Scribbles from R Scott Jones
June 3rd, 2024

The bowling trophy


A number of years ago, I met a new friend via instagram. She was trying to visit all 400+ National Park units, a goal I was nearing completion of*. So I offered to get together for happy hour so I could impart some of the hard-earned lessons I had learned while pursuing the same quest. We did, seemingly leaving as good friends after 4-5 hours of great conversation.

A couple weeks later, she asked me if I could fill in for her boyfriend on their bowling team for a few weeks. He's a tax accountant and was in "busy season." I hadn't been in a league before, but I've casually bowled with friends enough in the past to have my own ball and shoes, averaging ~180, so I agreed.

By the end of the first night, I had permanently replaced the boyfriend on the team (he was happy with this outcome). We've been bowling together ever since, perhaps 10-12 seasons now. It's been an excellent Tuesday night activity with friends.

Team Butter
Team Butter

Our team name is Butter, which is unusual but has a fun backstory. So this friend is a genetic counselor who did her grad work at Stanford—she's smart. But when we chose a team name—"I Can't Believe It's Not Gutter"—she miswrote it, using the word butter instead of gutter. A simple mistake, but the (cough useless cough) bowling alley manager didn't give a shit notice and so entered it as written. But we embraced it (it's great to have an ongoing reason to tease a teammate), shortening it the following season to just Butter. We get some quizzical looks when we play new teams, which is an added bonus.

Fast forward a few seasons, and the quality of our bowling league has consistently declined. Not in the participants, but in the bowling alley itself. Apparently, it's part of the monopolization and ensuing enshittification of bowling.

This included suddenly not adding our names to the league trophy the year we won (well, twice actually), or providing any personal awards, either. Now, the league is named "Here for the Beer" so it's not like we all needed awards. It was a fun, generally non-competitive league, one where you high-five your opponent when they get a strike. But it miffed my friend (damn millennials!) that she didn't get awarded for best female bowler of the season (she's a bit more competitive than most).

We did earn some money for the win, though, which we traditionally used to celebrate out together. So we set a happy hour date for ten days later. But I wasn't going to use my portion of the winnings for the happy hour. The next day, I headed to the trophy shop I'd noticed next door to where I often get Chinese take-out for lunch.

I perused the offerings, then explained what I was looking for—a goof trophy, as big and gaudy as my meager winnings budget could afford. She loved the idea, and let me into a backroom with a bunch of used trophies that had been donated. She said I could take any one trophy I found as the main base, for free, and that she'd help me add additional accessories that I'd pay for. That sounded more than reasonable to me.

I quickly picked out a purple four-foot tall trophy, which was the largest one they had, and also would work great with the gold accessories. We cleaned it up, I ordered some pins and bowlers, added a 2022 topper, and a very basic custom title plate that simply read: "Bowling Trophy." I picked it up a week later, in time for happy hour, just as I had I found the crucial centerpiece, a Christmas ornament of a stick of salted butter.

I arrived at happy hour much earlier than anyone else, bringing in the finished trophy and awkwardly covered it with a black sheet and set it aside nearby. After our first beer, I unveiled the surprise to my friend—the bowling manager called, she finally got the trophy you earned. Enjoy!

The bowling trophy after its unveiling. It's nearly as tall as she is!
The bowling trophy after its unveiling. It's nearly as tall as she is!

She would now have to have this thing in her house. At least for the next season. After that, we agreed that it would go to the teammate who had the lowest score in a game compared to their average. Because, again, it's a bit of (fun) shame trophy...

She could barely get the trophy into her Jeep for the drive home. They bought a house soon after that, and I was pleased that it was one of the first items they moved over (unintentionally, as it was always just in the way in their rental and not something they could easily pack).

A treasured (cough) trophy prominently displayed in the new house before the main moving commenced.
A treasured (cough) trophy prominently displayed in the new house before the main moving commenced.

Since then, the first thing my wife asks me when I get home from bowling night is, "Did you win the trophy? I sure hope not!"

My friend was able to transfer ownership of the beloved trophy after that following season to another teammate, who has maintained control of it ever since. He since missed two half seasons for paternity leave for his two recent family additions, which has ensured that he couldn't get rid of the damn thing. Gotta be in attendance to note who scored badly enough to be in contention. Of course, in his absence, the team has simply voted to permanently award it to him. Gotta honor our absent teammate in some way, right? 😂 I think he's been too busy to notice; we'll see when he rejoins in the fall.

We always take the summer league off, as my friend and I are usually off traveling too much to make it worthwhile. But I'm looking forward to getting back to it. I enjoy the fun traditions we have, whether it's the trophy of shame, our bowling poker games (a card game we play during each game, based on how many strikes/spares we earn), or the blue pin routine (if you roll a 9 and leave the 5 pin standing alone, the entire league keeps their arm raised...if you fail to knock it down, you earn a blue bowling pin that you keep until someone else earns it—a play off our own trophy, in a way).

Having a standing weekly social activity is great, especially when it involves both a group of good friends plus the bowling acquaintances we see often. And I like that it's one of the increasingly few shared activities, these days, which involves an absolute a mix of America.

* Her and her then-boyfriend actually flew up to surprise me for my last two park units in Alaska when I finished my quest in 2019. A couple years later, we were in their wedding. Making friends online can be very rewarding!