In early 1993, when I was in high school, a new television show took the world by storm… at least it took the teenage boy world by storm. Beavis and Butthead was a cartoon on MTV about two not-so-bright high school boys. The show featured the boys failing miserably while trying to act cool or meet girls, with clips in between of the boys delivering pointed commentary on some of the weirdest music videos ever made. The usual public voices complaining about the lack of morals and virtue in entertainment were all up in arms about this show. I, however, enjoyed it for the brilliant satire it was, and I also laughed at the dumb jokes about poop, sex, and private parts. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, my friends talked me into playing Butthead in a school skit. It was the first time I had ever performed in front of a crowd that size, and it felt so freeing. I did not have cable at my apartment in Jeromeville, but I still watched Beavis and Butthead sometimes when I was at my parents’ house.
On the last day of Monday classes of fall quarter of my sophomore year at the University of Jeromeville, a week before finals started, I got out of the shower and got dressed. The previous Saturday afternoon, I received an unexpected package in the mail from my mother, something soft in a large envelope. Inside was white folded fabric, with a note saying, “I saw this at the mall the other day and thought you would like it. Love, Mom.” I unfolded the fabric; it was a T-shirt, with a picture of Beavis with his shirt pulled over his head, his arms bent upward at right angles, and a crazed look in his eyes. I AM THE GREAT CORNHOLIO! was printed at the bottom in the usual Beavis and Butthead font. A recurring plot line on Beavis and Butthead involved Beavis consuming too much sugar or caffeine and transforming into his alter ego The Great Cornholio. He would then go on incoherent rants about bungholes and Lake Titicaca while responding to others with “Are you threatening me?”
I wore the shirt for the first time that morning, although I put on a jacket over it before I left the apartment. I could see blue sky behind the clouds outside, but it was too cold at 8:25 in the morning for one layer, and it would probably not warm up much today. I started to walk outside to catch the bus, but then, remembering something I had to do later that day, I walked back inside and grabbed a postage stamp from my desk, putting it in the front pocket of my backpack where it would not get lost.
I walked to the bus stop across the street on Alvarez Avenue. A large crowd was standing there; I had a bad feeling I would not get a seat on the bus. When I boarded the bus, I stood with one hand grabbing the rail at the top, almost falling over once when the bus made a sudden stop later.
About halfway through my first class, math, I took off my jacket, appearing in public with the Great Cornholio shirt for the first time. As class was leaving, Jack Chalmers made eye contact and pointed at my chest. “Nice shirt,” he said.
“That show’s funny. It’s so dumb.”
“I know,” I replied. I told him about the time I played Butthead in high school.
“That’s great. That must have been fun.”
Bowling class was right after math on Mondays and Wednesdays. I left Wellington Hall and walked to the far side of the Memorial Union building to the bowling alley in the basement. I did not know anyone from my bowling class well, and none of them said anything about the shirt when I took my jacket off.
Frank, the instructor, got our attention a few minutes later. He had told us at the beginning of the quarter to just call him Frank, but it still felt strange to me. He was an instructor, I felt like I should have called him Dr. White… but can you even get a Ph.D. in bowling? Maybe Mr. White. But he said to call him Frank, so I would call him Frank if that was what he wanted. “We have two classes left,” Frank said, “and there is no final for this class. So we’re just going to bowl, like we did last week. Get in groups of four to a lane, and use what you learned. But I added something special for you today. I put a few red pins in with the regular white pins, and if the head pin is red and you bowl a strike, you get a coupon that you can exchange here for a free game in the future. If all three pins in front are red, and you bowl a strike, everyone in the class gets a free game.”
I could hear a few students audibly excited about the prospect of winning free games. I was frustrated at the beginning of the quarter, as I had had to unlearn all of the wrong ways I had bowled in the past, but I thought I was getting used to some of the techniques we had learned from Frank. I found a ball that fit me and brought it to lane 9, which was not yet full. On my first frame, I hit four pins with my first roll and two with my second… maybe I had not learned as much as I had hoped.
About three frames in, I heard Frank call out, “Red pin over here!” I looked, and someone on another lane had a red pin in the front. If she bowled a strike, she would win a free game. I watched as her ball rolled wide of the head pin.
