The Hardest Comeback

Many businesses are going to have challenges when they return after the state shutdown orders expire — a process that is increasingly occurring across the country.  People who have been lectured repeatedly about social distancing and who have refrained from shaking hands or having any close proximity interactions with anybody who isn’t already living in their house may be skittish about throwing that all aside and, say, sitting right next to total strangers and sharing a public bathroom at a basketball game.

635667958347229965-bowlingI think one business may have the biggest challenge of all:  bowling.  When you think about it, it’s just about the most communal activity for the general public that we’ve got.  It’s indoors.  You bowl on a lane right next to people you’ve never seen before and will never see again.  And– get this, germophobes! — you share alley balls and their hard surfaces with other members of the general public, and you stick your fingers into the same finger holes that other unknown people have used.  All of those balls travel on the same lanes and go through the same ball retrieval devices.  Even more, you share shoes with total strangers, too!

In short, bowling has a potentially dizzying amount of communication vectors.  It makes you wonder if Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, dazzling scarves flying, have ever gone out to the local alley to try to throw a strike or pick up a spare.

Bowling isn’t alone, of course,  Any bars that have communal games — like bocce, or cornhole — are going to see the same issues.  How are people going to react to going to the community swimming pool and jumping in the water that’s also occupied by some germy-looking kids and that dubious guy lurking over at the pool’s edge?  Will people go to concerts, or participate in that fun trivia night at their local tavern?  Are cheering parents going to be maintaining social distancing in the stands at their kids’ baseball and softball games, and are they going to insist that the kids can’t give each other high fives?

The health experts want us to remember these social distancing rules and continue to adhere to them, even if coronavirus goes the way of the dodo, because it will help to prevent the spread of the flu — a yearly occurrence that is deadly for some but that we’ve all come to accept as a risk.  Lots of businesses, on the other hand, hope that we promptly forget all that and get back to having fun with people in crowds.  Something’s gotta give.


Colorful Kegling

Russell was in town for the weekend, and at his request on Sunday we went bowling at the HP (for “high performance”) Lanes Bowling Center off Cleveland Avenue.  Knocking down the pins was fun, as always, but our little taste of modern bowling made me realize how dramatically the bowling experience has changed since I was a kid.

Our bowling alley in those days in the ’60s was the legendary Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a place for people who were serious about bowling.  The bowling balls were all black — the only nod to color appeared on the 6-pound balls for little kids, which had red and blue triangles on them — and the only noise was the balls rolling down the alley and scattering the pins.  To complete the somewhat somber, focused atmosphere, against one wall there was a huge photograph of President Nixon, with an intense look on his face as he began his approach to the foul line, bearing the title “Our Bowling President.”  It helped to lock in the belief of most of the keglers that bowling was the all-American sport.

HP Lanes is . . . different.  For one thing, the “house balls” are as colorful as Easter eggs.  The area above the pins is a riotous, Mardi Gras-like study in pastels, and there was rock music playing at a pretty healthy volume.  There wasn’t any photo of a bowling president around, either.  The only link to the bowling days of yore was the color of the lanes, the ball delivery system, and the American flag.

Mixed Messages

Yesterday we went bowling at Russell’s suggestion — which turned out to be a good thing because it caused us to miss the Ohio State debacle.  

But I was struck by the mixed messages we got as part of the kegling experience.  Outside, the sign says bowling is fun, fun, fun!  Inside, the screen above the lane presents a grim warning about the dangers and risks of bowling and sternly advising us that by proceeding we were accepting the “conditions of play.”  I’m surprised we weren’t required to sign a waiver and release form, too.

The disclosures made me chuckle, because I’ve been bowling for about 55 years now and I’ve never seen anything close to an injury.  It’s a sport where people who may be complete novices put on strange shoes, hurl heavy balls down slippery surfaces, and frequently drink a pitcher of beer while doing so.  What could go wrong?  But I’ve never seen anything worse than a pratfall.  I agree with the outdoor sign — bowling is fun.

