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When life imitates CONCACAF

Art imitates life; life imitates art. Nothing new there.

But my life, yesterday, was imitating CONCACAF. Not just any old aspect of the local soccer confederation, I speak of the World Cup qualifying tournament.

Here’s the group standings going into yesterday’s games.



As you can plainly see, after winning one game a week ago, Mexico leapfrogged out of the trouble zone. There’s a bit of a clusterfrack going on at the top, but at least it’s at the top. Three teams all have 7 points. Panama is closing in with 6, and Honduras and Jamaica are bringing up the rear.

After the games, the board got shuffled a bit. US beat Panama and set itself as the sole leader of the conference. Honduras picked up a few points by beating Jamaica. And Mexico did what it does — it didn’t lose — to Costa Rica. They tied.

So now this is what the most current standings look like.



And now, my life (which in this instance will be portrayed by my bowling league).

IMG_2160Competition is tight. There are 10 teams and two are tied with 12 points at the top of the leader board. Yours truly, among them (kinda like Mexico). The next three teams have 11 points. And so on …

Going into Tuesday night’s games, there was a strong sense to not mess up (kinda like Mexico).

But, when all was said and done, 14 Dollar Salad came away splitting the difference. We won two games, lost two. So, we tied (kinda like Mexico).

And because other teams were living up to their respective pressures, we fell in the standings (kinda like Mexico).

Not down and out, by any means, but definitely a little further down than anyone would like to be (kinda like … ).


PHOTOS: CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying standings on June 7 and June 11. My bowling standings after Week 5.


Legit bowler now

Apparently, I’ve been bowling too much for my own good. I’ve started developing a callus on my middle finger. Super sexy, I know.

To nip it in the bud, I began using a skin protector (courtesy of KC) that has the same effect on my finger as a top coat on a pair of nylons. Grossss

I’m now one of those people — the type who shows up to the alley with her own bag, monogrammed ball, shoes, and now … skin protector. Too bad my game is still mediocre and doesn’t live up to the hype or preparation.

photo (32)

photo (31)

How Claudia Estela got her groove back


The season started out promising. I had a personal-best 154 during the first night. It was followed by a couple more 100+ games. Normally, I’d be relishing in my handiwork. But this was the first night of league — the night that establishes averages and handicaps.

I had just single-handedly screwed my team. That is unsustainable bowling for me. There’s no way I could bowl that well or that consistently over the course of the league.

And I was right. After that initial night, I began my downward slide. My average kept dropping: 125, 120, 116, 110. Some nights, I struggled to hit 90.

I’d been wallowing in a bowling funk and dragging the team down. After five weeks, were were steadfastly in second-to-last place.

But last night, I got the bowling equivalent of Taye Diggs in Jamaica. Well, not quite (not at all, really), but I did get my groove back (and a bonus new high score).

And that’s important because the best part about bowling is the strut back after a strike. Right, Jesus?

PHOTO: My latest scores. Note the NINE strikes and SIX spares – that’s half my game.

Bowling’s second-class citizenry

To be filed under: I have other interests besides soccer

There’s a sick, sad reality unfolding in SoCal’s bowling alleys. Frankly, I’m surprised no one has alerted the ACLU about this prevalent and blatant systemic racism, this miscarriage of justice, this deep-rooted inequity that privileges the few at the expense of the many.

Yes, I’m talking about bowling.

If you’re not in a bowling league, you’d might as well forfeit any desire or wish to play during the week. Of course, you can seek out other alleys but you’d have to pay top dollar for them (Lucky Strike, anyone?). And who really has that kind of money to spare these days?

This is how ex-leaguers bowl during the week.

Many times I’ve tried to go bowling during the week only to be foiled by The Man The League. The last time was a few weeks ago and when we struck out at all the lanes, we ended up “bowling” at a bar.

I get it. I really do. I was in a league. You’re playing for money and pride and don’t want rowdy assholes who don’t understand proper lane decorum standing in your peripheral and getting in the way of your quest for top scorer, top handicap. Proper manners should be enough to keep you from yelling at Dude to SIT THE EFF DOWN and WAIT BEFORE  GETTING ALL UP IN YOUR GRILL.

But, know what? Being in a league doesn’t assure you a private bowling alley. You  must still SHARE THE LANES.

And that brings me to the impetus of my rage: Why are there never any open lanes during the week? Not until 10 p.m., 10:45 p.m., 11 p.m.

Really? not a single one!

Unbelievable. Inconceivable.

What’s worse is my realization that I was part of this problem, this privileged elite. Last year, when I was in a league, I strutted along the alley like I owned those lanes. (Go Spare-ta!) Damn, I was the same stuck-up punk who booted an innocent fun-loving non-leaguer from the game until 9 p.m.

Mine eyes are open. Blinded no longer.

I’m standing up for bowling’s second-class citizens everywhere. What’s a girl got to do to get a lane at a decent hour on a Wednesday or Thursday night??

PHOTO: from  and from that outing of non-bowling.

turkey coma

I haven’t shared this with people… well, because I’m modest.


I’ve just been lazy or flighty or deficient in my attention or comatose from the tryptophan.

But here it is and here’s the proof of the matter.  About two weeks ago, I BOWLED A TURKEY!

gobble gobble

I don’t care if it was pure dumb luck or tenacious skills, I did it and I’m owning it.  I ended this game with a total 5 strikes, two splits, one gutter and a personal-best 146.