Every couple minutes, I could hear someone getting Frank’s attention when a red pin showed up in the front of the lane, and two bowlers had won free games by the time a red pin was placed in the front of my lane. It was not my turn when it happened, though, and the student on my lane missed the strike.
I did get one strike and a few spares in that first game, and I finished with a score of 109, about average for me. I bowled a second game and scored 102. It appeared I would have time for one more, but my arm was getting sore at this point, as often happened after I finished two games.
The reason I found it difficult to control the ball the way Frank taught was the same as the reason my arm was sore: the ball was heavy. Frank said at the beginning of the quarter that the ball should be one-tenth of my body weight. But I was a pretty big guy, and one-tenth of my body weight was around 22 pounds. The heaviest bowling balls were 16 pounds, and I could not control a 16-pound ball well. I thought a lighter ball might be better for me, but most of the lighter balls had finger holes too small. My right thumb naturally has a wide spot that requires an unusually large thumb hole. I found a 14-pound ball that just barely fit my thumb and brought it back to my lane. I was not sure if I would get in trouble for using a lighter ball, but the rule about one-tenth of my body weight did not seem to be an official rule of bowling.
Switching to a lighter ball paid off. I bowled a spare and a strike in the first two frames of the next game. At the start of the third frame, a red pin appeared in the head position for the first bowler on my lane; his roll went just about an inch wide of the head pin.
“Nice try,” I said to him. “You’ll get it next time.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “You’re off to a good start.”
“Thank you. I hope I can keep it up.” When my turn came, though, I hit five pins on my first roll and three on my second. In bowling, a strike or spare is scored as 10 pins, but for a spare, the total of the next roll is added to the score for the spare frame. For a strike, the next two rolls are added to the strike frame. So my strike in the second frame was scored twice, as a bonus of 10 added to my first frame spare, and as my score in the second frame when I actually rolled the strike. Because I got a strike, the score for the second frame would include an additional bonus equal to whatever my next two rolls hit. The result of this scoring system is that these boni add up quickly with consecutive strikes, or with spares followed by strikes. After three frames, my score was 46. That was not a bad score for me for three frames, but I had cooled off after my good start.
It did not take me long to heat up again. I got another spare in the fourth frame, and consecutive strikes in the fifth and sixth. I was not the only one heating up in the bowling alley; by the time I rolled my consecutive strikes, three more students had won free games with red pin strikes. When I stepped up to the lane for my turn in the seventh frame, I let the fan blow on my hand for a few seconds, as I always did, while the pinsetter machine swept away the previous bowler’s pins and placed new ones for me. I grabbed my ball, looked up at the end of the lane, and gasped.
There they were.
Three red pins in the front.
“Frank,” I called out, waving my hand to get my instructor’s attention in the noisy bowling alley. A few seconds later, he looked up, saw me waving, and then looked at my pins.
“Three red pins over here on lane 9!” Frank called out. “Free game for everyone if he gets a strike!” The students who were getting ready to take their turns stopped and put their balls down, all so they could watch me. I noticed that Frank did not call me by name, probably because he did not know my name. In a class like this, Frank and I had not had much one-on-one interaction of the type where I had to say my name.
I put my hand in front of the fan for another few seconds, to dry the sweat that had started to accumulate from the pressure of free games for the entire class riding on this one roll. Everyone was watching me, in my Beavis and Butthead shirt. I did not want to let everyone down. I had bowled two strikes in a row; why not just do the same thing I had been doing?
I took a deep breath. I positioned my feet where I had been positioning them all day. I lined up my arm where I had been lining it up, a little bit to the left of where Frank had taught us, because doing it my way had been working better for me all quarter. I brought the ball behind me above my head and began approaching the lane, as I swung the ball down, releasing it and stopping my forward movement before my feet crossed the line. The ball went sliding and spinning down the lane, headed straight for the cluster of red pins in the front.
As I heard my ball loudly knocking down pins, I watched all ten pins tumble to the lane. The entire class erupted into applause. I pumped both fists into the air as I turned around. The others on my lane all high-fived me as I walked back to my seat.
“Free game for everyone!” Frank announced. “I’ll give you your coupons as you leave class today.”
