I have a soft spot in my heart for Princeton, Wisconsin. I wasn’t born there, but my mother was, and that’s where she was living when she and dad adopted me. Aside from a couple of weeks with an adoption service, Princeton was where I lived for the first six months of my life. My grandmother—Mom’s mom—lived there as well, in a tiny home on Canal Street with a pond and a woods behind it, which made it one of the most magical places to visit as a child, and I spent at least two weeks each summer there under Grandma’s watchful eyes.
So when I found out the bowling alley was for sale in Princeton, Wisconsin, that soft spot in my heart fluttered a little bit. It’s been far and away the worst year of teaching I’ve had since becoming a teacher, and while I had never really considered not teaching, here was a cute little bowling alley that needed a new owner, right there in my hometown, and suddenly I began to consider not teaching next year. I mean, sure, Princeton is over an hour’s drive from where I currently live… And yeah, I have no experience owning a bowling alley… I should still be able to make a living from the sports bar portion, even though I have never tended bar, right? I mean, honestly: What could go wrong?
In the midst of this consideration, I posted about the bowling alley on social media, and that’s when the whole idea took off. Turns out, a lot of people who know me thought it was an absolutely fantastic idea for me to own a bowling alley. I mean, a lot. Which is to say, almost everybody I know wanted to see my whole bowling alley dream become a reality, and many of them were even willing to crowdfund it. Teaching colleagues supported the idea (many teachers benefit from having a friendly place to drink). Friends from high school and college supported it, and some began to plan reunions and birthday parties. Former students supported it and told me how much they might enjoy coming in for a drink when they were in the neighborhood.
So I put together a fake-GoFundMe kind of thing and put that on social media, and the next thing I knew I had more potential donations coming than I knew what to do with. I really liked the idea of owning this bowling alley, but some of my friends seemed even more excited about it than I was, and many of them were willing to put their money on the line over it. That, of course, implied a certain obligation on my part to carry this thing through, so I did what any clueless future entrepreneur would do and called to arrange a tour of the bowling alley. That was on Friday. The tour was scheduled for this coming Thursday.
In the interim, I had a little time to think, which is almost always a good thing. I thought happily about the joy many of my friends might feel if this all worked out, and I dreamt of the reunions and the birthdays and all the other things that might happen at that little bowling alley once I owned it and once COVID was done.
But then I thought: COVID isn’t done. Owning a bowling alley still sounds cool, but going broke while sitting inside an empty bowling alley sounds a lot less cool. If I did go broke, I would go broke knowing I had wasted money entrusted to me by my friends, and that didn’t seem like a very friendly thing to do. Even if tomorrow I could own that bowling alley and operate it with lifted restrictions and at full capacity, most of my hours would be night and weekends while my wife’s hours were weekdays, and the potential joys inherent in owning a bowling alley were not nearly enough to offset a world in which I never saw my wife.
Not to mention, I love teaching. I really do. I love teaching; it’s “being a teacher” that I don’t like as much. If it has been my worst year as a teacher, that’s not the young people’s fault. Teaching—being in the classroom with the young people—remains a great job. Being a teacher—by which I mean all of the other stuff that is not associated with being in the classroom with young people—is what has been problematic. I still have teaching to do, and still feel I can do some good there, and it would be hard to walk away from that just because I don’t like the politics of the job.
And as long as I was doing all this thinking, I began to wonder: Would I have any interest in owning a bar and a bowling alley if it wasn’t this bar and bowling alley? And the answer to that question is, “No.” This bowling alley is charming, and cute, and I hope someone buys it and has a ball (pun intended). But this bowling alley is in Princeton, which is associated with so many happy memories of my youth, and while it really is a remarkable bowling alley, I wanted the town more than the business. I didn’t want a bowling alley nearly as much as I wanted happiness and the chance to remember what it was like to be young.
This morning, I canceled my tour of the bowling alley. But I’m glad this past week happened. I learned a lot, and as an educator, learning is kind of what I do, and has value.
I learned, for instance, that I still want to teach, even if that means putting up with everything else that goes into “being a teacher.” My students will almost certainly benefit from that lesson for the two months that remain of this school year, and perhaps in years to come.
I learned the dreamer in me isn’t dead yet. Even if sooner or later the pragmatic side of me comes to the forefront and says, “You do realize this is idiotic, right?” the romantic side of me is still willing to entertain flights of fancy, and that’s a good thing. I didn’t need to own a bowling alley—I had a ball (there it is again) merely entertaining the possibility of owning a bowling alley. What’s more, several people I know also had fun with this, and there is precious little that is more valuable than being the cause of someone else’s fun.
