Wednesday night's outing brought me by the long standing AMF Bowling Lanes in Chicopee.
I have a special affinity for these lanes. Back in the early 90's I was deep in the midst of a long running and in retrospect, pointless, wallow in self pity. One day my cousin Nuno sought to help drag me out of my funk by recruiting me to join him, his then girlfriend, and my Uncle in, of all things, a bowling team. My uncle was a serious bowler but Nuno, Kathy and I had never played for anything more than the rare recreational game. But I committed and picked up a used 12 pounder and pair of shoes cheap. Suddenly this weary-eyed, cynical loner found himself immersed in the Sunday morning bowling culture. We hit the lanes every weekend and I have to say, it did provide me with something to look foward to. My cousin, a bit of a history buff and dramatist, came up with the grand name for our team: "Sherman's March", in reference to that Civil War general's epic rampage through Georgia to the sea. I thought it was hilariously stupid, but went with it.
For a team with 75% lack of any experience, we did remarkably well and actually finished out the season ranked in the upper third of about a dozen teams. It was a roller coaster ride; Sometimes we lost bitterly, and sometimes embarassingly. Sometimes though, we destroyed teams much better than us; and we marched, like Sherman, to the sea. I'd go home feeling absolutely fantastic, and enthusiastic for the next game; it was a bowler's high.
Finishing so well, we decided to ride that high again and re-upped Sherman's March for a second season. We came back to the lanes significantly more seasoned and focused and determined to win. Unfortunately, though we had all gotten much better, except for my uncle none of us had yet mastered the true bowling skill of spinning the ball with english, by turning it across the lane to nail those strikes like the pros do. Our skills remained amateur: step to the right or left, line it up and slam it straight down the lane to your target. The method worked well against a full frame of pins, but was nearly useless against a 'split' situation, where there were 2 or 3 pins left standing on opposite sides of the lane, with a wide space between them. The worst type of this bad situation was the feared "7-10 Split", where the pins on the farthest corners of the frame were left standing, making it nearly impossible to knock down both with one straight-thrown ball...
But this is what I faced on my final turn in the final game of what would turn out to be my final season. We had made up for our lack of true skills by learning how to hit the target pin with just the right edge of the ball, thereby knocking the pin in a desired direction to hit the others, like in a game of billiards. It was simple physics...but the 7-10 split...
Stepping as far over to the very edge of the lane as possible, lining the ball up with the edge of the dreaded 'gutter' and with the target pin seemingly a mile or so in the distance, I took a deep breath. This was it; the score was close and if I made this impossible shot and miraculously knocked down both pins, I'd pick up the "spare", and we'd still be in the game with the potential to end the season with a win.
The plan was to hurl the ball down the very edge of the gutter, for the entire length of the lane, hopefully grazing the pin directly from the side, and sending it at a 90 degree angle into the pin on the other side of the lane. Crazy. Impossible. I leaped foward and swung the ball loose. The 12 pound ball ripped away, teetering along on the very edge like on a tightwire down the lane. The slightest variation in the roll would mean an embarassing gutter ball, and the long slink back to the bench...I crunched over clenching my fists, eyeing the ball's improbable progress, and as it got more than half way down the lane I could hear a low "wooooaaahhhhh" getting louder behind me...three quarters of the way, oh my god almost there...the "WOoooaaaAHH..." behind me got louder...then, too far away to even hear it, the heavy ball just barely knicked the pin and sent it flying across the lane, itself just knicking the other pin, toppling it!
The oposing team behind me erupted in a full throated "WOOOOAAAAHHH!!!!" and I nearly dropped to my knees, pounding the air with my fists. I turned to see a couple old timers from the other team shaking their heads in disbelief, a couple of others laughing and congratulating me. I thanked them and looked over to our bench for my team mates, riding the utterly highest moment of my bowling career...but the bench was empty.
Nuno was talking with someone a couple lanes over, about football no doubt; and Kathy was apparently in the bathroom. My uncle was totally missing in action. Nuno came strolling over a minute later and said what was that? did you get it? Yeah, I got it.
We went on to finish the season again in the upper third of the rankings. I won a league award for "Most Improved" bowling average. For several years we tossed around the idea of continuing on with the league , but other obligations and commitments had since come up, preventing our return. Sherman's March would never tear through the AMF Chicopee Lanes again.
But the seeds of Nuno's original plan had taken hold; the whole experience would be an instrumental puzzle piece in eventually getting me out of my lonely funk, and for that, I must thank General Sherman.