Sunday, March 21, 2010

From awful to one standard deviation below average in bowling. Chapter I : Triple Digits

One of my readers (MaddysDaddy) has prodded me into writing an autobiography of my evolution as a bowler, and this is a first attempt. It is the journey from "awful" to "one standard deviation below average" to quote myself. In other words, I still suck at bowling, but I'm a hell of a lot better than I was. That journey is the subject of this post. I think I'll write it in three or four parts, which I will try to post on successive Sundays. We'll see what comes out.

In late 2006, our anchorman, JD, suggested we join a bowling league, so we did. We were turning the corner on our mid-30's at the time, and it seemed like a nice competitive activity for middle-aged men of leisure. The league, known as the Memorial League of Bernaski, was a scene so unfamiliar that it would take many return visits before it felt like an environment to which I belonged.

I live in a small town. We have less than 30,000 inhabitants in the whole place. It is very difficult to go to the grocery store without seeing somebody you know. Yet, at Laramie Lanes on our first league night, there were nine other lanes with four bowlers on each, and I knew none of them. This was a social group with whom I had not crossed paths. You see our fair city is organized sort of like the town in the movie Breaking Away. There are the university people (my normal cohort), and then there is the rest of the community. Here was the rest of the community, and for the first time, I was interacting with them. I am really happy to have made these new friends because they are far more interesting than a bunch of snooty PhDs sipping wine at a cocktail party. For example, when my wife decided it might be fun to go the Smash-Up Derby (not at all my normal type of activity) at the Albany County Fair Grounds, it seemed like half the bowling league was there, and I mean really there. For example, Bernaski was represented both in the drivers and in the officiating crew.

The other thing that took me off guard about bowling league was the skill level of bowlers. I had never bowled seriously nor competitively. My prior experience with the game was not that different than that of most people. I bowled quite a bit when I was a kid and very occasionally after that. Bowling seemed like a fun, if not funny, thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night once every couple of years. When I visited bowling alleys on this schedule, the bowlers I saw were like me, or even worse. They threw house balls. They threw them straight. If they broke 100, it was a good game. I had no idea how different league bowling actually was.

So back in January of 2007, I was thrust into a situation that was somewhat uncomfortable. Here was an unfamiliar crowd in an unfamiliar environment with a hell of a lot of skill at rolling bowling balls. But the time comes when you must step up to the deck, grab your ball off the rack, and start your approach to the foul line. I have no idea what I bowled in that first frame nor that first game. I wish I had the foresight to track my stats from Day 1, but I did not. I seem to recall that my scores improved every game over my first six, but that's somewhat immaterial to the tale.

In those days and in that stage, there were only a few things to figure out about bowling: 1) Who the hell are these people? 2) Why do they all seem like professional bowlers? 3) How do you know which lane you are supposed to bowl on? That's it in a nutshell.

I was using a pink 11 lbs house ball because I liked the way it fit my hand. I'd probably throw it around 22 mph. I would aim for the pocket on the Brooklyn side. I was happy with any score that was comprised of three numbers, like 108. Over the subsequent 16 weeks, I started cluing in to certain aspects of the game. For example, it takes a while to learn how to pick up certain spares. It is obvious how to attack some leaves, but others are more mysterious, like the 3-9. If you don't throw hook, then there is only one way to reliably collect that bastard, right on the nose of the 3. This knowledge is not innate. You learn it from experience. You have to see leaves over and over again before you figure out how to conquer them.

I left our first season with the best average on the team, a 135. I did that chucking an 11 lbs house ball pretty damn hard. I missed the last night of league. I am not sure where I was, but the rest of the Movements, John, Joe, and Z, discovered that we actually got money back at the end of the season. We had no idea that this would happen. When I returned, I learned that my earnings had been spent at the bar that night and had been allocated toward scotch for our next meeting of the S.A.C. (Scotch Appreciation Club).

[Continued in Chapter 2]


  1. Dude, you can write. I mean really write.

    I'm in my 2nd season and while I knew that we'd be getting money back at the end of the season, I didn't find out 'til a few weeks ago that the amount of money depended on our standings. As you can imagine, losing started to feel a whole lot worse after that revelation.

    Looking forward to the next installment!


  2. Thanks Matt, My writing has definitely improved because of this endeavor. Practice makes perfect. -Todd

  3. Looking forward to the next installment. This is my 3rd year of league bowling. 1st year (2007-2008) average was 135. I see some similarities here.

  4. Doc, I hope your 2nd season wasn't not like mine. I call it the "lost year", but I'm getting ahead of myself.

  5. That's what I'm calling this year, brothers... MY lost year. Goodbye and good riddance.


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