I also learned a great deal about friendship. There’s an old saying somewhere about how a man can be judged by the quality of his friends, but in my case, that old saying isn’t true: if you judge me by the quality of my friends, you will mistakenly come to believe that I am a much better man than I am, because my friends are amazing. I don’t deserve these people, but I’m grateful they seem to like me anyway. It was so strange and rewarding to have so many friends—some of whom I haven’t laid eyes on in decades—keep chiming in with “What do you need? How can we help? Count me in, let’s do this!” I know some really groovy people, and this experience has made me grateful for them all over again. Thank you, friends.
So it turns out I was meant to learn lessons more than I was meant to own a bowling alley. And who knows? Maybe I was meant to blog about a bowling alley, so that someone else might get curious about that bowling alley and start their new career. I don’t think the realtor or the seller would mind a little free advertising, and really, it’s awfully darn cute. Click here to see for yourself.
If you end up buying it, shoot me a message, if you would be so kind. I will drive over some night and maybe even rent some shoes from you and bowl a few frames. If nothing else, I’ll sit on a barstool and chat with you for a while. When it is time to go, I will walk out under the streetlights and look at what used to be the five-and-dime located across the street. I will get in my car and cruise slowly through my hometown. I will go home happy and remembering what it was like to be young, and that will be an evening well spent.
If you would like to be the kind of person who never stops learning, the best advice I can give you is to become a high school teacher. Some days, you learn just where your limits are and then promptly go right past them, until you're saying words you know you're going to regret. (My personal favorite: "Of all the things you can choose to be in this world, why would you choose to be an asshole?") Some days, you learn about Classical Conservatism from no less an authority than Klemens von Metternich himself. And some days, you see the future, and you learn that humanity might still be OK.
All three of those things happened today. Two of them have the potential to be blog posts (I plead the Fifth on that first one), but it's International Women's Day, so I want to say a few brief words about my Women's Studies class. (Yes, I'm a guy. Yes, I teach Women's Studies. Yes, it's a long story. Suffice it to say that the only reason I teach it is because three little sisters asked me to.)
We've been moving through the herstory of women's rights in America, from the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, through the long trials of the fight for suffrage, with stops in both World Wars and then on into the 1960's. We're now firmly entrenched in Second Wave Feminism. We've read from The Feminine Mystique. We've had group discussions on a host of poems and articles, and beginning at the tail end of last week, we began creating the Feminism Hall of Fame.
It's a simple exercise, based on the plaques from the Baseball Hall of Fame, which have an image of the player, their years in the Major Leagues, and their accomplishments. I altered it so that the students were assigned one Second Wave Feminist and needed to include her picture (preferably from the time period), her date of birth (and, if applicable, death), and then a 300-500 word essay about her accomplishments, all of which should fit on an 11x17 poster. We created the posters last week, and I hung them up outside of my room today.
During class today, we did a Gallery Walk. If you're unfamiliar, you simply display a number of items (in this case, the posters), and then have the students pretend each is an exhibit in an art gallery, and they walk from one to the next and view the exhibits. I asked them to view at least a dozen posters outside of their own, write down a few pieces of pertinent info about the feminist covered in that poster, and then write a brief paragraph about the experience. I reminded them that due to spacing and other issues, the posters were in the hall, and reminded them that other classes were in session in other rooms, and then I turned them loose to work on their assignment.
I've done this exercise before. I almost always have to redirect--not a lot, but on occasion--or point out that there's no waiting at this exhibit while six friends all gather at that one. I didn't have to do that today; not once. This is the first time I've done the lesson in a COVID world, also. Were we always socially distanced? No. Were we ever within six feet of someone else for 15 minutes? Also no. And let me tell you: you could have heard a pin drop. Every student was reading the essays, looking at the pictures, finding out who was still alive, or expressing dismay that someone else had passed away so recently. There were more than a few comments to me: "She was in the movie!" "I remember her!" "I didn't know she was a member of Congress!"
There are moments, being a teacher, when the lesson goes well, or when both you and the students are having fun, or when you get that feeling of, "Hey, it's possible I know what I'm doing!" This was all of those things, and on top of that, it was beautiful. About twenty little sisters (and a couple of fine young feminist little brothers) spent forty minutes in silence, observing positive female role models who, once upon a time, changed the world.
The National Women's Hall of Fame is in Seneca Falls, New York, where way back in 1848 the Declaration of Sentiments was both presented and signed. But for three-quarters of an hour today, the Feminist Hall of Fame was outside my classroom, and its opening was a smashing success.
Happy International Women's Day, one and all. Humanity might still be OK.