Bowling Alleys Are American Pockets of Purgatory

It's a sport/game/leisure activity so simple that I always feel vaguely self-conscious actually explaining it out loud: "Well, you, um, try to knock down pins with a ball."

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Aug 14 2015, 4:00am

This article appears in the August Issue of VICE Magazine.

It's a "pastime" in the truest sense of the word in that only a species with so much time to pass could have devised and named it. It's a sport/game/leisure activity so simple that I always feel vaguely self-conscious actually explaining it out loud: "Well, you, um, try to knock down pins with a ball." And as a subject, it is probably undeserving of hard contemplative thought or, more germane to what you're looking at right now, an exploration of its universe via words and photographs.

But a few summers ago, I started bowling regularly and began to notice that when I'd step into an alley, whether it was the sort that exists as a vestige of another era or a lackluster attempt to keep up with this one, I'd start to feel vaguely sick. I don't mean that I'd become physically ill, but that I'd turn into some kind of existential Humpty Dumpty—precariously perched and vulnerable by definition. As soon as I'd catch a whiff of that disinfectant they spray into the shoes or hear the cartoonish sound of a proper strike being rolled, I'd kind of freak out.

My hypothesis was that these airplane-hanger-size buildings felt purgatorial. That there was something about the game and the spaces it's played in that somehow highlighted or even exaggerated life's possible meaninglessness and just how goddamn bored we really are. All I knew was that never in my life had I been simultaneously so drawn and repulsed by something. It was like being unquenchably hungry with a nagging stomachache.

So, this summer, photographer Eli Durst and I spent some time bowling and thinking about bowling in the state of Connecticut. He took pictures; I wrote words. We both spoke to a lot of bowlers. The hope was to gain a bit of a better understanding of how something so weightless could feel so weighty—how something so utterly benign could have such sharp teeth.

GIDEON JACOBS

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