Molly Fisk: Gutter Girl*

When I told a friend where I was last night, she said if she’d been offered a million dollars she never would have guessed. So I’ve successfully fooled at least one person into thinking I’m not into bowling. And most of the time, I’m not. But every now and then someone suggests it, for a birthday party or a lark, and I’m surprised all over again by how much fun it is.

When I was a banker in Chicago, lots of us went bowling after work. Some of those people were real sharks! They’d take off the suit jacket, roll up their sleeves, and bowl strike after strike. In that crowd I was comic relief — someone who could so consistently miss hitting any pins at all, they named me ‘Gutter Girl.’ It was a blast, and I did get better with practice, although I never lost the nickname. That was 30 years ago, and the intervening time off has not improved my game. I’ve also stopped drinking and come to find out that sobriety is a big impediment to really good bowling.

There’s one bowling alley in our town, with the encouraging name of “Prosperity Lanes.” The time to go is five o’clock. You plunk down your money for an hour and rent those funny two-tone shoes. It’s one of the only times I wear communal shoes and I always say a little prayer that my socks will protect me from cooties. I hope I’m not unduly fastidious, but I really don’t want any cooties. Then I buy a glass of ice water because it’s nice to have something to wet your whistle, and choose a bowling ball. I try hard not to let the different colors influence me, and luckily the ten pound balls, which seem the right weight for me, are a lovely metallic burgundy. One hates to be too girly about these things but I bowl less well if my ball is an ugly color. In the interest of full-girliness disclosure, I confess that I choose socks to wear bowling that will match the rented shoes, too.

I have no idea how the scoring works, so whoever I’m with has to be in charge of that, but I do pick a good pseudonym. It’s very bad luck to bowl under your own name. I’m usually Ruby or Pearl, sometimes Ethel — a nice ‘50s moniker.

Once these preliminaries are out of the way, it’s time to hurl that ball down the lane. I’ve been told it’s good to keep your thumb up, so I do, although this doesn’t distract my balls from their magnetic attraction to the gutter — either gutter: I seem to be ambi-gutter-ous. I can’t tell you what last night’s score was because we muffed keeping track at some point. But I got two spares, and both of them were really strikes — where I knocked all the pins down in one go — that just had bad timing. I did a little victory dance in the aisle.

Despite not being an expert, I love bowling. When else do we get to play any more? So if someone offers you a million dollars to guess what I’m doing on a Wednesday night, now you know. After you’ve picked up the money, come join us: Bowling is good for the soul.

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  • Jan July 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

    I am a gutter gal too. Perhaps I should go for the ten pounder rather than the eight!

  • hillsmom July 15, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    My Mother who came to live with us after she retired, was always a good athlete. She was the first one in her family to go to college. Fortunately for her, she got to have privileges at our club, under “eligible members of the household” clause. There she took up bowling and was rather good, then she also joined some other leagues, or some such group. Although she and I drove each other crazy most of my adult life, it was a good thing for her later years (and mine, too) Perhaps I should follow your and her advice and look into it…? Thanks for a good story. (Remember Molly, you can never see enough bluebirds)

  • Mickey M. July 15, 2017 at 10:37 am

    My ex is/was a bowling fiend; has at least one 300 game to his credit. The first time I bowled, 50 years ago?, I picked up the difficult 7-9 split. Yes! I’m not exaggerating! I did it! He was so surprised. You know how sometimes the approach and release feel just right and slam! The pins are yours. Sigh. Thanks, Molly. Some great memories.

  • Kate Campbell July 15, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for the charming reminder that every adult needs to not only remember how to play, they also need to be willing to roll with it.