In September 1987, I saw a help wanted ad in the local paper for a place called Universal Bowling located near downtown Chicago. I was familiar with the place as it was where I got my first bowling ball in 1973 and that it sponsored a local bowling contest that is shown on tv on Dec 25.
I was hired and started to learn how to do everything from measuring and drilling bowling balls to engraving and assembling trophies. After one person retired and another was caught shipping bowling balls to his home, I ended up in the shipping and receiving portion as they were a world wide distributor of bowling merchandise. Anything used for bowling other than the machines and the lanes itself could have been purchased there by bowling centers and pro shops for industrial or resale use.
One advantage of working there at that time was being at the forefront to the new technology in making bowling balls. Once or twice a year, a manufacturer which was introducing a new ball would with Universal hold a seminar for pro shop owners in the Chicago area. One time the company rep asked, "What is the most important factor in determining how much a ball will hook?" The other attendees (many of whom were the top amateur bowlers in the area) were responding with so many factors from ball surface to weight to oil on the lanes and then I blurted out the correct answer, "The bowler."
I was above average at bowling in the leagues but usually only had brief moments of top play. In December 1993, I was looking through one of the books about how to bowl better when I was reading a part about getting the left leg in front during the slide and it showed a black and white picture of someone with his left leg in front of him.
After a couple of weeks focusing on that, all of a sudden the ball was going where I aimed almost every shot and would react strong enough to consistently get a strike when it hit the pocket as opposed to leaving a 7 pin or 10 pin (which I earlier that year left 12 times in three games).
In one of the leagues I was bowling, I had my highest three game score in 5 years there and the other one I had three game scores of 699, 716, and 704 over a 4 week stretch. I was even doing well the times I was bowling in unfamiliar places. Overall I was averaging over 215 per game when otherwise I was 188-190.
After talking to my supervisor about my success, we went to Miami Bowl on Archer and Pulaski one night after work since he wanted to see what I was doing and shot 625 which was my highest ever three game total in that very difficult place to bowl. When I got to my fiancee's house, she wanted to go bowling so I reluctantly went back.
On my second shot there, I felt a pop on the outside of my left leg halfway between my knee and hip. I thought nothing of it and bowled through the discomfort. A few weeks later, it became very painful and I had to see a doctor as I could no longer bowl. After a month of rehab, I was back but was rusty the rest of the year.
That summer, I bowled in a league with many of the people from that seminar and struggled initially. One night I figured it out and actually had the best score among 40 of the best amateurs in the Chicago area for one game. The following week, the leg popped again and this time the leg failed and I ended up falling on the lane to the disgusted look of those people.
Every time since then I tried to bowl in a league or a couple of weeks in a row has involved discomfort, then pain, then failure of my left leg. I could no longer bowl in a league. Though I am aware my injury could have happened any time had I not bowled that night, I still could no longer look at my fiancee without feeling resentment towards her. Bowling to me was not an activity. It wasn't even a sport. It was what DEFINED me. Because of her, that was gone. When I discovered there was another female who was interested in me, I realized it was time to move on.
A couple of weeks ago I heard that former professional bowler Billy Hardwick (considered the second best bowler on the 1960s whom my father bowled against in a tournament once) passed away. I met him one time as he visited Sam Weinstein, the Ten Pin Tattler, who owned Universal Bowling. Most people are more familiar with his son, Chris and his work with the Nerdist Channel. I did Tweet Chris my condolences and on Facebook saw pictures of Billy Hardwick when he was in his prime displayed at the memorial at the bowling center in Memphis that bears his name.
I saw the same picture that was in the book I read almost 20 years ago. Though I met the man, I did not realize it was him as the arthritis that caused him to retire from competitive bowling in his early 30s had taken its toll in 25 years.
While I was waiting to see the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, Chris Hardwick Tweeted he was now the ultimate answer. I was in shock. He was born the exact same day as my ex-fiancee.
As I sit here with the throbbing in my left leg that caused me to limp at a convention 3 weeks ago and not party since the pain from it kept me from sleeping the previous night, I remember those 6 weeks in 1994 when I could answer the question that everyone would first ask of me (Ken. How are you bowling?) with the confidence and optimism and I also feel compelled to ask myself "What if?"