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Sunday, 25 May 2008 02:00

Ten-Pin Mention and Other Spare Parts

By  Jenna Mervis
Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley.

Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man to my left is naked, kneeling and squinting at the galaxy of shooting pins at the end of the alley. The man to my right, nude also, drapes a stiff white towel over his left arm and waves his fist in the air.

"Hurrah!" he shouts over the mirror ball radio station belting out back-cracking hits from the mid-nineties, when no style was in style and cool was the measure of the girl on your arm.

The man to my left must be in his seventies, bald on top, and below... well, I dare not stare. Rule 1 of the All Natural Bowling Alley: one may look, but one must not stare.

I wonder if it is more of a gentlemen's agreement than an enforceable law. I've already caught the woman at the scoring board giving me the once over. Nevertheless, I'd best not mention names or intentions or alleged indecent optical assaults just yet. I'm a "textile" in disguise, desperate for a ten-pin win and willing to take my clothes off to prove it. I'd best lay low until my turn.

"Hurrah! A spare! You old dog you! On form tonight," the man cheers again. The woman at his side marks the spare with a / on the scorecard. The red, white and blue scarf knotted at the throat is her only covering. It is immediately obvious she is cold. Lights flash, the man is clearly some kind of bowling hero. They all know each other; I am convinced.

Naturist or not, bowling alleys all sound the same. The rumble of the ball on its polished run towards the set, the hollow clatter of scattered pins, this is what drives bowlers to score higher and higher, reach for that ten-pin mention at the Pearly Gates. Nude or not, it is a fantastic game.

There are more women here than men, whose parts dangle like useless tool belts. Children scamper down the empty wooden lanes on the far side of the hall, rolling their marbled pink and blue balls down the gutters. The sound is, if you'll excuse the weak pun, guttural and rather hypnotic. These bare-bottomed children worry me less than the adults. It seems more natural for children to shed their clothes and play. This is, after all, what they do until they are introduced to the concept of nudity and sex. At what age, I wonder, do children these days become body shy? Suddenly, I find myself admiring my new friends, that they can raise children to be comfortable in their own skins.

One more naturist to go before my bowl. My skin is a translucent membrane barely concealing my discomfort. I am writhing beneath its inadequate covering and the short white towel is pulled so tightly around my waist that I fear I may dislodge a kidney or two.

Bowling naked is not indecent, I am comforted by the jovial young father awaiting his turn in front of me. Adam and Eve are apparently not responsible for my discomfort.

"You see," he says, "it all comes down to language. Society has mainstreamed negative expressions like pornography, erotica, sex shows, topless dancers, strip clubs. The natural state of nudity belongs to a dead language. Now it's all about sex sex sex.

"Here you stand looking like a criminal when it's actually them out there," he says frantically waving his arm in the direction of the door, "who are the real problem. They're already living in their self-made cloth prisons."

I can tell the man is a passionate mouthpiece for the cause. Strands of sticky spittle have spun a web between his upper and lower jaw but he doesn't notice. I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

"Some people would call you exhibitionists," I say resting my eyes on his earlobe.

"Words are simply words, Mr Porter."

It is interesting that despite the intimacy of our natural states he still feels the need to call me Mr Porter. Perhaps that is my first incorrect assumption, to associate nakedness with familiarity.

"Please, call me Wayne," I say.

"No one here is on display, Mr Porter. We are here for sport, for the game of ten-pin bowling, not to wave our spare parts to the world. The Greeks did it. I mean for God's sake, the word gym originates from the Greek word for nude."

I imagine this close-knit little community of naturists as well-oiled athletes metering out their paces on the bowling tracks. 

The man has a convincing point. Language is a curious motor that drives the way we process our context and judge other's. We are only as convincing as the words we have access to and their meanings, which society dictates. Certain societies or groups ascribe to different meanings, which inevitably leads to alternate realities. Is one reality more real, more right than the other? Is naturism a natural state of being naked or an exhibitionist state?

I watch the young man stride across the floor with his ball gripped in his hand. His long legs skip and fold down the short runway and his arm swings back, his body pivots at the hips and suddenly the ball is spinning down the track. He is too gangly for a ballerina, but his movements are well-coordinated and perfectly timed. He is no stranger to bowling. The pins scatter in every direction and the ball disappears. A fine score.

"Why do you think naturism is not more popular then?" I ask him as he returns to mark his score.

"The world is full of idiots, Mr Porter," he winks and smiles. "I do believe it is your turn. Would you like me to hold your towel?"
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