Sunday, April 22, 2012

`Knowing About Other People's Lives'

“I can never get enough of knowing about other people’s lives.”

I was the only adult in long pants and the only one without a tattoo. One man wore a Spiderman dashiki. It was a mixed group, men and women, whites, blacks and Mexicans. I was the only person, adult or child, who didn’t put on bowling shoes and throw a ball down a lane.

“It is why, when I open the morning newspaper, I turn first to the obituary page, hoping for more than the end of the story.”

Much of my childhood was spent in bowling alleys. My parents in the nineteen-fifties and -sixties belonged to teams and bowled well enough to collect trophies. Everyone we knew seemed to bowl. I tried it only once, with a friend from junior high school. As with all sports and most games, I didn’t understand the point. Rolling the ball down the lane, I wasn’t bowling but imitating a person who bowled.

“Time is no impediment to this curiosity.”

The occasion was the birthday party for a boy in my youngest son’s third-grade class. On his second day in his new school, David got an invitation. He’s about one-seventh my age but unlike his father already knows how to bowl, effortlessly make friends and enjoy himself in a crowd of mostly strangers. I was friendly with my fellow partygoers, thanking our hostess like the polite little boy I always was, but spent an hour and a half seated at a combination table/bowling ball rack, reading and watching the others. I’m at home as a spectator. That’s my role, as being happy bowlers was for others.

“Or, for that matter, to feeling.”

David drank his soda, ate his cupcake and had a pleasant time bowling with new friends. “Dad, I like bowling,” he said as we walked out of the bowling alley into the bright sun.

[The quoted passages are the first four sentences to the introduction William Maxwell supplied to the 1997 reprinting of The Outermost Dream: Essays and Reviews, first published in 1997. It’s the book I brought with me to the bowling alley.]

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