Beer King

IMG_0589Tonight we had a firm event at a bowling alley.  It was fun, but I noticed a number of the people in our group daintily sipping wine.

Wine?  Seriously?  At a bowling alley?  That’s like wearing black patent leather shoes with a brown suit, or using a cigarette holder to stay away from some unbrand smokes.  No, I’m sorry . . . bowling mandates a few beers.  That’s what I had, and it made me feel like the Bavarian beer monarch — I think it might be Gambrinus — who graces one of the streets of the nearby Brewery District in Columbus.  Even in America, with its rich tradition of monarchial opposition, could get behind a rosy-nosed king with a stern yet approving look on his face and a goblet of suds in his hand.

Bowling and beer go together, like mashed potatoes and gravy or grilled cheese and tomato soup.

July 4 Kegling

IMG_6111What could be more patriotic than a little bowling on Independence Day?

Grandpa Neal would be proud.  It turns out that Russell is really starting to enjoy bowling with his friends up in the Motor City, so when he came for a visit this weekend he wanted to roll a few frames with Kish and me.  Yesterday afternoon we went down South High Street to Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.  It was largely deserted, but we had fun and there was red, white, and blue to be found in the riotous colors that were everywhere we looked.  It was a useful reminder that you never want to have your home decorated by the same person who also has devised the color scheme at a bowling alley.

It was the first time I’ve been bowling in a year and a half, and in my first game I had my worst game in decades — a 104.  I’m happy to report, though, that I righted the ship and followed it up with a 155 and then a snappy 209.


The Fireballs And Their Trophy

When I was a kid UJ and I bowled in a youth league at Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a 16-team league of 12 and 13-year-old boys. Our team was called the Fireballs, which we thought was a pretty cool name. It was a more innocent time then, and we were oblivious to the connotations that more mature people might assign to our team’s moniker.

It was a handicap league that bowled on Saturday mornings during the school year. Every week you bowled a three-game set against another team and earned points for each team victory in each game. It was fun, but we were, at bottom, competitive adolescent boys who really wanted to win. We would follow our team in the standings and watch our individual handicaps move up and down based on each week’s performance.

To our mild surprise, our team was pretty good. We weren’t the best team by a long shot, but we soon were among the top five teams in the league and we stayed there as the season wore on. Winning a trophy at the end of the season became a realistic possibility. In those days, trophies weren’t simply handed out to every participant. You had to earn them, and in our league only the top three teams got one. Ending up in at least third place became our goal.

Finally, we got to the match that would decide whether we would get that coveted trophy. I felt pressure like I’d never felt it before — not in a spelling bee, not in a school play, not messing around playing baseball in our neighborhood. A real trophy was on the line! And bowlers are up there all by themselves, with no referees or teammates to blame. I remember standing in the approach area, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t throw a gutter ball, miss an easy spare, or trip and do a humiliating face plant. We all felt that pressure, yet we were somehow able to get up there, win the match, and finish in third place.

It made us feel good about ourselves, and when we received our trophies — small pedestals less than a foot high, with a gold bowler on top and a third-place plaque at the bottom — it was sweet. I took it home and put it in a prominent place on the dresser in the room UJ and I shared.

Grandpa’s Bowling Team

IMG_3667I ran across this classic photo recently and had to share it.  It’s a picture of Grandpa Neal’s bowling team, circa the mid-1920s.  That’s him in the middle of the back row — the slender, square-jawed fellow who still had some hair to part.

A pretty somber bunch, aren’t they, with their little bow ties, and long-sleeved, buttoned-up white shirts, and carefully shined shoes?  I doubt if they ever called a beer frame or engaged in any horseplay that might detract from their ability to pick up the ten pin.  Bowling was serious business in those days, when Akron was one of the centers of the bowling universe and dozens of teams competed for bragging rights in the Akron Masonic League.

Grandpa Neal loved bowling, and he participated in the Akron Masonic League for more than 60 years, until well into his 90s.

Disturbing Bowling Alley Artwork

IMG_3408Don’t get me wrong — I love bowling.  I’ve bowled for as long as I can remember, starting when UJ and I, as kids, bowled with Grandma and Grandpa Neal.  I like bowling alleys and bowlers, too.

