Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Bowling, not alone

I’m quite sore today, because I went bowling last night for the first time in about twenty years. Heather had an office party that was at Palo Alto Bowl, and we left the kids with a babysitter, and made an evening of it.

I’m a terrible bowler– it’s a miracle when I break 100– but in this case my natural intense competitiveness is mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that I’ve always been terrible at bowling, and help maintain order in the universe by routinely getting the worst scores. Someone has to, or mathematics would cease to work.

The alley we had taken over has something called Disco Bowling, which features flashing rope lights between the lanes, strobe and colored lights, a fog machine, and giant video screens playing music videos from the 1970s—ones that wouldn’t have been seen on MTV, but would have been filler on shows like “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” (who among this blog’s visitors are old enough, and had good enough VHF reception, to remember that?) and “Midnight Special.” Let’s just say you haven’t lived until you bowl through a colored-lighted fog bank to “Kung Fu Fighting.” And some of the videos were really remarkable. I especially liked the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men,” which really broadened my understanding of the song by revealing that it’s actually raining gay men.*

I suppose the whole combination—the lights, the fog, the music—was supposed to put you in mind of Studio 54. But for some reason—maybe the constant thumping of the bowling balls—what it most reminded me of was “Apocalypse Now.” If they’d played The Doors’ “The End,” I really would have freaked out. (And boy, wouldn’t that have been a memorable video!)

The last time I was bowling was the summer of 1983, in Japan, when I was an exchange student. My host father was a professional calligrapher, avid Go player, and bowler; of the three, it turned out that bowling was the only one at which I wasn’t completely hopeless. So a couple times a week, I found myself in a Tokyo suburb, engaged in a sport that most people associate with working-class America and oversized polyester shirts. Welcome to globalization….

Actually, I kept running up against weird pieces of American culture that summer. The first night I was there, my host family took me to a Denny’s. I spent fifteen hours in airports, on planes, fighting Tokyo traffic, two trains (things were getting fuzzy by this point), and a car driving on what seemed to me the wrong side of the road, all for a club sandwich and chips. (In their defense, they were damn good chips.) Later, while exploring the town I was staying in, I discovered that there were more McDonalds’ within walking distance there than any place I’d lived in in the States. And of course, I never felt homesick for any material things, because most of them were made over there anyway. Doubtless today there’s a Starbucks on every corner.

*And watching The Village People’s “YMCA” video last night made me wonder: how could there ever have been any question about whether they were gay? Now it seems perfectly self-evident, but I remember much discussion among my fellow teenage music critics around the question of Were They or Weren’t They. Maybe we were just especially clueless in Richmond, Virginia, or maybe—this is the theory I prefer—to paraphrase Milton Friedman on Keynesianism, we’re all metrosexuals now.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting. I remember taking a bowling class when I was an undergraduate, about 8-9 years ago. Bowling, pool, and table tennis were popular sports among college students, until PC-bangs took over.

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