"As it has been asked many times before, 'Who's got the beef?' Bowlers!!!"
-- Dan Venor, from his President's Message column in Bowl Magazine, the official publication of the Nation's Capital Area Bowling Association
No, Mr. Venor isn't referring to "bowler's belly" -- the dense-pack blubberlode that many keglers insist is the one true source of pin action. He's discussing an arcane league policy matter. On page xxxi of the latest annual Average Book, Venor thunders, averages from 35 men's leagues are absent because certain league secretaries FAILED to send them in, and those bowlers sure have a beef!!! Ironically, while he rants on about such trivia, area maple-topplers are facing a truly menacing problem.
I'm talking, of course, about yuppie bowling. As the trend-trackers among you may know, the reliable American Forecaster -- an annual compilation of predicted fads -- has decreed that yuppie bowling will be one of the biggest things in 1988. Now, as you serious trend-trackers may remember, The New York Times said yuppie bowling would blast off in '86, and Newsweek was sure it would happen in '87. But in both cases, it didn't. Thus, it's fair to ask: Is this just another spasm of wrongheaded Chicken Littleism?
I've thrashed through piles of evidence, and I don't think so. The earlier predictions were flawed. The Times, indulging in "Manhattan extrapolation," spotted a few bowlers in "surfer shorts, Merrill Lynch teeshirts and sun dresses" and concluded: Yep, yuppie bowling is sweeping the nation. Newsweek's report -- which described how many bowling-alley operators, hoping to attract yup dollars, were trendizing their establishments with ice cream parlors and whimsical grottoes that sell hubcap-size cookies -- wasn't "wrong," it was simply incomplete. It failed to note that the marketing strategy it described was hopelessly doomed. Because of the national tsunami of loathing that has swamped yuppiedom in recent years, yuppies no longer like to think of themselves as yuppies, and they'll flee any product or service that targets them directly. The nouveau alley ploy was like hiring a clown for a kid's birthday party: appealing on paper, appalling in practice.
No, if yuppies are to take up lane-trodding in a big way, it has to be "their" idea. Alarmingly, this is what we're seeing now. According to USA Today, that faithful Doomsday record of yuppie doings, purchasings and whinings, the y-people are entering the so-called "Age of Schlepping," in which they'll make a big deal out of imitating their parents' corny life styles by "watching TV . . . discovering the joys of mashed potatoes" and, yes, bowling. Obviously, in their flight from an image as hyper- acquisitive wimps, such people will spurn the comfy, newfangled bowling emporiums that have been designed for them and search out "classic" alleys that feature Pabst Blue Ribbon, beer sausages and burly, flattopped, baggy-shirted, league-bowling guys named Ern and Smoothie. Because I punish my pins in just such a place -- Rinaldi Lanes in Alexandria -- I know that this situation could create . . . a violent culture clash. And though I often criticize yuppies, that doesn't mean I want to see them getting bonked on the lips with a 16-pound ball nicknamed "Little Sheba." In that spirit, I offer the neophyte yuppie bowler my advice on fitting in.
First, let's discuss the all-important and related issues of alley anthropology, self-conscious displays of irony and bowling shirts. In this close-quarters sport, it's important to start out by getting to know your fellow bowlers through on-site observation. At the Rinaldi boardyard on a typical Friday, you'll see the following types: 1) Erns and Smoothies; 2) their modern counterparts -- young, intense tight- bodied guys who get their fashion smarts from today's Professional Bowling Tour stars. That means a natty slacks 'n' shirt combo, a tight-curled perm or a towering Las Vegas-style blow-dry, an elaborate "bowling glove" that looks like a gladiator's forearm armor and always -- always -- a trim mustache; 3) teens in bright, unicolored sweat suits; 4) young, sleepy- looking redneck couples; 5) large groups of chattering, hard-bowling Vietnamese; 6) extended cracker families, usually featuring a gum-working granny who "just watches," a father-son team with matching flattops and a jumbo wife who walks to the line, blinks, slings the ball and produces awesome power without benefit of legwork.
All these people are friendly if you remember one rule: Shut up. Everybody knows, for example, that Fred Flintstone bowls on tiptoe -- they don't need to hear you screaming it. Ditto for bounding into your bowling pit, clad in that "cool" bowling shirt you picked up at a vintage clothing store, and yelling, "I can't be-lieve we're BOWLING! This is SOOO campy!" Such a yodel calls attention to your alienness and may disturb a fellow bowler who's trying to convert a tough 2-5-8 spare. "Is this fair?" he'll wonder. "Do I put on suspenders and hang out in Sutton Place Gourmet chirping, 'This is SOOO pricey!'?" Bonking may ensue.
Now let's go on to equipment and fundamentals. Yuppies love to "prep" for new sports by purchasing mountains of unneeded equipment and how-to books, and in this regard, bowling offers all the action anyone could handle. Sciencemen at Case Western Reserve University's "bowling dynamics lab," using laser tracking devices and missile-trajectory mathematics, have developed a new, specially balanced ball that maximizes bowling effectiveness. On the jammed shelves of how-to bowling literature, there are styles and gimmicks for everyone -- there's even a book called How You Can Bowl Better Through Self- Hypnosis, which advises that you say this mantra before each shot: "Every muscle and nerve . . . is relaxed. I feel wonderfully well . . . I shall now give constructive instructions to my subconscious mind . . . in order to improve my bowling." My advice on all this stuff is: Skip it. Do you want to spend $175 on a bowling ball or to stand there muttering, nut-like, before every shot?
No. For the sometime bowler, the basics are simple. Gather your equipment -- a chipped, too-heavy ball with wrong-fitting finger holes, too-small shoes with two-foot shoelaces and a pitcher of beer -- and you're ready. Needlessly "dry" your palm over the air blower, hoist the orb, talk to it -- "Okay, liddle fella, it's time for you and them pins to get acquainted" -- stagger forward, close your eyes, chuck the tri- holed juggernaut as hard as you can, yell "Brooklyn!," watch the pins fall down (or not), miss the spare, curse, shake your blistered fist, return to your seat and repeat the following mantra: "Whurz my beer?"
That's the key to better bowling.