No time to spare

That's the way alley owners would like to have it, but the slow bowler rolls on and on
June 05, 1960

Have you heard the one down at the bowling alley about the slow bowler? He took his pregnant wife bowling and in the sixth frame was stymied by a tricky spare. Before he resolved his problem his wife departed, bore a son and, years later, sent the boy to fetch his father home.

Not many people find that joke very funny (which, the Lord knows, it isn't). But it must be said that the people not laughing the loudest are the men of America who own bowling establishments. For it is they who, in this bittersweet age of bowling prosperity (the number of bowling lanes has more than quintupled in the last five years), know the slow bowler well. And, backs to the wall, they stand dourly opposed.

Indeed they must, because the slow bowler is a dollar-sapping menace. He is because he is a dilly-dallying, gossipy, fidgety, unproficient, posturing, self-serving time squanderer, and he is because he utterly lacks a purposeful sense of duty toward the bowling proprietor. That duty, as any proprietor knows, is to bowl fast, spend money fast and make way for the next customer fast. Yet it is the inescapable conclusion of the beleaguered proprietors that nothing is more alien to the slow bowler's principles.

Probably you've no real idea how grave the slow-bowler problem has become. "It is nothing to lose 25% of your business on the weekends," says one alley proprietor, and by that he means a man is sitting pretty if he loses no more. "Why, it used to be you could figure to get 100 lines, or games, on every alley every day of the weekend. Nowadays it's down to 70 or 75 lines." At 44.2¢ a game (the official average cost of bowling in the U.S.), the loss, in the bigger alleys, can amount to as much as $500 daily. And this is not to mention that, consequently, fewer pairs of bowling shoes are rented (average rental 20¢ a night) and that fewer bowlers, thirsting and hungering, are lining up at the bar for ice cream sodas and what'll-you-have. (Bowling people don't like to talk about beer and liquor in these words but they do admit that where these refreshments are legal nearly every alley sells them and that, along with shoes and sodas and sandwiches, they account for 31.7% of the profits.)

All implications to the contrary, the slow bowler is not, of course, a man of confirmed evil. (There is no such thing, it is said, as a slow bowler who is all bad.) Rather he is a victim of today's excess leisure, its mechanization and its TV environment.

With more time to kill, there are naturally more people bowling nowadays. Of these, a lot scarcely know a strike when they see one, and, as amateurs, they seldom do. As a result, the novice must frequently bowl almost twice as many balls as the expert, taking almost twice as much time to do it. Q.E.D.: a slow bowler.

Paradoxically, the fast-thinking, automatic pin setter, virtually in universal use today, has also helped develop slow bowling. "Before you had pin setters," says a pin setter seller, "you had pin boys. Pin setters are polite, but pin boys were rude, and they would bang on the floor and tell you to get a move on, you think we got all night? There wasn't a slow bowler going who could stand up to that kind of pressure." Without that pressure the slow bowler assumes he has all night, and he takes it—to tell a joke (if not the slow-bowler joke), to agitate over the score sheet, to sip beer soulfully and, occasionally, to bowl.

Television bowling shows have affected and, in a sense, helped promote slow bowling. The new bowler, of an impressionable stripe, sees the world's best bowlers on TV. But because the expert is bowling for bushels of money, and because the show thrives on manufactured suspense, the TV bowlers' movements are slow, considered and studied. Next day the slow bowler, though not on TV, has on his TV manners. Hence there is considerable posing, if not much suspense, between his gutter balls.

Obviously, with profits shrinking and proprietors agonizing for relief, something ought to be done. Something has been. The National Bowling Council, an association of parties interested in profitable bowling, and plenty of it, has taken the lead by establishing a Slow Bowling Committee. The incorruptible mission of the SBC is, seemingly, to equate slow bowling somehow with conspiracy to defraud the management.

The road to redemption has been approached in assorted ways. The SBC is waging a subtle propaganda police action in magazines read by bowling's faithful. It has distributed cartoons depicting the slow bowler in shaming, unflattering caricature. It has weighed the merit of such ideas as awarding small prizes (a cigarette lighter, maybe a stop watch) for the week's fastest bowler. And it has discussed the practicability of equipping the up-to-now well-mannered pin setter with a built-in discourtesy device. This refinement, as envisioned, would drum its fingers testily for some 30 seconds, and, if a ball was not forthcoming, it would clear the pins without so much as a by-your-leave and move imperiously on to the next frame.

Finally, the SBC has sponsored a contest for the most provocative newspaper columns and magazine promotions combating slow bowling. Compulsive slow bowlers wanting earnestly to get right with the SBC ought to commit to memory what the prize winners had to say:

Don't try to sneak in a wisecrack to friends before shooting.

Don't make telephone calls when it is close to your turn.

Don't pay any attention to those TV bowlers.

Do know how you'll play a shot the instant you step up.

Don't waste time getting vexed when you miss this shot.

Do keep your eyes on the tenpins and off the female pins.

In short, don't have a Slow-bowling Watchbird (and somebody slowly going broke) watching you.

ILLUSTRATIONMARC SIMONTSlow bowler wearing TV manners... ILLUSTRATIONMARC SIMONTand otherwise wearing out welcome

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)