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Bowling for Joy

Sept. 24, 2012

Last night I dreamed I was bowling. I had a similar dream one night last week.

On one level, this is not unusual because I recently joined the Sunday Night League at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan at the invitation of Ray Cerabone, a fellow member of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. On another level, the recurring dream is revelatory of how ingrained bowling is in my psyche, because I thought I had left this childhood and young-adult pastime behind when I stopped participating in the sport in 1993.

If pinochle and Scrabble had been the Sprick family games, then bowling had been the family sport. Even though my father worked two jobs and my mother was more than busy taking care of the house and meals and laundry and six children, my parents made the time to run the Clifton Midget League (how’s that for a non-PC name) bowling league.

My siblings and I all bowled in that league, and I know that it was the highlight of my week getting up early Saturday morning and riding with my parents uptown to East Gate (what an odd name for a street, I always thought) and through that housing development off Grove Street to the Bowlero bowling alleys. The smell of the carpet as we entered the building, the location of the soft-drink machines with their drop-down cups and ice and soda, the finding of a house ball, the practice shots, the actual games, and the feeling that it was always over much too soon all remain vivid and visceral memories.

The season also included an annual Father-Son Tournament, which was such a thrill for me to be able to bowl with my father, and the season ended with the awarding of trophies in a Sunday gathering at the VFW hall on Valley Road where we always served cake and Brookdale bottled soda.

Apart from the league, I was glad to have some St. Paul’s School classmates who liked to bowl, and we could congregate at Garden Palace a few blocks from my house or, if we were in the mood for a walk, the Bowl-o-mat along Railroad Avenue in Paterson. Clifton also offered Van Houten Lanes and, in the Styretowne Shopping Center, Berra-Rizzuto Lanes – yes, named for and owned by New York Yankee greats Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto.

My love of bowling as a youth never translated to high scores until my junior year of high school when, during the winter, using the ball I was given as a Christmas present the year before, my average improved into the 150s when I was in four leagues – Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday evening and Wednesday afternoon. The Wednesday group was the Clifton High School Bowling Club run by my history teacher Miss Schwartz and taking place at Rizzuto-Berra Lanes, at which I bowled my then high score of 251.

As an adult, I bowled in leagues in 1982-83 and 1986-87 with my average hitting 168 for the latter and my high game during a nonleague game hitting 279 – 8 strikes, 9/spare, 3 strikes. But my work schedule changed, time for bowling, leagues or otherwise, dwindled as other interests took precedence, and, months after bowling with my friend Gary White in 1993, I realized that I wasn’t interested in making time for it anymore.

Still, every now and again over the years, I would swing my right arm and hand in a bowling motion. I also kept my bowling ball for another decade or so before finally putting it out for garbage collection.

And so I thought I was through with bowling until earlier this month when Ray Cerabone invited me to join his team. My initial hesitancy lasted a day until I called him and accepted.

When I showed up for my first night with the team on Sept. 16 at Chelsea Piers, my initial concern was with body mechanics – throwing the ball, sliding during my delivery, getting my curve right, hitting the headpin, finding the mark to get spares. Undertandably, after 19 years, my game was off, and my first game was an 82, no strikes, no spares.

But I improved the second game for a 136 and my third game for a 148 – averaging 122. Then, during the week, I had my first bowling dream, and I found myself counting the days until Sunday night. In my second league performance, I made marked improvement in two of the three games, bowling 170-133-171, as my average jumped to 140. A few hours later, I dreamed anew of bowling.

I find it uncanny that, like reconnecting with childhood friends on Facebook and finding we could converse easily as if no time had passed since our last meeting, something to which I had seemingly severed the connection remained dormant, awaiting only a conscious decision to reactivate the switch to bring to the fore the pure feeling of fun that bowling had always brought me and now promises to bring me again. I’ll find my joy where I can and, unexpectedly, that joy is once more in bowling.

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