Today, however, in the spring of the year 2000, the kegler of the hour, the Master of the Pins, is James Lambert. He has one gold tooth in the middle of his lower jaw. His right thumb is twice the size of his left, and the middle fingernail of the same hand is fused to his cuticle with a dab of superglue. His Aunt Kitty, out of Carrollton, Texas, is a member of the National Women's Bowling Hall of Fame. He recently learned that the man he thought was his stepfather actually was his real father all along (and vice versa), and he keeps the classic flat black 1958 Ripley ball his mother gave him in 1966, after her nervous breakdown, in a cardboard box over the bulk package of toilet paper.
All of which is to say that Jim Lambert pretty much represents what most people expect to find when they wander into a bowling alley. "I'm a white trailer-trash Texan," he says cheerfully. "Our nerve endings don't go to the end of our bodies. We're not quite on top of the food chain. In the middle, maybe. But definitely not on top."
He regards other bowlers similarly. A few weeks back, Brunswick, the giant company that manufactures much of the equipment found in bowling alleys these days, asked Jim to make a guest appearance on its Web site. The company wanted him to chat with some of its customers. Or, as Jim puts it, "To answer questions from stupid-assed, butt-cleavaged, flat-topped bowlers from across the country who can't figure this shit out on their own. If this dumb ol' boy from Texas can figure it out, why can't they?"
He turned down the suits on principle. But then he thought about it for a while and called them back. He suggested, "If you give me a free bowling ball, I'll do it." Brunswick declined, so Jim strongly recommended that the company shove it. "Idiots," he muses. "They're ruining this game."
There are an estimated 91 million bowlers in this country, throwing on 128,315 lanes at 6,398 centers. How it came to be that Brunswick was calling Jim Lambert, 48, of Evergreen, Colorado, at all is a matter of some debate among people who are acquainted with him. Even Jim has his opinion, although typically it is modest and indifferent to the big picture. "If you were to draw a line representing the trajectory of my life, there would be incredible spikes of good luck," he says simply.
And that certainly could explain it. There's plenty of evidence of Jim's luck. Getting out of the Vietnam War, for example, or hitting the lotto and becoming an instant millionaire at the age of 45. But, then, that's only one man's take.
Gail Port is Jim's best friend and bowling buddy. He is also one of the state's best bowlers. He was there on that charmed night in February, and he has a different explanation, one that hints at the divine -- or, at the very least, providence. "I believe in destiny," he says. "I really do. And when I add that whole incredible night up, I just believe it was destined to happen. There's no other explanation."
Maybe it would be best to start at the beginning, with the two lesbians. "They owned an alley in Dallas, where my mom and dad bowled. Sometimes they let me follow them to the alley. I wanted to bowl, and one day Alta and Virginia were watching me practice and said, 'If, after your mom and dad finish, you'll clean up, we'll give you lessons.' So I traded lessons for work. They even gave me a house ball. I was eleven years old."
He was one of seven kids. His mom was a hairdresser. She worked in her own shop, sweeping the Carrollton ladies' hair up into elegant statuary. Then, three times a week, after dinner, she would go over to Rhoton's Funeral Parlor and fix up dead women's hair, too, making sure they presented their best at their final social occasion.
When Jim was fourteen years old his mother had a spell, which he now recognizes as a nervous breakdown. Bowling runs like a strand of DNA through Jim's life and so, even now, looking back, no one is surprised that it happened at the Carrollton Lanes. It just seemed to make sense. "She was a good bowler," Jim says. "All the women in my family were. They certainly were big enough; they ought to be able to throw a bowling ball. My dad called them 'good winter women.' Whenever I would bring [my wife] Didi -- who isn't that big -- down to visit, he'd say, 'You gonna take that woman back to Colorado? She ain't gonna keep you warm in the winter.'"