The colorful sport of bowling

Kevin Cowherd

May 11, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

Off the top of my head, I'm calling this piece "Bowling: a reappraisal" and hoping it comes across as properly sincere and apologetic in tone.

The truth is, I used to think bowling was a fairly dull sport, engaged in mainly by armies of moon-faced men and women with an affinity for noise and loud shirts.

But as I discovered last weekend, bowling can be very exciting, even if one doesn't wear a neon green shirt with bold red script proclaiming "Al's Towing: 24-hour service."

I also discovered that the excitement of bowling seems to build in direct proportion to the number of beers consumed.

Completely sober, the act of rolling a heavy ball into a set of pins may strike some as pointless, not unlike face-painting or collecting bottle caps.

By the third or fourth beer, though, the alleys begin to take on a warm, rosy glow.

At the same time, your companions, whom you once regarded as uninteresting people with ugly red and green shoes, are magically transformed into sparkling conversationalists with the wit of a Garrison Keillor or Helen Gurley Brown - although a Keillor and Brown who are not above telling a steady stream of raunchy jokes, such as the one about Joan Collins and the Titanic.

Humorist Roy Blount Jr. once pointed out that there has never been a great bowling novel.

I don't see why. Bowlers are some of the warmest, most genuine people you'll ever come across. I see that now. Don't know how I missed it before.

Not to dwell on this for too long, but it's inconceivable to not like a sport that allows you to drink beer while you participate.

That is probably half the problem with these other so-called participant sports.

Racquetball, for instance. Racquetball players are so uptight.

And no wonder. The game essentially calls for two people with large dangerous rackets to go into a room the size of a broom closet and smack a little blue ball as hard as they can.

If you were encouraged to bring a beer or two in there, the nervous tension would surely dissipate, to the point where the players might break out lawn chairs and tape players and begin a lively conversation about the new Springsteen albums.

This is probably neither here nor there, but I used to have a friend named Bob who, when asked what kind of exercise he got, would reply (with a straight face): "Well, I bowl three times a week."

Meanwhile, on any given bowling night, Bob was good for at least four Budweisers, a pack of Camel Filters and a couple of artery-clogging bacon cheeseburgers.

We used to take bets on whether this guy would make it to the parking lot without keeling over.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but he looked as if he'd just jumped off an autopsy table.

Yet he insisted that bowling kept him in shape.

Despite my renewed fondness for bowling, I do have one minor complain about the sport.

The shirts. I don't know . . . I can't get past the shirts that serious (read: league) bowlers wear.

Even with three beers in me, I would feel extremely self-conscious wearing a yellow polyester shirt with black lettering advertising Bob's Qwik-Mart, complete with the faint outline of a jug of 2 percent milk over the breast pocket.

Without actually calling for a vote, I think we'd all agree that the bowling shirt is the single ugliest garment in the history of the clothing industry.

To me, a Nehru jacket or robins-egg-blue leisure suit looks positively snazzy compared to your average bowling shirt.

Why these bowlers can't wear a smart-looking polo shirt or something more . . . geez, I just remembered something. The guy on lane 24 last week.

This guy wore a bowling shirt most rational people would not wear unless: a) a massive power failure had plunged the alley into total darkness or b) the wearer had on a Groucho Marx-like fake eyeglasses, nose and mustache to disguise his or her identity.

I am not sure it's possible to describe this shirt because . . . well, let's give it a try.

The shirt was mustard-brown in color. Printed on the back in vivid green letters was: "Ohn Electrical Contractors."

Directly underneath was an applique scene of a tiny black bowling ball crashing into a set of pins, except that the pins -- stay with me here -- were in the shape of light bulbs with happy faces.

The green script over the breast pocket indicated the ruddy-faced fellow with the beer gut wearing this shirt was named Chet.

Frightening? Oh, you betcha.

Again, I like bowling.

But a man like Chet must really love the game.

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