When I was 17, a few high school friends decided that it was cool to bowl, and five or six of us began frequenting the Rip Van Winkle Bowling Lanes here in Norwalk, Conn.
It's never been clear to me just how that bowling alley got its name. I'm reminded of Sunday afternoons in the living room as a kid, my father drowsing at full length on the sofa, two inches of ash suspended magically from the end of his Marlboro Red, while the late great, bespectacled southpaw Earl Anthony let it fly on ABC. (A six-time PBA Player of the Year, Anthony was the first pro bowler ever to earn more than $100,000 in a single season - take that, Roy Munson.)
My pals and I tossed the occasional turkey, but for the most part we were more gutter than gobbler. Back then, the bowling alley's bar was notoriously lax with respect to the federal drinking age, and we often spent most of our outings playing Golden Tee and sipping the drinks of newly indoctrinated alcoholics-to-be - pissy beer, amaretto, margaritas and kahlua. (Gratefully, we preceded the stool-sitting world's introduction to flavored vodkas and rums by a few years.)
The experience served me well, though - the bowling as well as the underage drinking. At age 22, a fresh college graduate, I came home to start my first job at Deloitte & Touche's national office in nearby Wilton, Conn. Renting the downstairs half of the house from my mom (my folks' divorce long since final - mom even confiding that I was named after a man she'd dated before she met my dad, "But don't tell your father...") were Mark and Katrina.
Mark and Katrina, avid bowlers, asked whether I wanted to join their bowling league and I accepted. No more pissy beer or sweet liqueurs, I focused on the job and began posting respectable 160s consistently.
At my other job, my entrée to the corporate world, I quickly became work buddies with a married, 20-year-old African-American Jehovah's Witness named Tenaha - a testament to how well I fit in at the office.
Even so, the work buddy relationship is important. Reporting to the same supervisor can be like any shared trauma.
In one hour, I will return to the Rip Van Winkle Bowling Lanes for the first time in these 13 years, as part of a company outing - a group that's heavy on editorial and light on sales. Strikes yield no commissions.
Late in my 10-month career at Deloitte & Touche - in what became yet another reason to leave the company (which I did, then hitchhiked to San Francisco like a crazy man) - I came to discover that Tenaha had betrayed me.
Now, as this TMC bowling outing looms - this gateway celebration to Christ's rising (tomorrow is Good Friday) - I'm gently reminded of how fragile the work buddy relationship can be ...
* * *
Arlington, Texas, in this decade suffered the loss of its pro baseball team's star Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees, and team owner Tom Hicks subsequently suffered the news that A-Rod had been juicing on the job.
Yet Arlington still boasts bowling's technological marvel, the International Training and Research Center
. The "ITRC," as it's known, has 14 dedicated training lanes, biomechanical motion tracking, DigiTrax technology, state-of-the-art robotics and foot and grip pressure mapping. It also has "The E.A.R.L." robotic ball tester.
Bowling and technology? For us laymen, it might seem improbable that technology has played much of a role since Fred "Twinkle Toes" Flintstone danced, rock in hand, toward the deeper part of that 4-lane cave.
Yet, this month, hot off the presses from the United States Bowling Congress'
Web site, we get an inside look
at how the ITRC's pro shop manager, Chuck Schommer, has tracked the rise of that technology: Drilling and generally tailoring bowling balls for specific individuals and their styles.
"We drilled a minimum of 250 balls each week because the fields back then were 160 players," Schommer told USBC reporter Gianmarc Marzione. "At majors, we drilled a minimum of 500 balls. Guys who made the show would get a new ball drilled just for the telecast to have a ball that did something different, because the lights, the temperature of the building with so many more people there for the finals, and the longer amount of time allowed for practice very often made the TV pair play differently than they did all week."
He goes on to recall how the holes he drilled for legend Norm Duke were never so good that Duke wouldn't carve his own groove into the thumbhole with a hand file.
At the ITRC, Schommer says, fitting takes longer than actual drilling process.
According to Marzione, Schommer's career "has always placed him in the right place at the right time."
"Now he finds himself in the best place of all - a virtual Disney World of bowling technology and innovation at his fingertips," Marzione reports.
Describing his excitement in being part of the staff at the ITRC, Schommer told the reporter that he's "excited to be here because of the coaching technology this facility offers."
"It will allow me to lend a human element to my job, working with Team USA Head Coach Rod Ross and Assistant Coach Kim Terrell-Kearney to gauge a customer's needs more precisely and comprehensively than ever before."
* * *
Earlier today, a group of co-workers served as team-choosing captains for our bowling outing. The gathered in The Miami Conference Room here in our stellar new offices in Norwalk. (We're located about two minutes from the bowling alley which owes its name to Washington Irving's hero.)
Tenaha is long gone. But my new work buddy was one of those captains and, despite having the first overall pick in this draft, I was passed over.
Ten NBA drafts come to mind:
· 1995: Joe Smith selected ahead of Kevin Garnett (Golden State Warriors)
· 1989: Pervis Ellison selected ahead of Sean Elliott and Vlade Divac (Sacramento Kings)
· 1987: Dennis Hopson selected ahead of Reggie Miller and Scottie Pippen (New Jersey Nets - congrats on that 10th win)
· 1986: Chris Washburn selected ahead of Dennis Rodman (Golden State again)
· 1977: Kent Benson selected ahead of Bernard King (Milwaukee Bucks)
· 1976: Richard Washington selected ahead of Adrian Dantley (Kansas City Kings)
· 1972: LaRue Martin selected ahead of Dr. J (Portland Trailblazers)
· 1978: Rick Robey selected ahead of Larry Bird (amazingly, Indiana Pacers)
· 1998: Michael Olowokandi selected ahead of Dirk Nowitski, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter (L.A. Clippers)
· 1984: Sam Bowie selected ahead of Michael Jordan ... and Charles Barkley (Portland again)
As a 22-year-old, I lacked the world experience to know what to do or say when Tenaha's treachery was unearthed. But I turned 35 a few weeks ago - a world of experience stands between me and that trim, ambitious young man with all that hair.
Gobble gobble ...