hi everyone! i'm back!
sorry for the extended break...i sort of got busy helping america. but i'm back in kent and have even less to do than before, so that means good news for the five people who actually read this thing.
anyways, here's the first of what should be many new posts. hope you like it.
This is a story about why I hate waking up early and still get sweaty palms whenever purchasing prophylactics.
Starting about when I was eleven or twelve, I was on a bowling team with two of my closest friends. I’m not sure as to how we became inundated into the greater Portage county bowling scene, but somehow we were. The league we were in occurred every Saturday morning, starting roughly around 10 or so. You bowled three games and went head-to-head against another team. After the three games one team was the winner of the day and the other suffered crushing bowling alley defeat. Well, that may be a bit much, but I’m sure somebody’s parents were disappointed on a weekly basis. What? Another loss? Get in the fucking van, we have to go practice again…and get daddy’s Skoal.
The league was also divided into age brackets, so normally you would bowl teams of your age and ability. You had an off chance of playing older teams, but usually handicaps would work to even out everything.
If you are not privy to the world of junior league bowling, each person had an average score. Then you would add enough pins to equal a game of 150, I believe. So the better you were, the smaller the handicap. That’s where the older kids got the bone-job. Their rippling muscles and nicotine stained fingers were no match for my 96 pin average. Although they were by far the best bowlers, they pretty much always lost because they had little to nothing to work with as a handicap.
And I feel they also lost because they were bowling against 12-year olds on Saturday mornings, and where I come from that is the exact opposite of “winning.”
So every Saturday morning we would all get up and get dropped off in this magical world of splits, spares and ill-fitting shoes. To us, it was an amazingly fun way to enjoy a day off school and a fun source of competition. Oh, I also forgot to mention – I hate competition. Like, really really don’t like it. I am six feet six inches tall and didn’t play anything remotely close to an organized sport in high school or college. A mystery - a creature birthed of giants… with the athletic drive of Bruce Vilanch.
So for me bowling was the one time I actually had fun while competing. It was something I was good at and couldn’t feel very intimidated by. Essentially, it’s a sport for fatties, and that was the mental edge I needed.
For me, going to Kent Lanes every Saturday was like gearing up for the Thunderdome. Every morning I woke up ready to take on the next team. I went in, got my shoes, then promptly found my favorite 12 pound ball with appropriate chip between the thumb and index finger holes. My chainmail. The armor I suited myself with. The weapons I needed.
To anyone else, I’m sure it just looked like an awkward looking 12-year old going to bowl in the aftermath of a Friday night bowling alley booze bender.
In the eyes of my parents, I feel the internal monologue went something like this: Every time he comes back from that bowling alley Jeff smells like someone dumped a wet ashtray down his elastic-lined pants and made him do sit ups. (Yes, up until age 13 I couldn’t wear pants without elastic bottoms. God knows why.)
True, my time in league play was all before a smoking ban snuffed out Ohio. This was far ahead of that, to be honest. This was nearly a time harkening back to the beginning of cigarettes, where people couldn’t smoke enough. Smoking was beautiful, majestic. And I smelled like it for five to seven hours after I left the lanes.
But I was fine with it, it just sort of seemed to be what happens when you go to a bowling alley. If there were two things that complemented each other perfectly, it’s bowling and smoking. Well, to be fair, drinking, too. It’s like a special trio reserved for the alcoholics and poor dressers of the Midwest.
But the lanes did not only introduce me to wonders of second hand smoke, but also jump-started my foray into sex education.
Now, many bowling alleys are geared towards families. The fun black light bowling, the charming birthday parties – all of it is to bring in that coveted 5-12 demographic left in the wake of Chuck E. Cheese and Patrick O’Shenanigan’s Funtime Pizza Parlor (doesn’t exist.).
But in the 90’s, bowling alleys hit a few demographics hard - mainly drunken, lonely rednecks. These people are the bread and butter of bowling alleys, truly. They love to bowl and drink indoors.
But what you also must understand is that sometimes after a few cocktails, drunken, lonely rednecks may find someone. It could be a “wrong lane” ball toss or the classic “next round of Keystones is on me,” but whatever it is love sometimes can blossom in the dirtiest of places. And with any kind of love, you need to make sure of a few things. She’s 18 and you’ve got some rubbers.
Well, Kent Lanes was fully prepared to help you out with the latter. Nestled back in the darkest reaches of the mens room was a shiny treasure trove of prophylactics. While I’m sure it was a lifesaver Friday night, Saturday morning as it eyed me at a urinal was unnerving. I might even say terrifying.
The first time I saw it I had little clue as to what it was. A hand dryer? No, because that stained re-circulating hand towel next to the sink was there for that. Fake tattoo dispenser? No, the only skull on it seems to be hand-drawn.
Then I was informed. This was done by a fellow league member purchasing one and throwing it around the bathroom.
This was apocalyptic. Up until the age of 22 I was never even able to comfortably discuss sex. In any way shape or form. Every health class resulted in me needing to apply double the amount of anti-perspirant. So when I found out that this balloon being shot around the room was for “sexing up,” it’s safe to say I freaked out. I think I had to have a long talk with my mom that night. It mainly proved that grown up church kids are not meant to be lurking in bowling alley bathrooms.
It also proved that it would be a very long time before I would a) be needing to purchase something like this and b) be comfortably purchasing something like this. To this day I have to buy at least 10 dollars worth of unnecessary items just to cover up the dirty little secrets I’m buying. As if three packages of Big League Chew will help balance out the torrid evidence of my premarital sex. It’s almost like I’m making a non-verbal thesis on why I’m a good guy. “Well…although I’m purchasing this package of condoms…I’d like you to notice all these astronaut stickers and wacky candy bars I’m buying. So…you know…I’m just sayin…PLEASE DON’T TELL MY MOTHER.” I’m a pretty weird dude.
But amidst all these bathroom hijinks, we actually became good bowlers. Like, actually good bowlers. I even scored a 225 once. I know. I was fit for a beer gut and Chevy tattoo before I could vote.
But, by the hand of God, things changed. Everyone else started to get better and I was on the decline. People were learning how to throw the ball so it curved out and then came back in towards the pins. People were bringing bags of chalk to the lanes. CHALK. I don’t even know how that would fucking help you?!
So as everyone enjoyed fruitful Saturday mornings full of high scores and higher fives, I sat in agony. Until I came upon the great realization: I hate waking up early. With a passion. Completely despise it.
If I get a great new job and they require me to show up at 6 am, I would send my apologies and walk my ass out the door. If I could go outside and see Venus eclipsing the sun at 7am on a Saturday I would rather see my head eclipsing my pillow. I truly loathe being awake before 10.
That’s where my life went from “maybe I’ll buy that 15 pound ball and put in extra hours of practice” to “let’s start drinking and not wake up until Sunday.” The sand was there and the line was drawn. Fuck bowling, I’m sleeping in.
I can say it made me sad, because I didn’t see my friends with as much frequency, plus I also was in the dark on what was the fashion trend for lower calf tattoos. But no matter how many turkeys or spares I could have earned, nothing could compare to that feeling of wasting half of my day doing absolutely nothing. Because even though I could sense my friends’ disappointment every morning they called, I knew that I was making the right decision. A decision leading me towards hazy late night memories and leading the rest of the league to 215 pin averages.