I grew up in a state with a very strong bowling culture. Lots of the people in my family were also very into bowling — just occasionally, or as a real passion. Some were collectors, owning a half-dozen or even more bowling balls, some antiques and customized pieces they were really proud of. A few of them even went to bowling shows regularly and traded balls with other collectors.
So as a teenager, it was only natural for me to go bowling with my friends from time to time. Maybe the parents would come along, maybe not. There certainly wasn’t all the concern around younger people owning bowling balls and bowling freely as there is now. Or maybe we just didn’t see it, living where we lived and knowing who we did.
Anyway, I wasn’t the biggest bowler in my circle of friends and family, and I was a long way from the best bowler. But I did enjoy it alright. I guess the first time any kind of negative association with bowling even crossed my mind was when a friend of mine, struggling with depression, bowled himself to death right in front of his fiancee. It was a terrible thing, and it could have happened any number of ways, but the fact is that bowling really makes it easy and quick to hurt yourself if you want to.
And that doesn’t even touch on how easy it is to hurt other people with bowling if you’re crazy or mad or whatever. I’m old enough to remember when you would barely have noticed (at least where I grew up) someone walking into a mall or other public place with a bowling bag. Nowadays, forget it. I couldn’t begin to unravel what’s changed in our culture, in terms of feeling safe or why people do these things, but with today’s technology and refinements, modern bowling balls allow anybody to bowl over dozens and dozens of unsuspecting people with very little planning, foresight, intelligence, reasoning, or bowling skill. It’s even better if your whole scheme ends with you getting bowled to death yourself, either by your own ball or someone else’s.
And it’s not like bowling balls are hard to get. We act like a few days’ waiting period is such a big win for bowling ball control, or that eliminating this or that style of really good ball is going to make all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will help. We’ll never know about the balls those laws prevented from getting to the wrong bowlers, thank god. But there are still so many millions and millions of bowling balls out there. It’s a many billion dollar industry. It would take some really draconian anti-bowling legislation to make a serious dent in bowling crime, I think. And I don’t believe our country could handle that, not in my lifetime.
So I don’t see bowling as something we’ll ever get away from. There are many dedicated bowlers who are so into the history of bowling and its significance for the founding the nation that they don’t really distinguish much between bowling and America anymore. They’ll never quit bowling, because bowling is the main thing about who they are.
But for me, I lost the taste for it. I eventually just couldn’t weigh my appreciation for bowling against all the harm bowling causes. Like real, physical harm, all the time. So I gave up bowling entirely and would never allow my kids to bowl, which seems a little dictatorial, even to me. I’m afraid I just don’t see any good purpose to bowling, or owning bowling balls. Sure, I know there are people out there who bowl to eat — “subsistence bowlers” and such — but really, if there are people in this country who really have to bowl just to feed their families, that’s a bigger social issue we need to address. There’s no way bowling for food will ever be a workable policy we can implement anywhere except a very few places. This isn’t the Middle Ages, when the local lord would just divide up the lanes among his league, you know.
I don’t expect many people who are really into bowling would give it up just because I did, or for the same reasons. But when they try to convince me how the history and traditions and deeper meaning of bowling make it somehow worth the danger that bowling at large poses — where people just die all the time from bowling, for every senseless reason you can imagine — I can’t buy into it any more. It’s not worth any more kids getting killed. It’s just not.
It’s just bowling.