Friday, April 28, 2006


The H-man turned 6 last weekend, and to celebrate Geri threw him a big family birthday bash at Timber Lanes bowling alley. Have you ever been to a bowling birthday party before? Bowling birthday parties are great because not only do kids love them, they give the adults something to do as well. Here’s how they work. For the first 20 minutes, all the kids scramble around the alley trying on different shoes and picking up different balls, getting completely worked up over the idea of throwing a ball for the purpose of knocking stuff down.

Some of the adults, I should note, become uncharacteristically manic as well.

Once we’re all assembled on our designated lanes, the kids commence fidgeting and fussing impatiently with the shoes they picked out, arguing over who will go first with which ball, and start sliding around on the slick wooden floor like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. After order is restored, and bowling order established, the real fun begins.

The young ones mill around the ball return waiting for their turn, playing with the blower and seeing how close they get their hands to the machinery inside before coaxing a stern warning from the parent gallery.

“Get your hands out of there or we’re going home right now! You’re not LISTENING to me! I said get your hands out of there! How are you going to tie your shoes when you’ve only got one arm?” No one actually says this, of course. Not out loud, anyhow.

One after the next, each pint-sized bowler stumbles and sways up to the fault line hefting a pink 8-pound orb and, in one clunky motion, shot puts it from the shoulder out onto the lane with a THUD that forces everyone in the group to turn their head and cough nervously. It actually looks like a group hernia check is being performed.

The following 2 minutes are spent watching the ball carom off the bumpers from gutter to gutter, drifting like a drunk, neon tumbleweed into space toward the pins at the other end. The bowler, meanwhile, does a little dance, lies down on the floor, spins around a little bit, fidgets a little more with his/her shoes, dances again and completely misses the ball clearing a path through the center of the pins on the other end. Everyone claps excitedly at the outcome, regardless of how many pins remain standing, and the kid skips back to the ball return grinning like school just let out for the summer.

Fast forward ahead one half hour. All the kids have abandoned the bowling lanes and are now chasing one another around the ball rack in a sugar-stoked frenzy while the adults are all huddled closely around the scoring table, high-fiving one another and enjoying a few relaxing frames of pin smashing fun. The jukebox jams Deep Purple, the bartender uncaps another round of cold ones, and everybody slips comfortably into a state of extended glee. It’s as close to perfect as life gets.

That’s the magic of bowling. It’s a power to which my grandfather has been testifying for the last 70 years. Field of Dreams had us believe that baseball was the one constant that brought us all together, standing tall through good times and bad. But baseball has seen its share of ups and downs over the years, while bowling has rolled steadily along in the undercurrent of American culture. I'd say it's probably our nation's most unheralded pastime. Maybe it’s time we give bowling some of the credit it deserves.

Yeah - I come from a long line of bowlers. In Chi-town, that's how we roll. Where else can you celebrate the fine art of striking out?

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