Mostly, it’s about stealth. From the moment you pick up the ball and slide your fingers into the holes to the moment just before the ball hits the pocket for a strike. You have to have the concentration those Buddha meditators talk about – inside you, there’s got to be silence, no matter if it’s Saturday and they’ve just started Midnight Bowl or it’s Tuesday afternoon and your buddy from Tractor Supply is there yabbering about the new CSI show and how the lady detective looks just like his wife used to. Today, it’s Tuesday and my buddy from Tractor Supply, but I tune him right out as I step up to the ball return and palm my ball, blue with a slight green sheen to it, my name – Charlie – across the side in a cursive script, sorta elegant. But still masculine. That’s important.
My buddy’s going on about the blonde actress and the set of her chin, and man it takes him back. But a strike is between you, your ball, and the pins. I turn to the lane and shake my head back and forth, to shake away his voice, the sounds of the other bowlers.
See, you have to be in the mindset a one of them hybrid cars – the Leafs or the Priuses or what have you – the ones that glide straight down the road like whispers you don’t hear 'til they passed you by. I live up 98, a good bit past any gas station or grocery store, just pines up there, and farms like the one I grew up on, and I seen those hybrids smash head on into unsuspecting deer who just never saw ‘em coming.
You gotta be like that Prius, silent, unexpected. The pins shouldn’t even know what hit 'em.
I raise the ball to my chest and rest it gently there as I walk to the foul line, feel the weight of it on my heart. Then I pull it up to my chin, balancing it above my wrist. My ball’s taken to smelling like my hands – a musty kind of grease smell, a smell I bring home from the garage and can’t wash away with charcoal soap or nothing else. I breath in, sharpen my gaze until the pins are in sharp focus and everything else – the blonde wood of the lane, the American flag above it - goes soft and blurred.
Most people who come into the Village fall into two categories. First, you got the folks who got no respect for the sport and think it’s a game of chance. These folks like the cheap beer on tap. They like to talk. They like to laugh too loud after they done something stupid as shit like rolling their ball into the gutter or sending it back behind them 'cause they didn’t have a strong enough grip. Most a these type haven’t worked an honest day in their life and I could point out their cars in the lot if you asked me to. Cars with Japanese-made engines and hoods they don’t even know how to open. Then there’s the sometimes bowlers who either try to strongarm the ball without knowing there’s a science to it or the smart ones who try to reason it out without realizing that more than half of the game happens before you get to the foul line - the placement of your foot in relation to the other one, the dip of the shoulder, how rigid or relaxed your arm is when you let go. Then, you got bowlers like me. Bowlers with their own balls and shoes. Bowlers who respect the game.
I lean forward slightly, lowering the ball as I begin my first step past the foul line.
Most people don’t know that the center of a bowling ball isn’t shaped like a circle. Instead, the center is a weight with an irregular shape, kinda like a bell. Gives the ball curve, but you got to know how to use it. The center of most people is a little off-kilter, too, to tell you the truth. Things ain’t the way they used to be around here – the cars have changed along with the people. Engines have gone electrical, all the beauty of the machine sucked right out of 'em. People mostly the same way, if you ask me. Not that anyone does.
When I step forward I can hear my knees pop under my weight and the weight of the ball. Two steps. Then – release. I watch my ball begin its graceful arch, and keep my eye on it 'til it's three, two, one seconds before the pocket, then I turn my back. I can hear what a strike sounds like without even having to look.