Bowling for Books, a true account
of the only bowling alley in Toulouse, France

by Boone Spooner

Slippery shoes and greasy, polished bowling balls. A plethora of bad eighties hairdos. Objective: bowl well = free book. This place can be reasonably assumed to be the only thuggish bowling center in France, covert is not the word; I mean, you actually have to buzz at the door to enter. I wouldn’t be exaggerating, no, I really wouldn’t, let’s just say I wouldn't be going way over the top if I said that the security guard was BIG too, like, hey this guy is BIG. So the obvious questions to follow are: a) Why do you need a security guard at a bowling alley, and b) Why a really BIG security guard at that self same alley?[1]

But we need to be reminded, again, of the objective here. This is not just any game, there are things at stake, and brutish body guard or not, you’ve got to keep your focus, stay attentive, think down the middle, think win win win! Things are at stake here, ok, not pride, or courage, or even the hand of a good looking girl (do those types bowl?), no no no, nothing like that. Remember my friends and I are of that alien sub-genre of humanity that somehow ingests books. We live on them, wait, feed’s a good word, a better word: we feed on books. We pile them around the house for any and all purposes. We use them to fan away the smoke of burnt toast, swat flies out of midair (because we are excellent fly swatters), hit younger siblings. We can’t eat breakfast without them. Bookworms.[2] We want experience, knowledge and amusement through them; but mostly we just want them. Thus, this bowling tournament has high stakes, you know, as it is I can hardly afford to pay for the match, let alone a book for someone else if I lose![3]

Opponents seem very focused. Plan of Action: suggest beers to loosen up the bowling muscles. Actual Objective: get friends drunk, win bowling bet. Ricky gives me a look, maybe he’s on to me. Kirk’s oblivious, go figure. Note: bowling pins are fluorescent greens, blues and oranges. Subnote: is that normal? Internal thought: should I stick my hair under the hand dryer in the restroom to get a blown eighties do? Another look from Ricky. Have my eyes gone blank as I was thinking? Maybe he thinks that I'm strategizing my game, planning ahead or something. He keeps asking me if I own bowling shoes, he regards that as a sign of bowling professionalism. Personally, I think it is the point at which you’ve bought your own bowling ball that you have somehow crossed over the line from weekend fun to weekly tournaments.[4] I hate wearing other people’s shoes. Who knows what’s been in them, corns, warts, athlete's foot, socks with holes, dank dark and strange things, things that I don’t want on my feet. Besides, I keep slipping on the polished wood floors.

I’ve discovered in the past that bowling really isn’t my thing. There’s something about the crossover leg kick that I just can’t get. It’s an inability to adjust to my surroundings combined with an acute pang of self-awareness as I bowl. On one hand, I don’t want to look like a baby bowler, tossing the ball between my knees and standing, watching, waiting for it to strike, or not. On the other hand, I really don’t want to look like one of those guys who really lives for bowling, they have a kind of 50’s greasy look that scares me. Therefore, I'm stuck with trying to look like someone who doesn’t know how to do it, but at least has some idea of how not to do it. This way I can play in a sort of nether world of bowling, where people watching will remain undecided as to where I stand as to bowling experience.

Observation: Kirk and Ricky show none of the bowling etiquette or traits that I learnt from King Pin. Good sign. Score: Ricky 55, Kirk 61, Me 59. Plan of Action: Throw a strike. Reaction: Gutter-ball. Ricky gives me another look. He says that I gutter-balled it on purpose, to try and get his hopes up before I cruelly dash them with a magnificent bowling comeback. I should only be so lucky. Kirk is trying to will his ball to the center. As Ricky notes, this is remarkably reminiscent of Carlton Fisk when he hit his home run in the ’75 World Series. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Kirk waves his arms and kicks his leg to the right regardless of where the ball is going. Score Change: Kirk 87, Ricky 94, Me 107. Explanation: None. Personal Reaction: Mild embarrassment closely followed by whoops of victory and spike the football dance. Group Reaction: Grim looks, mild manners. I don’t think they get the spike the football dance. Question asked: "Play Again?"

1. Of course, one could also suppose the following queries: Are the French really so into bowling that fist fights and other life threatening situations might take place, i.e. requiring a security guard of impressive size? Do the French import their bowling supplies? (Interjected by my bowling buddy, who is seemingly convinced that good bowling apparatus can only be found in the States (again…?)) Why is it that beer in French bowling alleys come in difficult to describe tubes, literally, plastic tubes that range from three feet high to an impressive four and a half footer, each of which stands copiously between the lanes?

2. I find this term slightly derogatory in what it might connote. I'm not exactly certain as to where it comes from, but I must admit that I don't like the looks of it. Maybe we could call ourselves something more endearing, like the Book-enthused, or Book-bearers or something. I don't really know, but I think that we should all give this serious thought, we need an image change, I think we've been misrepresented long enough.

3. Of course the bet is solid, you understand, and that book's got to be bought if you lose.

4. None of the three of us have bowled seriously, ever. In fact, Ricky makes it all to clear that he has bowled all of five times. Twice with bumper lanes, so those don't really count.

Boone Spooner lives in Barcelona where he reads books, plays the guitar and schemes to take over the universe with his partner in crime Lori. He is working on a book about his father Bill Spooner, who founded The Tubes.

A series of essays written in the style of college admissions essays with slight modifications