The most embarrassed I’ve ever seen another person was when I was in high school. When I was 16 years old, my friends and I got conned into joining a never ending bowling league. We had been frequenting Dart Bowl in Austin Texas because my friends and I had acquired a ton of buy one get one free games of bowling. We’d smoke a joint on the way, buy an extra large lime slush at Sonic and spike it with some everclear, and bowl for a few hours. Our parents thought we were staying out of trouble so they approved as well.
The manager at Dart Bowl had noticed that we were there a lot and made us a proposal. We could join a junior league for $30 and get 3 free games a week for almost a year. That was even more economical than the buy one get one coupons we were using. When we asked when the league bowled, the manager told us that it was at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday.
That was a deal breaker for us. There’s no way we were going to be somewhere every Saturday morning. The manager explained that we could bowl those games whenever we wanted to. We could just tell the people at the desk that we were there to bowl for our league and our scores would be saved in the computer. When our opponents showed up on Saturday morning, or scores would show up a frame at a time just as if we were there. They’d be bowling against ghosts.
We signed up for the league and did better than we expected. We didn’t just do well, we were the annihilators. We were winning in a giant under 18 league that included several bowling alleys in town. We sandbagged our asses off for as long as we could but the four of us ended up with averages between 150 and 185. If we won in the league, we’d get an expenses paid trip to a national tournament that happened to be in Texas that year. Towards the end of the league, we got really serious. We practiced a few days a week and got very proficient at bowling. Now don’t get me wrong, we were drunk and high the whole time, but we did get really good at bowling.
A couple of weeks before the league ended we were in the lead. We were playing against the team in second place and if we won all three games for the week, we’d be going to the national tournament for sure. If we lost one game, there’d be a chance that we’d get beaten. We showed up ready to go, still mildly drunk and majorly stoned. It was our habit to take a break between each of our games to smoke more weed in the parking lot and have some more lime slush everclear beverage. The first two games went well but during our attitude adjustment break in the parking lot before the third and final game, a school bus pulled up in front of Dart Bowl.
The bus was from the Texas State School. This school caters to people with profound retardation and cerebral palsy with retardation. For a school of its kind, TSS is a great program. People with disabilities so pervasive that they have no chance to get along independently in the world live at the school and get intensive support and instruction in life skills and learning a trade. I myself owned a nice leather wallet made by one of the students. Today, as a treat, all of the students that were physically able were brought to Dart Bowl.
The students (some as old as 30 or 40 years old) were given 10 lanes to bowl on. Throughout the 10 lanes of TSS student bowling, there were 5 or 6 teachers making sure everything was going fine.
When my friends and I went back to the two lanes we had reserved for bowling, we had TSS students on either side of us. Now when I said profound mental retardation, that’s what I meant. We had a whole bus load of courageous people with special needs on either side of us screeching, tongue thrusting, flapping their arms, and rolling bowling balls everywhere. Remember, we were also very, very high. Now the bowling alley is totally full, so there’s no place we can go to not be distracted.
For those who’ve never bowled before, there’s such a thing as bowling etiquette. If somebody in an adjacent lane is standing with their bowling ball ready, about to roll it, it’s rude to just walk up and roll your ball. You’re supposed to wait your turn and roll your ball after their done. It seemed to us that this type of etiquette had not been discussed with or was beyond the capacity of most of the TSS students. My friends and I had (against all of our expectations) gotten very serious and invested in the league. Each of us would typically stand with ball at the ready, concentrating on the floorboard we’d be throwing our ball over to make our shot for several seconds, getting in that muscle memory zone and then begin our approach. Now that the TSS kids were there, it was inevitable that this concentration period would be disturbed by somebody running right past us, shrieking, bowling ball in hand, tossing it halfway down the lane with a crash.
The worst concentration disturber was a woman about 40 years old. If the staff at the school rank the disability due to retardation of their students, this woman was probably pretty low on the ability to function scale. She had a shuffling walk and wore slippers instead of bowling shoes. She would take her ball, shuffle up to the foul line on the lane, and drop her ball almost straight down on the lane with a bang. It rolled immediately into the left gutter every time. This did not discourage her. She stood at the left edge of the lane and tried to wave her ball towards the head pin. I’ve seen other bowlers do that, but never when the ball was actually in the gutter. She would stand there, trying to use the power of her extra chromosomes to make the ball jump out of the gutter and make a strike. She would try to use her powers even after the ball had come back in the ball return and would have to be led by a teacher to retrieve it.
My bowling team was having a lot of trouble concentrating and their scores were terrible. It’s not like you can ask the TSS students to stop acting so retarded. It’s not like people with mental retardation shouldn’t be allowed their recreation. I’d discovered that I liked bowling, why wouldn’t they like it too? The problem was merely that my friends and I had gotten too serious about a bowling league and we didn’t have time to wait for them to leave before we finished our game.
Even though everybody else was doing poorly, I was on fire. I had made a spare in the first frame and proceeded to make 7 strikes in a row. When you make a strike, you get ten pins added to your score plus whatever you make on your next two balls. Another consecutive strike doesn’t take care of the last one yet because you get your next two balls added to the second one’s score before it’s added to the first one. It’s complicated for a non bowler to understand, but take my word for it, 7 strikes in a row is insane and I was carrying the whole team on the strength of my game alone.
I rolled the ball and cleared all the pins off of the lane for my eighth strike in a row. Unfortunately as I turned, I let my foot go across the foul line into the lane. That’s a foot fault, an illegal move. The light sensor triggered, the lane buzzed at me, and I was awarded a zero for the throw rather than an eighth strike. This was devastating for my scored because I filled in those seven previous strikes with a zero instead of another strike. I went from having an unbeatable monster game that would carry my team to victory to merely having an excellent score. The worst part was that the strike had already been made, it was only my inattention (due to being so stoned) that probably cost us the game. One of my partners, Paul, in frustration at my boneheaded move stands up and yells at me, “Jesus Christ, Tom, are you retarded?”
Right over my shoulder is the 40 year old woman trying to recover her gutter ball with her waving hand, standing in front of the lane in her slippers, clearly with mental retardation. He killed all conversation in the whole bowling alley at the word, “retarded.” It wasn’t like you could hear a pin drop, or anything. Remember, the TSS students are all still up, tongue thrusting, shrieking, a and rolling their bowling balls around. Everybody obviously thought he was yelling at the poor woman in the adjacent lane and were staring in disgust and disbelief.
Paul now realizes that he’s yelled the word “retarded” out in front of everybody while there are 30-40 people with mental retardation bowling all around him. Paul’s face turns so red that I thought his head was going to ignite like a match. “Oh my God. I can’t believe… Oh, crap. I’ve got to go. Tell them I got sick. Tell them I had to go. I don’t give a shit what you tell the league guys, I’ve got to get out of here. Jesus, everybody is still staring at me. I’ve got to go… Jesus.”
My other two friends and I stood up and I said, “You get out of here, you person that we just met earlier… You’re disgusting.” Paul made it to the car without getting his ass kicked but Dart Bowl was never the same for him after that. He couldn’t help feeling that people were commenting about how he was abusive to a 40 year old woman with mental retardation behind his back.
We finished the game, Paul took his score as it was when he left, and we lost 2 out of 3 of the games. We eventually won the league and moved on to the national tournament. It turned out that the national tournament was in the booming metropolis of Wichita Falls Texas, which at the time, was a total Hell hole. The ball return chewed up my ball and my first unsupervised trip got me alcohol poisoning where I vomited out my stomach lining and thought I was going to die on the second day of the trip. That’s another story though.