Still, there was something vaguely disturbing about this bit of bowling alley wall art found in the locker area at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.  It’s not exactly calculated to dispel the common myths about kegling and encourage occasional bowlers to become regulars.

Hard-Ass Keglers

IMG_3420The firm Carmen Salvino bowling tournament was tonight, at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl Lanes on South High Street.  Our team may not have been the finest bowlers, but we definitely sported the most headband accessories and displayed the most compelling hard-ass look.

Oh, and the Buckeyes won their first NCAA Tournament game, too.

Not Your Grandpa’s Kegling

Last night we had the firm’s annual Carmen Salvino bowling tournament at Sawmill Lanes in Columbus.  It wasn’t exactly tournament conditions, with the building darkened, disco lights strobing up and down the lanes, music pulsating, lighted images moving around the alleys, and huge TVs everywhere you looked.  But nobody was there for serious kegling, and a good time was had by all.

Spurred on by the mighty Kong’s pitched battle with the T-Rex, I rolled two games over 150, which isn’t bad for a guy who bowls once a year.

On A Romantic, Court-Ordered Date At Red Lobster

In Florida, a judge hearing a domestic violence charge has ordered the husband accused of the misconduct to take his wife to dinner at Red Lobster and then bowling.

The case arose when the man failed to wish his wife a happy birthday.  They got into a fight, and she says he pushed her against a sofa and grabbed her neck.  The judge noted that the husband had no record and concluded the incident was “very , very minor.”  So, rather than setting a bond or requiring jail time, the judge ordered the husband to buy flowers and added, “then he’s going to go home, pick up his wife, get dressed, take her to Red Lobster. And then after they have Red Lobster, they’re going to go bowling.”  The couple also will be required to get counseling.

Grabbing someone’s neck doesn’t seem “very minor” to me — although, in fairness,  I haven’t heard the evidence or presided over countless domestic violence cases — and a husband who doesn’t remember his wife’s birthday has committed an unforgivable sin.

In any case, the sentence seems ill-advised on other grounds.  For example, why would you order a husband who has been accused of domestic violence to stoke up on fried foods at Red Lobster and then take his wife to a place where the guy will be provided with 16-pound projectiles and expected to hurl them with as much force as he can muster?

The case raises other questions, too.  Will the couple’s attorneys accompany them on the date?  (“Honey, I think I’ll order the Ultimate Feast.”   “Objection!  That’s the most expensive entree on the menu!”)  As between the generic dinner options available in suburban America, how did the judge decide that Red Lobster was more romantic than, say, Olive Garden or Outback Steakhouse?  And finally, how many people eating at Red Lobster on any given evening are there by reason of court-ordered punishment?

Spare Me

Being semi-retired I’ve had some time to reflect back on events of my childhood that probably helped shape my character and one such event included little brother Bob.

When we were youngsters we spent a lot of time with Mom’s parents Gilbert and Maude Neal shown below. Grandma and Grandpa Neal were active grandparents, participants in several bowling leagues and both obviously loved to bowl.

Gramma and Grampa Neal, circa 1975

No matter what the weather they would be at our house early every Saturday morning to pick us up when we lived in Akron and we would head off to Riviera Lanes to bowl. When they first took us we couldn’t even pick up the bowling ball so we would set it on the foul line and push it down the alley.

One Saturday Bob began his game by rolling two gutter balls in the first frame and followed that up with two gutter balls each in both the second, third and fourth frames. Being competitive brothers back then I couldn’t have been more thrilled with what was happening and was obviously hoping for more of the same.

Fifth, sixth and seventh frames all gutter balls from Bob, are you kidding me this was too good to be true I was delighted and started to wonder if maybe he wouldn’t get a single pin for the whole game. Ha – wouldn’t that be great, boy then I could really rub it in !

The eighth and ninth frames came and went with two more gutter balls in each frame from Bob. Wait a minute something was terribly wrong, the elation I felt just a couple of frames earlier was gone, it was no longer there. I actually found myself wanting to root for him in the tenth frame, come one one pin at least let him get one pin !

