Bowling's sensory imprint is multitudinous and diverse: The whack of ball against pins, the sour smell of communal shoes. The pomaded hair. The embroidered shirts. Sunday afternoon at Apple Place Bowl in Apple Valley is a scene out of one of our more bucolic memories. All the lights are on, mild alt-rock is playing softly on the sound system, and no bowler lacks a family cheering section. Balloons are tethered to everything--scoring tables, ball returns, the wrists of everyone under 30. Two bikers pass through en route to the adjoining dive bar, Bogart's Place--a hangover stumbling weakly through the wholesomeness.
Today's shiny trappings are courtesy of the Strike Out Crohn's and Colitis Bowl-a-Thon, an annual fundraising event staged by the Crohn's Disease and Colitis Foundation of America. The prizes, to be awarded for high scores and in random drawings, tower upon folding tables, placidly abiding the greedy scrutiny of pacing youngsters. Old Country Buffet's mascot, some poor soul dressed in a giant bee costume, lumbers about giving congratulatory pats on the back to children whose balls hug the gutter guards all the way to a one-pin score.
The exhilarating, family-oriented action belies the gravity of the cause, and unspools like a slo-mo dream sequence in a movie shot through a Vaseline-smeared lens. "Random drawing winner!" a prize table attendant announces through a crackly microphone. Dockers-clad yuppies jump to high-five as their wives stoop to assist pinafored toddlers. It's nearly impossible not to be taken in by the warm peacefulness of these socially conscious lane jockeys--though when a kind CCFA rep breaks through the halcyon haze to ask if I'd like to have my picture taken with the Bee, I decline.
The Park Tavern in St. Louis Park is hosting a CCFA Bowl-a-Thon too, but this event is cut from a different cloth. The music's not as happy, the lighting's not as ambient, the smell's not as--well, okay, it's the same scent of feet and carpet cleaner. But few are in attendance, even fewer actually bowling. The adjacent bar seems to be getting all the action. The prize table here is smaller than the one at Apple Place. The prizes aren't as nifty, and the prizemaster seems less enthusiastic. No balloons, no Bee, and instead of a solicitous, snapshot-urging lady, there's a lethargic woman who glares at all comers from her resin throne. A couple of kids slump on a bench and stare blankly into space, as if they've been off huffing shoe cleaner. It seems appropriate to withdraw quietly before finding myself next door sharing sciatica horror stories over pitchers of Old Milwaukee.
NO SMOKING, DRINKING, or drugs. No moshing, no stage diving, no crowd surfing. No profanity allowed, especially on the part of the bands, before, during, or after the show....One of the hottest local underground clubs featuring new and established rap, hip hop, emo, ska, punk, alt-rock, thrash, and metal bands has a list of rules that makes the penitentiary at Stillwater look like junior high detention. Oh, and one other thing: All songs must contain a positive message that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. So how the (pardon the expression) heck did the New Union lure all these high school kids on a Thursday night?
Outside on Central Avenue, the snarl factor is pretty low. No one's putting on the bored, sullen visage that has always been de rigueur for teens at rock shows. Sweethearts in their early twenties hold hands, beaming. Four girls scramble out of their mother's SUV, waving goodbye, failing to pout or even pull their tops lower as she drives away. Three jocks jog up to the door, slapping one another good-naturedly on the back. Even the three men working admission and security have a jovial grin for each incoming patron.
By 7:45 the high school quartet Delayed Reaxtion has already filled eight or nine tables at the front of the room. Fresh-scrubbed students in preppy Abercrombie and American Eagle togs bob their heads to the band's latest, "Senioritis"--a stereotypical ode to the adolescent malady distinguished by the conspicuous presence of the "How can I serve Him?" theme. (Yet another rule: Bands that wish to be booked at the club must submit a complete lyric sheet.)
The room's formidable acoustics make the band's wuss-pop sound almost enchanting (either that or the fog machine is pumping out hallucinogenic vapor--which, come to think of it, might explain the abundance of blissful smiles when no one's drinking anything harder than Dr Pepper). Where the purity of Apple Place Bowl was rosy and inviting, this scene has a Stepford-esque tinge. The nods and smiles, the stupid jokes--pretending to dance funny, holding up a lighter in mock tribute, shouting "I want your body! " at the rhythm guitarist--seem brittle and cold, as if an intrusion of reality might shatter this snow globe at any moment.
The faux warmth puts me in mind of how my teeth feel after I've eaten too many Sugar Babies. A teen scene devoid of provocative clothes, filthy mouths, and substance abuse is a charming novelty to be sure. But an entire night of it demands to be chased by an Eminem CD and a cigarette on the trip to the nearest Arby's drive-thru.