On a recent lazy Saturday I was channel surfing, waiting for a World Cup game to come on ESPN. As usual, whenever you need something interesting to watch, even with 273 channels, nothing's on. So I popped back to ESPN and figured I would watch Sportscenter or whatever, until the game started.
What was about to begin was regional coverage of the Professional Bowler's Association (PBA) “Greater Terre Haute Open”. Trapped like a rat in a trap with nowhere else to go, I reluctantly shifted my prohibited feet on the coffee table crammed another pillow behind my back and decided to make the best of it.
Within minutes of the first throw, roll, toss, or whatever it's called, I was struck by how Zen this was. “Look,” I thought, “Look how seemingly insignificant, yet how important it is to the people sitting there”.
This contest was a women's match, pitting Champion Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, against heir apparent Kendra Gaines and young up and coming Tiffany Stanbrough. A three-way if you will, of determined, some large breasted and some large rumped heterosexual women with just that subtle touch of lesbianity. Short Lady-Breck-dyed hair, black nylons (irregardless of skirt color) and Tide-clean white socks. The jewelry; standard Wisconsin-issue Zales or HSN fare, you know, the assorted 11kt gold and diamonique hearts, USA flags, charm bracelets and memoriam ribbons. You could almost smell the Lysol.
The crowd was equally made up of what can only be described as a time warp of America. A collage of Americana, alive and well. All-white, not a brown or tan face in the crowd. It was neo-Walmart-esque. A seer-sucker suited veteran and his baby blue capri with matching peach sweater clad wife here, a little league minivan driving, realtor mom there, the entire tri-state Mary-Kay contingent and the large bellied local Midas franchisee and little league sponsor over there. Each sat still, hands together in the most proper ball in the absolute precise center of their laps. Solemnly, as each ball rolled down the aisle. It was like a wedding. The ball, the perfectly shaped squeaky clean handsome groom, the pins, the bride, turned coyly to meet her future, in the shape of a gown at the altar. The only tell tale sign of joy in the audience was the slightest smile, almost a knowing smirk about to pop wide open into a full freckle-faced grin, on the corner of each mouth in the crowd. A smile that said, “I'm having too much fun, I better calm down, that way it will last longer. Tee! Hee! Shh!”.
The announcers, a veteran retired bowler and the current reigning champ informed me of the match, the volume of stats on each bowler, their weaknesses and strengths, and how each stacked up against their opponent's. The champ accompanied by 3D animated screen graphics updated me of today's lane conditions which were,
Surface = Wood
Oil = 26.32%
Oil Length = 32 ft.
I looked in amazement. We have actually devised the technology to measure the percentage of oil applied to the surface of the alley down to 100th's of a percent! I leaned in now, fascinated, eager to learn more! This was one of those out of body Zen moments where you are suddenly totally transfixed on the point of the pin. All sound and motion stops as you focus on the clarity of this point in time. Information poured onto me, covering me like maple syrup on a stack of IHOP pancakes.
Here is what I learned.
There is an organization called the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC). With over 1.5 million members, the WIBC is “Striving for 87 years to identify and fulfill the needs of women bowlers”.
Perfectly thrown ball after perfectly thrown ball rolled down the alleys, smashing the pins, sending them scattering across the backstop like shotgun blasts, no, like cruise missiles, no, like cave bombs after Al Qaeda, perfectly timed, perfectly aimed with near perfect results. Occasionally the odd pin refused to go down and like that student who stood in front of the tank, in Beijing during the Tienamen Square riots, tried futilely to stop the unstoppable. He was taken down valiantly by the next ball.
Carolyn Dorin-Ballard dispatched her competition today, as in every day, with extreme prejudice, on a mission from God, or possibly Satan. Later I learned that Carolyn had bowled over 985 games in 2001 earning her the top votes of bowler of the year in 2001, which pretty much explained the compulsion. The taut face as she bore down and launched each ball, the determined gritted teeth and clenched fist and the final release as each strike shuddered for an almost imperceptible split second through her entire body.
“We'll be back with more action from the greater Terre Haute Open”, the announcer announced. Cut to a collage of a slowly waving American flag with woman bowler after woman bowler, holding cups and trophies triumphantly over their heads, posing for pictures with mayors, assemblymen and assorted Lion's Club leadership from around the midwest, the best women bowlers in America, the World! “…From Sea to Shining Sea…” the music faded.
I watched transfixed for the rest of the match, and as expected, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard advanced, but the surprise second place finish went to Tiffany Stanbrough, who as it turned out had been a college phenom. That's right. College. This obsession goes way deeper than you thought.
What does this all mean? I'm not sure. Is there some sort of message in all this? Who knows? It was fascinating nonetheless. The sheer, almost religious indulgence of millions of Americans in a seemingly mindless, useless activity, submitting to it completely and totally, at the most highest form of pure unapologetic leisure, does not seem relevant in today's reality of the struggling world. Yet here it is. Deal with it.
Will the people of Pakistan and India ever reach the day when that which worries them most is their bowling averages and league rankings? Probably not. Can the Palestinians envision a day when they could be hosting the “Greater Ramallah Open”? Doubtful. Can we too imagine a time far far in the farther future when former Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami would jovially attend the “16th Annual Qom Invitational”, solemn, hands in laps, small smiles at the corners of their lips? If the women in Iran could muster the courage to tear off their hejabs and bowl, would the WIBC “strive to identify and meet their needs” also?
As I pondered these things, the announcer came back on and said, “If you want to be great, you have to change and do something different.”