Local Lifestyle

Thursday, Mar 21 2013 12:51 PM

HERB BENHAM: Betty's bowling ball -- the roll of a lifetime

By The Bakersfield Californian

Bowling Betty was the favorite of our Lent Bowling League, which concluded Monday at Westchester Lanes.

Betty -- bespectacled, with sun-kissed blond hair -- would walk purposefully to the line and with a light flick of her wrist, set in the backhand position, drop the ball inches from her foot, where it would begin its slow crawl to the pins at the far end of the lane.

Remember "Wide World of Sports"? The first time you saw slow-motion footage? Remember how transfixed you were watching a stock car launch, hurl and revolve at a speed you could appreciate?

That's Betty's ball. Although there is a whirl of motion in all 24 lanes, the stereo is pumping "Play That Funky Music," and the regulars at the bar are sinking deeper and deeper into their leather barstools, all eyes are fixed on Betty's ball as it rolls slowly toward its unsuspecting prey. Time goes backward and it's unclear whether Betty's ball might join it.

Will the ball make 60 feet or will it stop? What happens if the ball does make it? Will it have enough forward motion to do anything but massage the pins? Everybody has questions about the fate of Betty's ball. Even Betty.

Ten feet, eight feet, six and four. As the ball slowly approaches the pins, giving them ample time to finish whatever conversation they were having with the pin next to them, it harnesses the power of the universe by creating a black hole and sucking all 10 pins into its patient recesses.

The pins don't explode, hurled stage left or right, as much as teeter and fall as if tickled by a light breeze. The pins fall almost soundlessly, like they have landed on a feather bed.

Besides Betty, the highlight of the fourth and last session, was Oilfield Russ pulling a hamstring. I'm not sure Russ knew he had a hamstring, but if he didn't, he does now. The positive side is that pulling a hamstring is like pulling your groin -- you have to be an athlete to do it.

I bowled a 100 in the first game Monday. It could have been worse. On my fourth turn, I rolled the ball into the gutter halfway down and then, while trying for a spare, I clipped one pin on the far right, giving me a total of one. Do that for 10 frames and you have scored a 10.

Bowling can turn otherwise stable people into head cases. I had to put a friend of mine, Cabinet Curt, on suicide watch. He'd bowl a strike and then the next frame, he'd roll a side ball, shake his head, rest his chin on his chest and then get that faraway look in his eyes.

I would whip out my phone and pretend to call the suicide hot line, saying, "We have a despondent bowler on lane No. 8 at Westchester Lanes. Please send a first responder."

I don't know if alcohol helps. I've done it both ways -- sober and, when that didn't work, employing the slow, steady heat from two fingers of Scotch in a plastic Starbucks cup. The needle doesn't move either way for me, but Betty is more fun to watch with the benefit of a throat-clearer.

Some bowlers swear by the warmup, which lasts 15 minutes. Bowling, however, is like spring training. Things are good until the season starts. Every team is in contention, every pitcher a potential Cy Young winner and every batter a Triple Crown threat.

Then opening day comes. Half the teams lose, half the batters strike out and half the pitchers whistle the ball into the stands.

The highlight of my season came during the second session when I slipped at the line, held onto the ball, did the Harlem Shuffle for about 30 feet, before releasing the ball. I felt like I had torn my hip bone clean away from my body.

The real highlight was Betty. Slow-rolling Betty. We could use Betty's ball to sort out the rest of our lives.

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