Gatherings and Behavior

Summit Lanes on Wednesday nights, the busiest league night of the week, is abuzz with all manner of conversation. The sound can be deafening as each voice rises above the next trying to be heard over the children running to and fro, some screaming, some laughing, while others cling to a parent’s leg crying, the loud booms of heavy bowling balls hitting hard wooden lanes, pins crashing and whining as they bump one into another, the chirps, beeps, and creepy musical responses from the various quarter hungry electronic games in the arcade, and even the swish of the wind fighting its way into the doors to claim its share of space as the patrons come in and go out. One the other hand, because of the many sound waves twirling around, weaving a rapid pattern through the atmosphere to avoid being snuffed out by the other threaded waves that zip by, the individual voices are also muffled and it is hard to make out what any one person is saying, unless you are close enough to climb up into their lap and introduce your ear to their lips, delivering the exercising of tongue and vocal cords. Every vibration of this symphony of sound can be felt from one end of this massive alley to the next. It comes from above, below, the left, and the right, and if you could catch these waves with light, it would be one of the most spectacular light shows ever produced.

People of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and manner of dress come filing into the building. At about 6:15, just a few mosey in slowly, in no hurry, go directly to the lanes their league has been assigned, set down their bags and proceed to remove coats and shoes from their backs and feet, and shiny, bright colored balls from their leather or vinyl enclosure, and placing these items in their proper, albeit temporary home. Coats are either tossed onto an empty, plastic seat or hung neatly on the back of it, shoes either placed in the bowling bag or slid under a table or chair, ball on the metal shelf attached to the ball return that sits at the head of the approach nestled between two lanes. Next they sit down and put on bowling shoes, and some, the hand brace that is essential to their throw and aim toward the ten pins at the end of the lane, neatly set, coming together in the shape of a triangle  and specifically and mechanically spaced by a machine that is behind the scenes. All the while, they look around. Are they nervous? Suspicious? Trying to remember something that they know in their gut they forgot? No.They are looking to see who is there and who is coming in. They are looking for familiar staff and the remainder of their teammates.

When the clock hits half past six, bigger clusters of people come flocking through glass doors, all moving at a slightly faster pace, with childish looks of excitement distorting their features as they see, and almost run to, their team members, friends, and in some cases neighbors. Though these leaguers do take their competition seriously, it is not a serious setting. They come in, shake hands, give hardy slaps on the back, or, as is the case mostly with the women, hug. The leaguers have an attitude of confidence and carry themselves with heads held high and chests puffed out, and in some cases there is a little bounce in their step. They feel comfortable here, as if they have just arrived at cousin George’s house for Thanksgiving, rather than a place of rivalry.

There is no dress code, which is very strange to me. I have seen in the few times I have ventured into other bowling alleys across time and space, but also on numerous television shows where bowling is a central theme, either to the show or to a specific episode, those on a regular bowling league have team shirts. They all match, sometimes embossed with a team name and almost always adorned with the individual’s name or nickname. It is also the garment in which an assortment of patches that are won or achieved in their bowling adventures are sewn and worn with pride. That appeared to be part of the fun. It is disturbing to me that these team shirts, which I had come to believe to be a very important aspect of this particular group of people is missing in action. Note to self—start asking questions.

By a quarter to seven, the relaxed visiting has turned to more of a “…keep talking, I’m listening,” kind of frenzy as they rush around readying themselves to begin their practice throws. More and more people are coming through the doors in larger groups the one before, and I sit and just marvel at the cyclical pattern that is emerging right before my eyes. Those who came in first make quick trips to the bathroom, the grill and/or the bar. I say and/or because it seems that those without children return with pitchers or bottles of beer, while those with children also retrieve their orders of steaming French fries and bags of popcorn dripping with butter. The ones who came in a little while after are just finishing up storing their belongings under tables or seats and organizing the placement of their hand towel, powder pouch, and lucky charms. In just moments, it will be their turn to do the last minute this and that before the games begin.

The last group who came in are really funny to watch because they are in the biggest hurry. Walking quickly down the carpeted area trying to get to their lanes then stopping abruptly as someone hollers their name or reaches a hand out to be shaken. I can read the anxiety in their movement as their bodies appear to hold the stance of still being in motion, they are quick with their hello, force a smile, and then begin moving again, saying over their shoulder, “Catch you after…” When they finally reach their lane, the begin the task of changing shoes, while the group before them are returning with their beverages and snacks. The first group is, by now, finished practicing and waiting for the score boards to highlight the first bowler’s name on the list, indicating that the practice frame is over and it is time to start.

At exactly 7 PM, everyone is in place. The children are in the arcade or sitting at the tables in the carpeted area, just behind their parents’ lanes munching happily on the junk food from the grill. First bowlers up are standing on the approach, bowling ball in hand, feet placed precisely on the arrow that coincides with their aim, while the other members of each team either sit on the plastic chairs bolted to the floor in the scoring area or stand to watch attentively. Not a single lane is empty or alone. The children are still chatting and giggling, though not as loudly as their previous squeals and the arcade games are still singing their eerie chimes of approval or sassy teasing to those who missed the mark. Those not on the approach are still talking to each other, but most are staring in anticipation at the lanes or the score boards. The wild concert of activity has changed stations and soft rock music can now be heard coming from the many speakers hanging from the ceiling, sitting on top of partial walls or the lockers. The games have begun and a new tune can be heard as bowling balls hit the lanes in a syncopated rhythm. If only I could write music, I would have a hit in the making.

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2 responses to “Gatherings and Behavior

    • Hi!

      Thank you. Bringing the senses alive was a big part of the requirement for this essay. It is good to know that it had that affect on you, as I have not received my grade yet. Lol I am feeling much more confident now though! You’re the best!

      -Cindy

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