By Andrew Ramirez
At risk of sounding like the drunk uncle at the family BBQ: the older I get, the more I appreciate the extended metaphor that is bowling. Just hear me out. This weekend I was sitting on a leather couch at Lucky Strike, stirring a black straw in an Old Fashioned. The digs are nice. Neighborhood bowling alley meets trendy LA chic, spritzed with a four-finger fleck of the sixties (I watch Mad Men so I’m an authority right?). The waitress, instead of bringing you a pitcher of beer, stands up a cocktail and appetizer menu on the little table in front of you. A White Russian, Old Fashioned, and Diet Coke add up to about twenty five, plus tip, but that’s not the only thing: bowling is one of those strange events where one thing is concealed somewhere inside the other, kind of like how a smaller kangaroo resides semi-comfortably in a bigger one, or that trippy animation of a mouth opening up wide enough to reveal another face with a mouth opening up wide enough….
So what’s there to learn from bowling that you otherwise might spend years and years chit-chatting with a therapist about?
My first toss, I launched it straight into the gutter. My older brother had, moments earlier, slid a gem down the lane and knocked every one of them down. Heaps on top of heaps of praise fell on him. My pops high-fived him. A flash clicked from my mom’s camera. But on my second toss—hoping for the spare—I knicked the edge pin and it flicked off into the black mouth behind the remaining nine pins. I turned around and nobody was looking.
Girlfriends and mothers and middle school teachers were always telling you to face the music, but there’s no better instant compression of that phrase than right after you’ve tossed one straight into the gutter. Maybe you’re on a date, maybe you’re with friends, or, like me this past weekend, just among mom and dad and brother on the last few breaths of Parent’s Weekend. It’s no difference. Unless you bowl alone, you’re going to have to face, each time, a bunch of faces after the fact.
Dad was looking down into his Diet Coke like there were a group of guys playing baseball somewhere in there.
Mom lowered the little digital camera down to her waist. “Um, the flash didn’t go off. I’ll try again next time.”
“It’s all right.” My brother said, tapping on his iPhone. “I got a video. Holy shit.”
It’s like bowling is supposed to be fun, and it is, but if a man has ever been caught with his soul bared—all twenty-one years worth of psychological and emotional goop seeping out his eyes and ears and nose—it’s right after he’s thrown a clunker for no pins.
To my good fortune, however, the lighting isn’t much and in place of the usual fluorescent burn of other alleys, Lucky Strike offers low wattage bulbs swinging in strange wicker chandeliers and strategically placed black lights that make the pins and lanes and walls glow neon. Since it was eleven in the morning, I didn’t worry myself beyond the reactions of my family—no one else was there.
I retired to the leather couch and chewed some of the ice in my drink. I watched my mom roll a turtle-speed ball down the center of the lane. It mostly kept its course, veered a little right, and pressed into the 1-3 pocket. They all fell down, one by one, over the course of a couple of seconds.
She turned around and as if vacuums hidden up in the ceiling had been switched on, both her arms flung up and the sides of her lips pulled wide and high into her cheekbones. An animation of a bowling ball labeled TNT smashed into a full rack of pins and they were blown to pieces on the screen above her head.
My dad went up next and threw a gutter ball. On his second approach, half of them clattered down, then a few more, and he turned back toward us, semi-pleased. My brother put up another strike, his third in a row on a dare devil curve shot that rode up against the gutter’s edge before smashing into the sweet spot.
I went up with sweat on my hands. When I opened my eyes, I’d knocked them all down except the one on the far left. On the second attempt I aimed, settled into my funny shoes, and took great wide steps into my release. The ball banged down into the oily wood and roared right down the middle of the lane, dead center into nothing. I turned and saw their faces. My mom flashed a picture, smiling, proud. My brother and dad hooked their eyes into me, nodding their heads.
“Nice roll. A full rack and that’s a strike,” my brother said. “Pretty much all day long.”
“This place is great,” my pops said. “What’s it called again? We should make this like a tradition.”
“Almost,” my mom said, clicking her camera. She showed me the picture.
My pops said to my brother, “What time’s your flight? Our’s is delayed. Do we have time for another game?”
The waitress came up and I ordered another round like we were celebrating. It had been a long weekend, my family was leaving but they weren’t leaving yet. There are sweet spots and twilights everywhere, you know? Next year there’ll be no more Parent’s Weekend, no more class, no more higher education. In the picture, I was smiling like not one single pin was left standing.
Lucky Strike Lane and Lounge (800 W. Olympic Blvd, 90015)