That would be the last strike I would bowl that day. On the eighth frame, I hit seven pins with my first roll and two with the second. Since I did not bowl a strike or spare, no bonus from the next frame would be added, and I could calculate my score so far: 151. That was already my second highest bowling score ever, in my life, and I still had two frames to go. I bowled a spare in the ninth frame and began the tenth frame with a 7-10 split, leaving only the two pins in the far corners. It was almost impossible to hit both of those pins with one roll. I knocked over one of the two pins on my second roll, for a final score of 178, my best game ever.
Frank stood at the base of the stairway leading outside as we left class a few minutes after I finished my third game. “Good job,” he said as he handed me the coupon.
“Thank you,” I replied. “That was my best game ever.”
“Good for you!”
I had an hour until my next class. The campus store was right next to the stairway to the bowling alley, and I had an errand to run there. I walked to the greeting cards and looked through birthday cards, trying to find something simple. This card was for someone with a very different sense of humor from mine, someone who did not appreciate the kind of sex- and poop-based humor that I had come to associate with birthday cards. I found one with a drawing of a cake that simply said “Happy birthday!” at the top and “Enjoy your special day!” inside. I paid for the card and took it to the Coffee House at the other end of the building, looking for a table with an empty seat. I did not find one, this was a busy time of day, so I sat on the floor against the wall. I took out my binder to use as a hard surface to write on and filled out the inside of the card.
Happy 75th! I hope you have a great day! I just got out of bowling class, and I bowled 178, my best game ever. Finals start in a week; I think I’ll do okay with these classes. I’ll be home for Christmas soon. See you then!
I licked the stamp I had brought with me and placed it on the envelope. I wrote my return address in the corner and Grandma’s address in Gabilan in the center of the envelope. I put it in my backpack and got out my math book, doing homework for about 45 minutes until it was time to go to chemistry class. When I finally stood up, my foot was asleep from having sat cross-legged for so long. I shook my leg, trying to get the blood flowing, and began awkwardly walking toward the mailbox, having to stop and lean against the wall after a minute as my foot became numb again. After the feeling returned a minute or so later, I continued walking, dropping Grandma’s birthday card in the mailbox. Next, I walked diagonally across the Quad in the general direction of chemistry class in Stone Hall.
I looked up and saw Liz Williams, my friend whom I knew from my floor in the dorm last year and also from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, approaching. I saw her look up, and I smiled and waved. “Hi,” I said, as Liz pointed toward my chest and began laughing. I looked down to see what she was pointing at. The shirt. Beavis. Of course.
“Oh my gosh, that shirt,” Liz said, chuckling. “Where’d you get that?”
“I just randomly got a package from my mom the other day. This was in it.”
“Your mom gave you that? That’s hilarious!”
“I don’t have cable now, but my brother and I used to watch that show all the time. And senior year of high school, I played Butthead in a class skit.”
“You? No way!”
“It felt great, to finally be able to get up in front of a crowd and do something silly.”
“That’s awesome! I just can’t picture you doing that.”
“That’s why it was so much fun! How’s your day going?”
“Pretty well, except I have a paper due tomorrow that I still need to write.”
“Good luck with that.”
“How are you?”
“I’m having a great day! I had bowling class this morning, and I bowled the best game of my life. There were some red bonus pins, so if we got a strike when the bonus pin appeared in front, we got free games. I won free games for the whole class!”
“That’s great! I need to get to class, but hey, I’ll see you soon?”
I was in a great mood for the rest of the day, all through chemistry and physics classes and the two groups I tutored in the afternoon. It was my last full Monday of the quarter, my last full Monday of 1995, and my winter break was in sight. Only three of my classes actually had finals, and math, chemistry, and physics all were typically pretty easy for me. And after coming through and winning a free game for my entire bowling class, I felt like a hero.
After the bowling class ended, I never really bowled on a regular basis again. For much of my young adult years, it was something I would do socially every couple months or so. I used the free game coupon later that school year when some people at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship invited me to go bowling with them afterward. By the time I reached my 40s, bowling had become something I do very rarely. I have no specific reason for not bowling anymore; I would enjoy it if I did. I just don’t make time for bowling, and I don’t hang out with people who bowl much. That game of 178 is today the third-best game I have ever bowled. My two games that were higher than that also happened during my UJ years, stories for another time.
The night after I bowled 178 was uneventful, in a good way. I went home and studied and did homework for most of the time. I got a lot of work done, and I went to bed happy and satisfied with how my day went. As Beavis and Butthead would say, this rules. Huh-huh.