10) Bowling doesn't just have an image problem. No. What it really has is a complex. Boy, does it have a complex.
Bowling headquarters, bowling central, bowling America is located in a Milwaukee suburb named Greendale. The first thing to understand about bowling (not necessarily the most interesting thing, which I have already told you, but the first thing) is that bowling is still Midwest. Very Midwest. Michigan boasts more bowlers than any other state. A large building in Greendale houses, under one roof, the American Bowling Congress (the largest all-male sports organization in the world), the Women's International Bowling Congress (the largest all-female sports etc.) and the Young American Bowling Alliance, which sounds like a 1950s Communist front but which merely aims to introduce young bowlers to the joys of the lanes—and future membership in the ABC or WIBC.
The executive secretary of the ABC is Roger Tessman, who is also president of the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs (the last word in that name being a strange, foreign one for keglers). Snipers claim that Tessman spends too much of his time worrying about bowling outside the U.S. of A. And, after all, by any measure—the number of bowlers, alleys, gutters, leagues—about three fourths of the bowling on this planet is American.
My meeting with Tessman was necessarily very brief, because he had just arrived back in the Midwest from Seoul and was making the next connection out to Havana. Besides being an exhibition sport at the Summer Olympics this year, bowling may actually be a medal sport at the 1991 Pan Am Games. This excites many people in bowling. There's a widespread belief that this internationalism will help correct bowling's unfortunate ' "image" in boardrooms, on Rodeo Drive and over at GQ.
Generally, in fact, the two matters they devote their attention to at bowling headquarters are 1) oil and 2) convincing everyone that the typical bowler is a rocket scientist who earns $800,000 a year and wears designer clock socks.
The ABC/WIBC combo may be described as a benign cartel. Together, the two organizations collect $14 million a year in fees from the 6.7 million who belong to sanctioned leagues (out of 67 million bowlers in all). "We're a protection agency, in a way," says Dave DeLorenzo, the ABC p.r. manager, and if that doesn't sound quite right, well, what the ABC (and the WIBC) try to do is protect bowling from itself.
More than any other sport, bowling is a microcosm of life, an ongoing daily battle of greed versus generosity, knowledge versus ignorance, promiscuity versus moderation, darkness versus light, hard versus easy, evil versus good.
At regular intervals, going back to medieval times, bowling has been denounced as scummy; also at regular intervals—though verging on the constant—it has waged a fight against being too easy. Bowling, for example, had a great decline in the U.S. in the 1850s because scores had become so ridiculously high, and it may have been saved only because the great German immigration to the U.S. that began at about that time added a new crop of bowlers to the population.
Now this easiness business has gotten downright ridiculous. Unfortunately, it goes far beyond bowling. It has to do with human nature. Uh-oh. People like to get rewarded and (though they won't admit it) all the more so if they don't have to work for it. Everybody can't be born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but everybody can get terrific bowling scores, and just as there are unscrupulous folks in this world who will help satisfy your dark desires for pleasures of the flesh, so are there bowling-house managers who will wantonly assist you in rolling strikes. (Bowling house, by the way, is another term the ABC says you're not supposed to use.)
This is done, quite effortlessly, with dressing oil, which, if spread the right (wrong?) way on a lane, will "block" it so that any modestly capable kegler can groove in. Mark Baker, one of the better young pros, says, "In an hour, you can turn any lanes in the country into a place where we can all shoot 250's every game." In the first half-century of the ABC's existence, a perfect game was rolled every two days. Now there are six or seven each and every day, and the ABC spends much of its energy dashing about, measuring oil, fingering the blocked houses and denying the high scores made in those wicked halls.