Went bowling with the boy the other day. This is now, more or less, a weekly outing for the two of us, a chance for us to practice without really keeping score. He just likes to have fun, but I tend to take it far too seriously. Goes back to my younger jock days. If I'm playing something, I go all out. It's more about pushing myself to achieve a sharper game than burying an opponent, but I know that sometimes it seems like I'm trying crush the competition.
Not with my son, however. I simply enjoy sharing this time with him. And he gets such a kick out of bowling, as he does most things. His enthusiasm is free of snark and cynicism. This gladdens me, which is nice, since these days I can use all the gladdening I can grab.
The only bad thing about the bowling alley is the horrible Top 40 music that constantly blasts from the ceiling speakers. Occasionally a minor classic is heard, but mostly it's contemporary pap, and I wonder who in the hell seriously enjoys this trash. Again, it might be age, but these repetitive, timid arrangements make me yearn for such pop masters as Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, even early Carole King. But this is not my time, and the alley, being filled as it is with younger folk, goes with what they know and apparently like. What can you do?
Over the lanes, from left to right wall, are maybe five large screens, and when my son and I bowl, the screens usually show endless loops of Warner Bros. cartoons, a fair number of which are from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. There's no audio, so the antics of Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny are presented in pantomime. What's the point of this? Visual distraction between rolls? And the audio of, say, Ashlee Simpson screeching combined with the visual of Foghorn Leghorn beating a dog with a bat is a little unnerving. With all this going on, I seriously doubt that I'll ever bowl 300.
The other thing I noticed about the cartoons shown is how the period references must fly right past those trapped in the present. If I took an informal poll on the spot, I seriously doubt that few if any bowlers would recognize caricatures of Fred Allen, Gene Krupa, Heddy Lamarr, Claudette Colbert, William Powell or Jack Benny. Yet these forgotten celebs and many of their equally forgotten peers are sent up and parodied on those big screens every time we bowl there. The only reason I notice is that I've seen most if not all of those classic cartoons countless times. Plus, I'm a yesteryear geek. Throw a Marie Dressler ref my way and I won't go glassy eyed. I say this not to brag but to show how lonely it is in situations like that. Those cartoons are like ghosts operating on a very narrow frequency. And if you pick it up, as I do, you share that cultural isolation.
Last week I saw Robert Clampett's "Book Revue," a 1946 cartoon where Daffy Duck operates in a world where book covers come to life. I know this cartoon very well, so having the sound off did nothing to diminish it. I could lip read what was being said, and I spoke along, which prompted my son to ask, "Hey Dad, what are you saying?"
"Well, see that cartoon up there?"
"That's one of my favorite Looney Tunes. I know pretty much all the words by heart."
And I began to act out some of the dialogue, eliciting a few stares from the people bowling next to us. Then my son asked me why Daffy Duck was dressed so weird.
"He's imitating a comedian from that time named Danny Kaye, who was very popular back then."
"And who's that small guy?"
I looked up. "Oh, that's Frank Sinatra, only they made him book-sized for this."
The boy looked at me with his crooked smile. "You're funny, Dad!" He then went back to pick up a spare.
I watched the cartoon till the end, when the Big Bad Wolf is tossed into Dante's Inferno, causing Daffy Kaye and the inhabitants of Book Town (Benny Goodman and Jimmy Durante among them) to dance in celebration. The racket becomes so great that the Wolf emerges from Hell to tell them all to stop. After shaking his fist, he becomes very fey and delivers the closing line, taken from comedian Joe Besser: "Y'cwazies."
Yeah, Dad's funny all right. Just not "ha ha" funny.