With “Bowling Together” Sociologists Mend Fences in Blue Collar Burbs | HumorOutcasts

With “Bowling Together” Sociologists Mend Fences in Blue Collar Burbs

November 30, 2017

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  It was, says Professor Michael Auschloss, the academic equivalent of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, showing his age (66) by the dated reference.  “Our discipline used to be a sleepy backwater,” he says, referring to the 2000 publication of Robert D. Putnam’s “Bowling Alone,” a study of social isolation and the breakdown of civil society.  “Then all of a sudden we were like a creepy guy who starts hanging around the boys’ locker room at a public swimming pool–everything changed.”

Bowling is America’s most popular participatory sport, and the recognition by amateur keglers such as Andy Brandnewjetski that social scientists had been observing them led to widespread feelings of consternation and animosity.  “Do I go over to Brandeis,” a local university, “and peer in their windows?” he asks as he holds his hand over an air dryer.  “I should freaking hope not.”

So sociologists at this region’s many institutions of higher education took it upon themselves to reach out to the lower class men and women who make up the overwhelming majority of this country’s bowlers with a program called “Bowling Together.”  “The idea is to get out of our faculty lounges and connect with actual human subjects,” Auschloss says, “by which I mean people who think macchiato is an outfielder for the Red Sox and don’t drive Volvos.”

Tonight the sociologists, who use “The Distinct Social Units” as their team name, take on the Mac’s Tire & Battery Kingpins, a group of four men whose total years of formal education (32) are equaled by just three members of their professorial opponents’ squad.  “This should be great fun,” says Professor Emil Nostrand of Northeastern University as he shakes the hand of Mike Abruzzi of the Kingpins.  “Yeah, sure,” Abruzzi says, then quips “I think we can take ’em” sotto voce to Brandnewjetski.

The men display roughly similar technique when they roll their balls down the highly-polished lanes, but when they sit idly on the plastic seats around the scoring table waiting their turns the difference between the two groups becomes apparent.  The blue-collar men focus on the game and their beers, lustily cheering on their teammates, while the academics can’t stop themselves from pursuing research.

“How much is your family income?” Auschloss asks Debbie Abruzzi, who is sitting in the spectators’ seats a step up from the lane.

“Excuse me?” she says with more than mild surprise.

That’s more like it!

“I mean ballpark,” Auschloss says.  “Thirty to forty thousand, forty to fifty–you don’t have to be too specific.”

The woman gives Janet Brandnewjetski a shocked look, then politely declines to answer except to respond, and rather tartly, “I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Thanks,” Auschloss says, as he checks a box marked “Did not respond” on a spreadsheet he brings with him to every match.  He stands and picks up his black-and-red swirl bowling ball to take his turn, and Nostrand takes his seat.

“Are you Mrs. Brandnewjetski?” he asks in the unassuming voice he has developed as the least intrusive tone to use when gathering data.

Bowling’s more fun when you’re not the only one!


“Yeah,” she replies.  “What of it?”

“I assume that’s a Polish name–are you Polish by birth too, or some other nationality?”

She looks over the sociologist’s shoulder at her husband, who has overheard the conversation and is none too pleased by it.

“You got a problem with that?” Brandnewjetski says in a menacing tone.

“No, not at all, in fact, I’m hoping to work this data into a monograph I’m writing.”

“Oh–you’re writing a ‘monograph,’ are you?” Brandnewjetski says with a wink at his teammates.

“Yes, the hope is to get it published in a reputable . . .”

“You want to write something?  Well, kiss my ass and make it a love story, pal,” Brandnewjetski says as he grabs the sociologist and throws him over the last row of seats, where the tenured intellectual lands unceremoniously on a multi-colored carpet that was last shampooed during the first administration of George W. Bush.

Aghast at the rough treatment his teammate has received, Auschloss rushes to aid him.  “Are you okay?” he asks with the sort of high-level concern he usually reserves for footnotes.

“I’m fine,” Nostrand says, before taking his colleague’s spreadsheet and writing “Lower class males resort to violence to settle insignificant questions of honor more readily than those in higher social classes and learned professions.”

Con Chapman

I'm a Boston-area writer, author of two novels (most recently "Making Partner"), a baseball book about the Red Sox and the Yankees ("The Year of the Gerbil"), ten published plays and 45 books of humor available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com. My latest book "Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!" was released by HumorOutcasts Press last year. My humor has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe and Barron's, and I am working on a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's long-time alto sax player for Oxford University Press .

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One Response to With “Bowling Together” Sociologists Mend Fences in Blue Collar Burbs

  1. November 30, 2017 at 8:35 am

    I always thought bowling was the key to harmony. Especially when there is beer and nachos to share.

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