC said...

Thanks Larry, glad you stopped by. Everything is an experience, as you're aware :)

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