Mom, Dad, Timmy, and Sis pile into the family Cadillac and back ever so carefully out of their driveway. It's a sunny Saturday in the mid-1950s and everything seems peachy.
Of course, Mom is suppressing her dream of starting a catering business in order to live up to society's expectations and do the housework. Little Timmy is secretly living a lie and wants desperately to come out of the closet. Sis is tired of being told how long her skirts should be. Behind Dad's pristine grin is a burning desire to try a new and more adventurous sexual position.
How was this grand illusion of the 1950s pulled off? How was so much frustration so easily repressed for the sake of appearance? Why did this angst not translate into violent crimes like it does today? The answer for some Oberlin students, lies in Hales Gymnasium. It is that cathartic pastime of the '50s, that proud symbol of what is good and right in America. The answer is bowling.
Fortunately, Hales Memorial Gymnasium, in addition to housing the Cat in the Cream coffee house and a billiards room, provides Oberlin students with the essential tension release, College Lanes-six golden lanes of salvation. Nothing is more effective for releasing one's aggressions.
"This place is my special utopia," said Jesse Holstein, a senior enrolled in the Bowling I class.
The history of College Lanes is a story of fate, karma, good vs. evil and David vs. Goliath. It has led a charmed life.
In a display of purity and family values, G. Willard Hales of Oakpark, Illinois, funded the building of the gymnasium in 1938 as a tribute to his mother. The annex was added in the late '50s and, in 1963, College Lanes was relocated from the basement of Wilder to its present location.
At that time the lanes were used mainly for physical education classes. There was no assumption that the lanes would make a profit. KD Lanes, located in the building presently housing The Mandarin restaurant, had cornered Oberlin's market on commercial bowling.
However, as if cued by destiny, in 1974, KD lanes burned to the ground and from its ashes rose a period of prosperity for College Lanes. KD's four leagues, left in mid season without a place to bowl and call their own, were taken in like lost kittens by that consummate purveyor of good will and charity, College Lanes. Eventually a fifth league was added and business began to take off.
Since the closing of KD, College Lanes had become expected to make a profit and was forced to put this materialistic priority above its more noble and original commitment to bettering students and humanity. Fortunately, the lanes survived and, presently, the focus has shifted back to the students.
However, College Lanes' destiny of service was again threatened, this time by a force more powerful than money and corruption - a hard throwing, clumsy southpaw with an 11-pound ball. A few years back a gentleman had apparently caught his thumb in his ball, midstroke, and catapulted it high into the air.
The ball landed without incident in the narrow, vacant aisle between lane one and the wall. "If he had been on any other lane but lane one," commented a grateful Tom Reid, manager of the lanes for 16 years, "that ball would have done some serious damage."
This mystifying breed of karma and blessing surrounds and protects College Lanes. "Of course," Reid cautioned, "we don't encourage lofting of the ball to that extent."
It is not uncommon to see an aging man in Wranglers and a John Deere cap next to a purple haired, nose-ringed, philosophy major, laughing and high-fiving each other congratulations on nailing that elusive six pin.
"It's the best town/gown thing going," Reid said. At College Lanes the love flows like water. "It's really nice to see the friendships form." When one enters the building, the effects of its supernatural powers are immediately felt. Wes Clapp, another student in Bowling I, spoke from his heart.
"When you walk in, there's this aura of great bowling at Oberlin. Just to see The Great Mr. Tom Reid with an 804 [score] up on the Honor Wall standing in front of you... And the smell!"
Rising above all the miracles and celebration is the undeniable fact that bowling is big fun. "The game's got a lot of appeal," Reid said. "You roll a ball, knock down some pins. It's a simple concept but also a hard sport to master."
Hales offers open bowling seven days a week. Hours differ depending on the day, but generally the lanes are open in the afternoon until around 5:30 and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
For the more enthusiastic bowler, there will also be intramural bowling starting on September 22. The Intra-College Keglers will meet every Sunday night, one division at 6:30 p.m., one at 9:30 p.m. The tournament will conclude on December 8 and the cost is three dollars per bowler, per week. Registration forms are available at the lanes.
In this age of violence, murder and bad attitudes, America does not bowl as much as it did in the '50s, and it shows. Unclench those sweaty, tense fists and treat them to the soothing rush of air provided by that peculiar little fan near the ball return. Return to the serenity and family values of the past. Rent some shoes and bowl away those blues.
Reid adds, "If you can move a limb, I can help you bowl." So, resurrect your mental health. Do it for Mamma Hales. Do it for Oberlin.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 2; September 13, 1996
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