Unfortunately it was not to be, two more gutter balls followed in the tenth frame and Bob walked back and started to cry. So what did I do – I started to cry too ! Grandma Neal looked at me and said “Jimmy why are you crying Bobby had the bad game and I said I feel bad for my brother”.

Ha Ha – kinda a corny story, but true. I think the life lesson I learned from bowling that day is that nothing positive is gained from using your emotions in a negative way !

Disco Bowling At The 2011 Salvino

Last night the firm held its bowling tournament, the 2011 version of the Carmen Salvino Akron-Canton Invitational, at Sawmill Lanes in northwest Columbus.  From that one experience, it appears that Friday night kegling is alive and well in Columbus, Ohio.

This is not bowling as Grampa Neal would recognize it.  The only common touchstones are a ball hurled toward pins and the propensity of bowlers to consume frosty adult beverages.  But now the balls are brightly colored, flashing lights line the lanes, a mirrored disco ball is located overhead about every 10 lanes, and spotlight images of stars and moons roam across the darkened alleys.  Loud music pumps out of the sound system, and music videos play constantly on large screens erected over the pin area.  When Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean is played, don’t be surprised to see every bowler in the place bust a move or two.

Last night, the music video selections were a pretty eclectic mix.  In addition to Billie Jean we heard Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, and AC DC, as well as a song by a woman who wore a bikini top that sprayed whipped cream and a song by a somewhat vulgar, heavily mascaraed woman who made it clear that she liked “the bass down low.”  I also managed to confirm my cluelessness by asking someone the name of the woman singing the song that was playing and learning that it was teen idol Justin Bieber.

Unfortunately, my annual attempt at bowling last night was a pathetic failure.  I do think my cultural horizons were broadened, however.

Gilbert Neal (Part III)

Sometimes little things can tell you something important about a person. So, to wrap up, for now, my thoughts about Grampa Neal, let me add a few more stray facts that may, or may not, give you a better sense of what he was like as a person:

* He always drove an Oldsmobile with the license plate “GN 6.” He was the first person I ever saw with a “vanity” license plate.

* He was left-handed and bowled with a 16-lb. ball. If you left the “five pin” — which is the pin in the middle of the lane — after your first ball, he would inevitably try to increase the pressure on you by saying “Nobody misses the five pin.”

* He was a diehard Republican and had contributed to the Richard Nixon presidential campaign. They sent him a wooden contraption with a rotating metal disk with a relief of Nixon’s face on it in acknowledgement of his generosity and he displayed it prominently on his bookshelf.

* When we were kids and he said something we did not understand, he would ask us “Clear as mud?” If we said yes, he responded: “But mud isn’t clear.”

* He was a joiner. He was a 32nd degree Mason, a Shriner, an Odd Fellow, and bowled for 65 years (!) in the Masonic League in Akron, Ohio.

The Din of Thunderous Pinfall

Every year our firm has a bowling tournament, which we call the Carmen Salvino Akron-Canton Invitational. A bunch of lawyers, many of whom have less than a nodding acquaintance with bowling, go to a local bowling alley, wear bowling shirts and shoes, and bowl a few games while drinking a few beers. For all we know, we may be the only law firm of any appreciable size to sponsor its own bowling tournament.

I grew up bowling regularly with my brother and Gramma and Grampa Neal. I learned the scoring conventions at an early age (which was pretty good arithmetic practice) and how to slide and adjust my point of delivery a few boards to the left or right depending on how the alleys were oiled. Now, I bowl precisely once a year — at the Salvino. Last year, Kish and I bowled well and won a number of trophies, which just means that this year we will bowl poorly. Still, it is a lot of fun, and bowling shirts have a lot to recommend them — in the loose-fitting comfort department, at least. And, any sport that you can play while drinking beer can’t be all bad.

Edited to add: Well, I ended up with something in the 170s on the first game, and something in the 150s in the second. Not great, but not horrible either– and a lot of fun, besides.