Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just The Three Of Us: Me, My Ball, And My Pink Pants

Shades of the Gift That Keeps On Giving: I found even more fun stuff in the 1990 Collect-A-Card Kingpins set.

Let’s think about this. In some sports you really can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Water polo, for instance. Many swimcapped heads, scant space for team branding let alone player identification, and four-fifths of each person’s person is submerged. Team handball. Steeplechase. Tug of war. Field hockey. The Tour de France – this year’s Tour de France, anyway. These sports cry out for best practices in player ID.

Bowling is not one of these sports.

In bowling you are never not conscious of who’s bowling. There are only two pseudo-athletes to keep straight, to start with. This puts bowling on the same plane as boxing, wrestling, and MMA, sports that consciously play to audiences whose retention skills only go two names deep.

In a bowling match, the bowlers’ names are on the screen, on the scoreboard, announced beforehand, and prompted throughout. If you are watching in person, you did not just happen upon these bowlers on your way to the skeeball machines. You sought them out to baste in their glory – and hey, they’re 20 feet away from you. You can almost feel the heat from their hand dryers. Bowling fandom is highly informed, to the extent that they know the two bowlers kegling in front of them.

Given that, why does a bowler feel the need to splash his name across his back in the thickest embroidery floss money can buy?

I know why. It’s a throwback to the early days of TV, when bowler names were not always scattered with abandon around the screen and venue. You could chisel a player’s name in stone faster than you could superimpose it on a TV screen in the early cathode-ray days, when bowling was right up with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen as a time-eater. Throw in audio that wasn’t always audible and picture quality only foil-covered rabbit ears could provide, and there was a dire need for bowler identification of the most screaming sort. Hence plaid Sansabelt slacks and doublewide embroidered names on striped shirts that throbbed like a stubbed toe.

But Bob Benoit, he’s a hipster. He’s with it. His hair is Werewolves-of-London-quality. His mustache droops with Dennis Eckersleyesque aplomb. He was 10 when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. He doesn’t need to live in the past … yet there he is.

That leads me to believe there’s some inferiority-complex stuff going on. His body language is screaming like Bon Scott: You don’t think I’m as much of an athlete as Tom Tupa? Oh, yeah? Well, let me tell you: My name is on the back of my shirt in even bigger letters than Tupa’s ever was – and it’s in script, too! If that doesn’t shut up the haters – or at least get them laughing to the point that they can’t utter consecutive coherent syllables – nothing will.

The only pseudo-athletes more driven to self-recognition are NASCAR drivers, and it’s understandable. They are identified by what they drive to a ridiculous extent. It’s not “Jeff Gordon is doing a masterful job”; it’s, “The number-24 car is doing a masterful job,” like if Randy Wimmer was doing the driving instead of Gordon – or better yet, if no one at all were driving it, save for Sergey Brin and a couple lines of code – the car would still be in the same position in the race.
That has to get old. Throw in the contractual obligation to dress like a Nomex M&M or tote around every shade of industrial Pantone on your bib and you can understand why NASCAR drivers tell the lady behind the sewing machine to put their names in freaking lights. [1]

I don’t know. I look at this picture and think “plumbing contractor,” or maybe “Winnebago dealer.” It’s almost like a Jackson Pollock painting in its ability to let the viewer build the story. The story I’m building includes a lewd escapade in a Mini Winnie at the hot-water-heater convention. And dental work.

Before the Susan G. Komen initiative pink was just pink, and it was not a common color among athletes. The ABA’s Floridians and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only teams to have pinkish colors as part of their palette, and they were vibrant, tropical fuschias. No limpid shell-pinks for them. No siree.
Pseudo-athletes were a different story, evidently. There are at least a half-dozen cards in the Kingpins set that show bowlers wearing some shade of mild-mannered pink, including the infamous Pink Pants of Don McCune.

I can’t look at these pants without being reminded of my senior prom. The senior prom was my one, solitary high-school date in high school. My mom commemorated the event by taking me shopping[2] and buying me an entire suit in roughly the shade of the Pink Pants of Don McCune. She called it “peach” but it weren’t no peach. It was pink.
The suit came in three pieces that attempted to make up in quantity what they lacked in quality. Every aspect of that suit was as vast and all-encompassing as a Tim McCarver digression. The jacket’s lapels nearly touched the shoulders. The pants’ top pleats could hold Kelly Ripa and the bottoms swelled like the Metrodome. There was a vest, too, a pernicious thing that served only to keep too much sensible white shirt from spoiling the oeuvre.

I’ve often wondered what possessed my mom in those years. She dove headlong into the Mod Years and when everyone else surfaced with tie-dye and paisley she came up with plaid – and not subtle plaids, either. She dressed us in green, white and black picnic-basket plaids; in pegleg pants festooned with interlocking squares of blue, orange and brown; and in red, white and blue quasi-tweeds with matching bow ties. The mildest plaid I remember was a sort of houndstooth affair of blue, red, and navy made from a cloth that was the love child of a shag bathmat and a burlap sack.
There are two ways to look at the plethora of pinks that dot the Kingpins set. The first is that these bowlers overcame their sartorial challenges and became successful professionals, able at long last to chase their dream. The other is that their moms dressed them in pink and they wound up becoming bowlers.

It’s like the Ron Bell card. You choose the outcome.

It’s one thing when you’re a struggling cardmaker and you want to make a card of Eric Swann, and the only photos you can find were taken by an amateur in the stands at the semipro football game, and he wasn’t even focused on Swann and it was nighttime and one of the light standards wasn’t working and he kind of fell over on the play. It’s another thing when you have a bowler at your absolute beck-and-call and all you can think to have him do is, “Uh, could you, like, sit on that ball-return thing over there? And could you spread your legs just a little more? And that’s right – hold the ball nice and high.”

Or, if you’re feeling particularly frisky, you might tell him, “Why not grab a couple of pins and stick your foot between them? That’s right – I said your foot. No, they don’t have to be the same make of pins. Just any old two pins.”

I would be amazed if I wasn’t amazed already.

[1] This isn’t a problem in horse racing. There the line between horse and rider is clearly drawn, and there’s acknowledgement that one is useless without the other. I think it’s because we attribute human elements to a horse that we would never attribute to a car. And the Brits are involved.
[2] Let me rephrase: My mom went shopping and took me along. My role in this was roughly the same as a mannikin’s.

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