DURING my teens I was attuned to the importance of following role models. I felt if I imitated somebody good, then I, too, would be good. I ate, slept, and dreamed bowling and had an array of heroes from the many TV bowling shows I watched. But the one who outshone the others was a latter-day viking from Minnesota named Eddie. Though his delivery was as smooth as a Fred Astaire waltz, he was husky and athletic-looking, his body a compressed coil of raw power. When it left his hand, the ball became a rolling thunderbolt that sizzled the pins. He never made a poor shot. He was Thor in bowling shoes, and I wanted to bowl like he did.
I studied his fluid footwork and analyzed the way he imparted just the right amount of hookspin to the ball, and I observed how he varied his speed from lane to lane. An impressionable youth with a worthy idol, I had much to learn watching him turn mechanics into art.
But I was too impressionable. I became infatuated with Eddie's haircut. It was a crew cut, close-cropped and efficient-looking, and gave Eddie a no-nonsense, ready-for-action image. It said he was tough, a winner. It was in sharp contrast to my own undisciplined mop, which either drooped in tired bangs or curved into long, sticky waves, depending on whether or not I had it loaded up with Brylcreem. And though intellectually I knew better, the false allure of image sweet-talked me into believing that, if I could look like him, I could bowl like him.
And so one day when no one else was home to disturb me, I stood poised before the bathroom mirror, my mother's haircutting scissors in hand. I ran the scissors through my hair like a pair of hedge clippers, cutting as much as I could, then snipping and trimming here and there to even things up. I stepped back to admire the full effect of my handiwork, but the more I studied my reflection, the more I began to notice I'd gone too far. Instead of looking like my hero, I looked like his bowling ball.
The next few weeks were hard on my ego. Whenever I saw somebody who might know me, I looked the other way. When I talked to people, I hoped somehow they couldn't see my head. But it was not until I overheard a girl I'd been trying to impress say to a friend, ``Ken's a nice guy, but he sure wears his hair funny,'' that I knew I had reached my nadir.
To make matters worse my newly lowered self-image made me self-conscious. Not only could I not bowl like Eddie, I couldn't even bowl like myself. I didn't look like myself anymore either; I had lost my identity. I wanted this to be over. I prayed for my hair to grow back and was sure it never would.
But it did. And I happily let it flop around my head any way it wanted. I got my self-respect back, too. I no longer idolized Eddie, but I was thankful to him. He had taught me a lesson: He was Eddie and I was me. From that point on I would try to be my own role model, emulating a visualization of myself rolling perfect shot after perfect shot. This would be simpler than copying somebody else, too. I would even get to keep my own hair.
To be sure, I went on imitating my heroes, but only insofar as technical aspects were concerned - how they changed their angles for different lanes, or how they lined up their shots.
For that is the secret when following role models, no matter who or what kind: learning to tell the difference between technique and mere physical image, between substance and show.
Eddie has been gone from my life for many years now but is probably still up in Minnesota, tearing up the lanes. He undoubtedly still has that graceful style and pinpoint accuracy. And he may wear his hair longer now, or he may be bald; in any event, I am certain he no longer has his crew cut.