“All right. Here we go. A vs. G. Monday Night Bowling Showdown Extravaganza: Rematch.”

“It’s an R.”

“A what?”

“An R. It says A vs. R. Look up there.”

I looked up at the screen above our lane. There it was: an “R.” I checked the scoreboard.

“Rant vs. Anna.”

I sighed. Apparently, telling the guy “Grant with an ‘R-A-N-T’” wasn’t as clear an instruction as I’d thought. Great—a humiliating beginning to what was most likely going to be a humiliating end to a three-day period of confronting my own inability to roll a ball in a straight line.

The best thing about bowling in a group of two is that you’re bound to get at least a little better. People underestimate the number of games you can get in when you’re not either a) a group of kids only there for the promise of free pizza and birthday cake or b) half a dozen 30-somethings that came as an excuse to drink pitchers of cheap beer.

Of course, there are always the league players, but even I know to avoid league nights, not only because it’s impossible to get a lane, but also because being the only gutter ball in a sea of strikes is a soul-crushing experience I’m not ready for.

My bowling safari began on a Friday. My mother had been kicked out of an 8 p.m. showing of “Interstellar” by my little brother (“No, Mom. You can’t be in the same theater as us!”), and I needed a ride. You could say we were united by mutual interest.

So there we were at Capitol Bowl (900 W. Capitol Ave.). It’s across the river in West Sac, right in the middle of that part of town where every building is either a modern development or a seedy motel that offers hourly rates.

Thankfully, Capitol Bowl is one of the former (although it’s sandwiched between two of the latter). The building has that retro square look, with old-timey neon signs and a big bowling pin on the front.

My only real issue with Capitol Bowl is that there isn’t much space to bowl.

The building is long and narrow, so there’s room for only about 20 lanes, something that resulted in a 45-minute wait time for me and my mother. In its defense, though, Capitol Bowl was packed.

Fortunately, the food provided an adequate distraction. The pizza was cheap ($17.60 for a large veggie), or at least relatively so, considering the prices many bowling alleys charge their captive audiences.

The price for Friday night “glow bowling”—blacklights warrant extra cost, I guess—was $35 an hour. Shoes included.

It sounds pretty steep, but we two managed to get through four games, which averages out to about $4.30 per game, each.

My performance was…less than perfect: 160 points in four games. I really do have a knack for messing things up. One frame, my ball would curve to the left; another, to the right. No matter where I positioned myself, I still found new and exciting ways to miss the pins.

And, yes, I did lose to my mother.

Concluding that my mom was too tough an opponent, I decided to give senior Anna Wiley, a self-professed “awful bowler,” a try.

We laid out the specifics of our showdown. The time: high noon. The place: Country Club Lanes.

The first stop was the Dollar Tree next door. Anna had forgotten socks, and the situation demanded that she have the proper gear. We decided on penguin Christmas socks.

As we entered the alley, we passed several tables piled high with cakes, soda bottles and presents. Yes, Country Club Lanes still remains party central.

It’s a testament to the bowling alley’s reputation as the go-to party location for a parent in a bind that the bar and pool hall are perennially dead while the laser tag arena and arcades are always full of children hopped up on root beer and chocolate cake.

Country Club Lanes also charges by time spent, and the guy up front told me it would be $16 for half an hour, or about the same as Capitol Bowl.

By the end of our first game, I was already trailing by 20 points. The careful technique I had learned from a “How to Bowl” article on the Internet was no match for Anna’s strangely effective method of chucking the ball down the lane and crossing her fingers.

The final score was 80-54, Anna.

Deciding that I wanted to win something for once, I  challenged Anna to a game of air hockey before we left.

5-1, Anna.

This was getting bad. I’m not supposed to be this bad at everything. I needed to get my life in control.

There was only one solution: a rematch.

The only other convenient place in the area was Land Park Lanes (5850 Freeport Blvd.), right across from the Executive Airport.

The alley’s exterior is less than inviting. The parking lot was empty save for two homeless men rooting through the trash cans. And the windows are tinted, so it’s impossible to see whether it’s open or not. I’d been there many times, but I didn’t remember it looking that bad.

I opened the doors to similar desolation. Apparently, no one else thought that 4 p.m. on a Monday was a good time to bowl.

With 50 lanes, Land Park Lanes is similar to Country Club. Without the arcades and laser tag arena, though,  there are certainly fewer kids running around.

No one else was there, so they stuck us in lane 46 so that they could start up the waxing machine at the other end.

While the price was good at $8.19 per two-hour session per person (although it does get a little steeper on the weekends at $17.29 on a Saturday), my favorite thing about the alley was its seedy charm.

The shoes were laced instead of the new Velcro, and the lanes took a little longer to set up than usual but the atmosphere was worth it. I felt like at any point I would look over at the lane beside us and see the Dude shooting the breeze with Walter.

Initially, it seemed like things were going my way. Sure, I’d lost the first game, but only by one point. That meant that Anna and I were neck and neck.

And so I bowled. I bowled like I had never bowled before. Balls were thrown. Pins were knocked over.

86-66, Grant.

Finally I had something I could gloat about.

The victory party lasted for all of 10 seconds. Then Anna reminded me that, with Saturday’s game, I was still six points behind.

We went for Indian (her choice)  to celebrate her victory.

Previously published in the print edition on Nov. 25, 2014.

 

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