Ripped at the Incline Station in 2004

[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot paid a visit to the Incline Station and composed this article for the March 2004 issue of the Ripsaw magazine.]

Bowling is a game that was devised for drinkers. You get up, you roll a ball, you sit down, you pound some beers and watch other people do the same. Then you do it again, and all the time you’re wearing stupid shoes and knocking stuff down. It’s like alcoholic heaven.

In some sports, drinking is detrimental to one’s performance. Those are the sports that I like to call “watchin’ sports.” There are precious few games where alcohol is a performance-enhancing drug. Bowling, billiards and curling are about it.

Tonight I’m bowling at the Incline Station in Downtown Duluth. This dude who used to bartend at the NorShor Theatre is showing me his bowling technique, which is totally screwed up. He uses the last two fingers of his hand instead of the middle two, because, as he puts it, “If I bowled the normal way, my middle finger would come right off my hand and stay in the ball.” True enough, the first two fingers of his hand have obviously been reconstructed by a surgeon. “I got ‘em caught in an industrial grater,” he says. “I had to climb across the machine to shut it off, then I dug my fingers out of the machine and wrapped them up in a napkin.”

“Cool,” I say, because it is. Still, he’s kicking everybody’s ass. He’s got power behind his rolls and it’s difficult to say just where it comes from. There’s gonna be no beating him tonight, not that anybody cares. We’re here to get blasted and throw heavy balls down a greasy aisle. It’s kinda like prom night.

Our fingerless friend isn’t the only one with his own special technique. One guy doesn’t use his thumb in an effort to gain extra spin. His rolls seem to defy physics, arcing out and riding the gutter before hooking back to nail a strike. This chick who claims to bowl in the honor of Liza Minelli just walks up and drops the ball down like it’s a nuisance, and it works out pretty well for her. Me, I enter a zone when I roll. What little brain function I have left just shuts down and I switch to autopilot. My body knows what to do, and I trust it. I use the same technique for dancing, for screwing and for walking home from Pizza Lucé when I’m blacked out. I think I learned about it from watching reruns of Kung Fu.

A thought hits me while I’m recycling my Summit into the urinal. You always see the workers spraying Lysol into the rented shoes, but what about the house balls? All these drunkards like me are pissing all over their fingers and then sticking them right back in the shared equipment. Over at Stadium Lanes, there’s a great sign in the men’s room that says “Employees must wash their hands. Everyone else should wash their hands.”

When I get back to my lane, another pitcher of Summit has materialized out of thin air and I give myself a refill. My horizon line is a little unsteady, which is going to be make bowling a challenge, but what the hell — we’re on the third game and third games always suck. No one’s paying attention anyway. I walk up and roll, and then this woman reminds me that we’re playing league-style, which means we switch lanes every turn. “You know, every now and then I bowl with the handicapped league,” she says, “and the mentally challenged have no problem remembering the rules.”

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