The bowling alley, the old saying goes, is the poor man’s country club and to that gem I say: If that’s the case, sign me up. Over the past year, we have reintroduced ourselves to our love of this game, with twelve of us meeting on a near-monthly basis in the winter and having so much fun we are considering having shirts made.
The entertainment begins the week before the event, when we start group texting to see who’s in. I’m not sure how it started, but the goal of those messages is to use as many bowling-related puns as possible: “Let’s pin down the details,” “Can’t wait to hang out with everyone. Turkeys included,” “Be there or be spare,” “This conversation has headed straight to the gutter.” This, along with a whole lot of Big Lebowski memes, results in a lot of laughs and a lot of anticipation for the night, in part because it reminds you how much you like your nerdy friends.
Interestingly, puns and your classic night at the Briar Bowl go hand in hand: There is a certain lighthearted innocence to both. Stepping into the alley feels like a throwback to a simpler time, when Friday night was no more complicated than changing your shoes and getting ready to roll.
Feeding the nostalgia is the fact that our bowling alley in Somerset is extremely dated. It’s possible the baby pink tile in the women’s bathroom was laid on the same day as the Sputnik launch. And the lanes are constantly breaking down, much to the chagrin of the gawky, pimply-faced teenage employees who run the show.
After we pick up our shoes (or most of us do — William and I have our own shoes and balls, the cause of a considerable degree of razzing (i.e. jealousy) among our friends), we split up into teams, the girls on one lane, the guys on the other.
And that’s when the gender-difference analysis can begin.
The guys get competitive fast. They make sure their palms are dry by waving them over the air vents in the ball return kiosk. They use chalk. They use strategy. If they score a strike, they turn toward the other guys and perform a very restrained fist pump alongside their hip. The distance of that pump increases in proportion to how many successive strikes have been scored. A turkey, for example, merits a fully executed pump, along with a series of extensions and pull-backs.
But. If they don’t down all the pins in the first throw, they turn to the other guys and shake their head and tsk, body language that says, “I’m giving my all here, guys, but it’s tough. It’s just damn tough.” If they still don’t down all the pins with the second throw, they walk back to their seat looking tired, exhausted even, like the game has sapped them of their strength.
For the ladies, the game is something we play in between our conversation. Having to take your turn, in fact, can be a bit of a pain because when you return to the bevy you have to play conversation catch-up. On several occasions, I’ve been known to sigh, “It’s my turn again?”
If one of the girls scores a strike, we only know because the guys applaud — none of the rest of us are watching. But when we do throw a strike, though our interest in the game is faint, the celebration at the foul line is considerably more animated. We’ve been known to clap quickly at chest level. Occasionally, a jump — heels touching buttocks — might be involved.
On either team, it’s always fascinating to see what kinds of personalities surface. There is the person who wants to work the computer and input everyone’s names. There is the person who tells you it’s your turn, a reminder that gets less gentle as the game proceeds. There is the person who pretends not to care, but somehow always knows the score. There is the person who finds the teenage employee so he can get the pit unclogged of pins. There is the person who goes with him/her for company. There is the person who, at the end of the match, suggests we do this on a weekly, and not just monthly, basis. Then there is the person who is mostly just there for the food. And that’s me.
When I’m at the alley, fried anything is my jam. Who knows what’s in those fryers, but I’ll take anything that comes out of them. Our bowling alley, strange though it is, also has the best burgers in town. Couple those pickle-laden, mayo-oozing, green leaf lettuce-sporting, cheese-topped wonders with the best onion rings in town and, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got yourself a party.