Or, bowling my way toward lockdown

That’s me on March 10, 2020, sending my wife the most ironic message of my entire life: “I have a plan for the rest of the year.”

That plan – what we could do, where we could go, how we could pay for it, complete with spreadsheets and budgets and charts and more – lasted for one day. Then they declared a pandemic was underway. My next message was just one four letter word. You can probably guess which one.

I know the name of this newsletter is Brady Remembers Everything, but I actually had to look these messages up. The week when the lockdowns started was a blur, even for me. It’s easy to forget how fast we went from “there’s a mystery virus in other countries” to “everything here is shut down and hopefully you have toilet paper.” At my last in-person interview at work, on Wednesday the 11th, I told a reporter friend about how weird it felt that we were now trying to avoid people on the bus or in the street. She told me, incredulous, “I was at a concert! On Monday!” We had so much come at us, so fast, that there wasn’t time to remember it all.

I do remember getting emails that week, usually in the morning, saying how events or shows in town were going to go forward, only to get new emails in the afternoon explaining that those events were actually canceled. I used my last four physical dollars on a box of Girl Scout cookies from a coworker’s kid, a box that lasted about 10 seconds when I got them home. I took an eerie silent bus ride home from work that Friday. Usually the bus is chatty and loud – in Madison, the unofficial bus custom is to bellow “THANK YOU!” to the driver as you depart – but that day, none of us said a word. We didn’t even look at our phones. We just stared into space, stunned.

Most of all, I remember going bowling one more time.

Bowling is my sport. I am not great at it, but I love doing it. There’s a rec center on the campus where I work and they let you buy a semester’s worth of bowling if you pay in advance, so in the spring and fall, I go three or four times a week on my lunch hour. It’s good exercise and even better stress relief. Throwing a big ball and loudly knocking over pins is therapeutic. They should prescribe it to everybody, except maybe people with really bad aim.

But at one point I got it in my head that I should go all-out to perfect my game, thereby turning this fun hobby of mine into a stress causer rather than a stress reliever. I tracked my scores the way the pros do, and replayed mistakes in my head over and over, trying to think that last pin to fall down, way after the fact. I spent a month trying to master the hook shot. It was an unpleasant month. In fact, the harder I pushed to be better, the worse I bowled.

On the 11th, when pro basketball started canceling games, when buildings in my town started closing to the public, when people were talking about taking their work computers home for what then we thought would be “a few weeks”… I went bowling. But this time, there was no plan. If we were really entering some kind of viral apocalypse, pitting friends and neighbors against each other for safety and necessities, I didn’t think a high bowling average was going to give me much of a leg up. I was just going to throw the damn ball.

The first damn ball I threw was a strike. So was the second, and the third, which prompted hte automatic scoring system to send some dancing CGI turkeys onto my screen. Then, two spares, followed by another two strikes, a third spare, and two more strikes. The only hiccup was in the two bonus frames, where I got an eight and a one instead of converting one last spare, but I didn’t replay it in my head. My technique hadn’t changed, my footwork was just as inconsistent as ever, but I was letting go of goals and scores and headaches and everything else around me. Just take the ball and throw it toward the pins. Mindfulness on lane one.

I ended up with a 234, by far my best score ever!

And that day I built my worldview around bowling. Ok, not really, but it is kind of a good lesson, right? Plans are useful, but sometimes when you don’t know what may come at you, just show up and keep rolling. I can’t say I’ve always followed it, but at my best this year, I’ve kept things as simple as possible, doing my best, not getting too tied to plans or goals.

My household has been fortunate. We’ve hung in there, we’ve stayed healthy, we’ve supported each other. My wife just got her first dose of what my kids call the “Dolly Parton vaccine.” When it’s my turn, I’ll get one too, and the kids will get theirs when they can; in fact, they’ve already secured commitments from their parents to get extra doughnuts for getting their shots. Eventually we’ll hug our loved ones and go to concerts and take road trips and eat in restaurants and ride buses and work in offices.

And eventually, I’ll head out on a lunch break to that bowling alley again and see if I can’t beat my high score. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It’ll just be fun to throw the ball again.

That’s my plan for the rest of the year, anyway.