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By Staff | Apr 17, 2015

I was a late bloomer by today’s standards; my first time was when I was 16.

It was a rainy summer Saturday and my buddy Steve and I felt trapped in our farmhouse. Teenage boys thrum with a restless energy.

This plus their inability to make good choices – which can only be overcome through the process of making a lot of bad choices – is a recipe for calamity.

We paced like caged tigers, glowering out the window at the dismal planet. At length Steve decided he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“We have to be somewhere,” he announced.

“Where?” I asked.

“I dunno. Anyplace but this.”

We clambered into our venerable farm pickup and rumbled off to a nearby town. We cruised the abandoned streets as fat raindrops exploded on the greasy windshield.

It didn’t need to be said: We secretly hoped that we would espy females our age. This despite the fact that it was raining so hard that pontoons might have been a better option than a pickup.

Plus it wasn’t likely we would make a favorable impression with that beat-up Ford truck and its rusty, see-through fenders, a snarl of bent steel fence posts and fossilized barbwire rattling around in its bed.

Yet we somehow believed we had a chance. Having hope when your prospects are nonexistent is just one example of what an overabundance of energy can do to a guy.

This, in turn, can lead to unfortunate decisions.

After an hour of cruising the sodden streets, Steve blurted “I’ve got an idea,” and yanked the pickup into in a parking lot.

“What do you think?” he asked over the drumbeat of rain. I peered through the blurry windshield at the nondescript building, its neon sign a beacon in the gloom.

“I’ve never gone in there before,” I answered, hoping that my voice didn’t betray my anxiety.

“Well, it’s about time,” Steve decreed as he slid out of the cab.

I was edgy as a mouse at a rattlesnake convention as we strolled into the building.

“What do I do?” I stage whispered, ashamed of my ignorance.

“Go ahead and pick one out,” Steve replied with the brash confidence of a seasoned veteran. “They’re all lined up along that wall.”

I walked slowly past the row, stopping occasionally to sneak a closer peek or steal a caress.

This was my first time, so I wanted it to be better than good. I wanted it to be special.

“I’ll try this one,” I murmured at last.

“Ok,” said Steve. “Now let’s get you some shoes.”

And so began my initiation into the world of tenpins.

I had heard of bowling and had even watched it on TV. Even so, tenpins rituals seemed bizarre to me, especially the part about wearing footgear that belongs to someone else.

I watched nearby bowlers as we laced up our shoes. In a lane next to ours was a guy who had forearms the size of railroad ties.

He galloped up to the line and launched his ball with a mighty sidearm. The ball flew as if from a cannon and didn’t touch the lane until it was inches from the pins. The bowling pins were hammered with such force, I thought they would be blasted into toothpicks.

A strike. So that’s how it works.

Steve went first. He knocked down all but one pin, which he expertly picked off with his second roll.

This he called a “spare” although I didn’t see how anything had been spared.

Then came my turn. I tottered up to the line, almost fell, and released the ball at eye level. Coordination has never been my strong suit.

The ball thumped onto the lane and rumbled toward the pins. It was looking hopeful until some odd quirk of gravity pulled my ball into the gutter.

“Don’t worry,” assured Steve. “Try again.”

I was mad at myself for the clumsy first roll, so I channeled my anger into the second one. The ball boomed through the middle of the pins and they all fell.

“Ha!” I crowed, “A strike!”

“Nope,” replied Steve. “That’s a spare.” He then explained the scoring system used in bowling.

Math has never been my strong suit, so he could have just as well been talking about Chinese algebra.

Despite me nearly wearing out the gutters, we passed a very pleasant afternoon chucking polyester spheres at hardwood pins. By the time we finished, the skies had cleared and much of our pent-up energy had dissipated.

And best of all, Steve decreed that among everyone on our two-man team, I had earned the title of Most Improved.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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