Eight years ago, my regular golf buddies and I decided that, instead of moping around all winter, as usual, we would go bowling. Eight guys showed up the first Sunday. Ferris, it turned out, had bowled in high school, and Billy had been a member of a hippie team in college. Nick and Gene already owned their own balls and shoes. Ray brought his old ball but couldn’t use it because his fingers no longer fit into the holes.
As soon as I got home, I went online and ordered bowling shoes, a bowling instruction book, and a bowling ball that looks like a giant golf ball. Two weeks later, I bought a second ball (with more spin) and a two-ball bag, to which I attached my golf-club bag tag. I had my name engraved on one of the balls, and “SMG” (for Sunday Morning Group) engraved on the other.
Taking up bowling was like discovering a previously unsuspected continent of things that you can buy. (Did you know that good bowling shoes have different right and left soles—one to grip and one to slide?) We transferred over all our regular junk, including skins, negative skins, nassaus, presses, and the money hole. We bowled in golf clothes and golf hats. We referred to frames as holes and to games as rounds. We used golf towels to wipe lane oil from our balls. I even managed to preserve most of my swing flaws: I came over the top in bowling, too.
I created an Excel spreadsheet that automatically updated everybody’s average and handicap whenever I entered new scores. In one of our earliest outings, after shooting a depressingly characteristic 82, I had six consecutive strikes, a spare, another strike, and two nines, for 226. Hacker (real name) said, “Aren’t you kind of sad that you’ve already shot the best round you’ll ever shoot?”
A bowling alley is one of the few sporting venues where a golfer can feel almost like an athlete. There were so many smokers at one of the ones we went to that even the parking lot smelled like cigarettes. Most of the regulars, who gave us dirty looks when we collapsed in hysterics over somebody’s double gutter ball, had very low centers of gravity—they were shaped like bowling pins—and their bowling bags had wheels on them. The specialty at the snack counter was panzarotti, which is made by combining all the things your doctor tells you never to eat and deep-frying them.
Bowling is fun, but it’s just golf methadone. We bowled for two winters, but then winters around here started seeming more like late fall or early spring. We found several open golf courses within an hour or two of where we live, and they made us forget all about our fancy bowling shoes. This winter, though, we’ve had a couple of big snowstorms, including a huge one this past weekend. We’re probably not going to see grass around here again for a while, even if it doesn’t snow this coming weekend, the way it’s supposed to. So who knows?