Harvard students are completely out of touch with the country in which we live. It is embarrassing and unfortunate to have to agree with our legion of detractors, but unfortunately the evidence is simply overwhelming. Each and every weekend night sees Harvard students swarming around the Square in search of Thai food, ritzy cocktails and occasionally, for variety, the effete charms of the a cappella circuit. To many undergraduates these activities seem like perfectly acceptable ways to pass the time between the early evening reruns of “Third Rock From The Sun” and bedtime. These poor individuals are sorely misguided: Every morsel of octopus sushi consumed and every Stravinsky Wind Octet ticket sold confirm the sad pretensions of Harvard’s student body.
The time has come for Harvard students to go back to basics and rediscover the heart and soul of America.
Thus, as many other students prepared for another evening umbilically fastened within a seven block radius of Lamont library, seven hardy pleasure-seekers set off, as Paul Simon would have it, to look for America.
Fortunately, the search did not have to be too extensive. In charming downtown Alewife, an area that drew architectural inspiration from the proposals for the Science Center that were turned down for being too gray and depressing, one can find the perfect antidote to the pretension of Harvard Square. A 10-minute drive from Harvard is Lanes and Games (195 Concord Turnpike, Route 2 East), a deluxe candlepin bowling alley that provides jaded, cynical students the ultimate night out.
Candlepin bowling is similar to ordinary ten-pin bowling but uses smaller balls and miniscule pins—in return for which one gets three shots per frame. Candlepin bowling has never expanded far beyond New England, and for good reason: it’s excessively difficult and remarkably unrewarding.
Lanes and Games is romantically nestled on the side of Route 2, an elevated metallic strip of state highway that allows the ignorant traveler to bypass the architectural delights of the Alewife T Station, a building designed with such warmth and tenderness that it would have felt happily at home in Stalin’s USSR. A gargantuan neon sign welcomes visitors to the bowlers’ paradise where for $7 one can bowl two games in a pair of rented shoes that would make the girls from “Sex in the City” green with envy.
One of our party didn’t want to wear the shoes so generously provided by the management. Her reasons for turning them down were a confused blend of aesthetic disgust (“Yuk—they clash with my stylishly faded jeans”) and hygienic anxiety (“What if the person before me, you know, had really gross feet?”). It was hard to argue with such impeccable logic. She ultimately relented, though, successfully persuaded by the charming, if gruff, attendant that no, it would not be acceptable for her to bowl in socks. No, not even if they were from Barney’s.
It is tempting to describe the ambience of Lanes and Games as unique, except I sadly suspect that it isn’t. I hope the person who arranged the interior decoration was color-blind, but those extraordinary combinations may actually have been considered cool in the early seventies. The walls have a base of faded orange felt over which sail bright red, yellow, green and black stripes. It is as if Bob Marley had fallen into a pool of his own vomit. In fact, it smelled rather like that, as well.
A sign prohibiting all eating, drinking and smoking sat next to an ashtray and atop a trash can that was overflowing with discarded burger wrappers, presumably from the gourmet restaurant upstairs. The rotund regulars happily munched on their fast food and drank their beer in preparation for a taxing evening of America’s most popular “lifetime” sport. It was Americana at its best.
Now Harvard students tend to be rather competitive. And so it should come as little surprise that our friendly evening of candlepin bowling rapidly degenerated into a gladiatorial fight to the death. One player tried to call a foot fault on another to invalidate her final frame. “She’ll find it really funny,” he lied. Another threw a temper tantrum after two successive balls landed in the gutter. Enraged, she flung her next four shots down the lane without even looking. This might have been less upsetting if she had not scored higher with those balls than one companion did all evening. He would stride up to the lane, confident and focused, and then proceed to roll the ball feebly into the gutter like a mildly palsied old man.
Then, just as the sweaty bowling shoes were beginning to feel comfortable and we were averaging more than five pins per frame, it was time to go back to the bustling but banal hub that is Harvard Square. That normally wise man, Anon., who said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” had clearly never returned to the Yard after having gone to Alewife. We had set out to find an all-American evening but had choked somewhat on our soggy fries; yet now we felt more alive than our high-class Harvard nights had ever left us. No student should pass up one—but, perhaps, only one—trip to Lanes and Games. The (literally) blinding decor alone should ensure that your life and your retinas will never be the same again.