ON A RELATED NOTE: In league, the amazing, wish-you-were-us SPARE-TA! is finally out of the gutter.  We moved out last place and firmly into second-to-last place.  I’ve gotten my groove back since this climactic moment of bowling life and it’s definitely helped my performance in league.


The Tragedy of SPARE-Ta!: Act 2


Scene 1

(All teams have paired off and gone to their respective lanes. THIS IS SPARE-TA! and WPS PAY ROLL have set up on the far right side. There’s about seven minutes left of practice before the games begin.)

MERRITT                        Motions with a stupid little bow to THE ONEDER

THE ONEDER                You want me to take some practice bowls?

MERRITT                        That’s what this time’s for.

THE ONEDER               (Still putting on her shoes) Bowl for me, then. I’ll be ready soon.

Team players have been bowling in both lanes a couple times already. THE ONEDER finally gets up to join them. Takes a 9lb ball and chucks it down the lane, knocking all 10 pins down.

MERRITT                        Nice. See that’s why you practice.

THE ONEDER                It’s wasted in practice.

Scene 2

HIP CHIMP gets up to bowl. She knocks down nine pins. THE INTERNATIONAL follows suit with a spare. All this is still practice time. Everyone takes this time to introduce themselves.

TUMULTY                          Those are cool nicknames. Who came up with them?

OL’ REICHY                        She did. (motioning to HIP CHIMP)

HIP CHIMP                        His was supposed to be SCOTCH N BURN… but he changed it.

THE ONEDER                   Why didn’t you like that name? It’s awesome.

OL’ REICHY                        I dunno. (bursts into laughter)

THE ONEDER                    Why’s his name THE INTERNATIONAL?

HIP CHIMP                        He speaks Mandarin. And his wife’s in China.


NICOLE                                Hey guys, here’s your Blue Moon. That’s 5 bucks each.

(She proceeds to set down three shots and a couple beers in front of the other team.)

Do you guys want to keep a tab open?

Scene 3

[Game 1 is about to start. At this point, it’s necessary to stray from the play format and delve into some narrative.]

THE ONEDER is looking over the stat sheet and mining for any clues to the weaknesses of the WPS PAY ROLL team. It doesn’t look good. There is a reason why this team has been in the No. 1 spot since the league began. No one has gotten close to dethroning them. Even seated comfortably in second place, THIS IS SPARE-TA is still a few games behind. In order to take the lead, THIS IS SPARE-TA will have to win two of the three games.

It’s time to start bowling. THE ONEDER and THE INTERNATIONAL are the first members up for each team. Still unsure which is the best course of action, THE ONEDER quickly looks at her average — 79 and aims for at least eight pins in the first frame. She gets up to bowl, hits her mark and hurries back to her homework.

The Area 15 league works with a 210-point handicap. Every week the players bowl their three games. At the end of the night, their individual game points are averaged and the difference is the handicap. Wins and losses are based off that 210 points, not the individual frames. That’s the only way a team with a member that averages 79 points can still hold on to second place.

The realization THE ONEDER came to was heavy. WPS was good, yes, but more than that, they were consistent. They didn’t have a star bowler on the team, but rather all three of them fluctuated around the 100-point margin.

On the other hand, THIS IS SPARE-TA did have an obviously more experienced bowler in MERRITT. Unfortunately, he’d been hitting a wall the last few games and the recent wins have come from surprises from THE ONEDER and TUMULTY, who just came off a week where she bowled a 130, or a 257 with handicap.

The two top-scoring teams last week were WPS with 1994 points (over three games) and SPARE-TA with 1949 points. Both teams swept their competition. WPS peaked in the second game with 698 points among the three bowlers. SPARE-TA likewise peaked with 680.

THE ONEDER knew it would be close and that the best chance they had was to bowl their averages. She was off to a good start. TUMULTY, whose average was 87, was similarly doing well. But MERRITT, that black sheep with a 147 average, he still couldn’t get out of his bowling funk. Perhaps someone should have taken a few more practice bowls.

The game stayed fairly close between the two teams. One would be up in one frame, and then the next would be up in the other frame. Because WPS was so closely matched, it was hard to tell who would be the standout bowler. Late in the first game, however, it became clear that THE INTERNATIONAL would carry the team. On SPARE-TA’s side, no such leader emerged. What did emerge was the bane of the team…

It came down to the last bowler in the last frame. SPARE-TA was up by a few pins and up strolls HIP CHIMP. She bowls and quickly turns around. That’s her M.O. refusing to watch the ball hit the pins or fly into the gutter. She knocks down just enough to put them over the edge.

Five points! They took the game by five measly points! 607 to 602.

THE ONEDER couldn’t believe their luck. It was such a low-scoring game on both sides. How could this have happened? She beat her average by 2 points. TUMULTY beat hers by 10. MERRITT, oh MERRITT, he bowled a 107…. yuck… on anyone else that would be decent. On him, that’s 30 points below his average and grounds for some ancient Greek discipline.

[and back to play format…]

THE ONEDER                        Son of a #%*#!

OL’ REICHY                           hahahahaha

TUMULTY                              We have to take the next two games for first place.


end of Act 2

PREVIOUSLY ON The Tragedy of SPARE-Ta!: A comedy of errors: Act I

UP NEXT: Game 2, guerilla warfare, a sinking ship

The Tragedy of SPARE-TA: Act I


Scene 1

(Enter THE ONEDER and E. BAGGESEY. All other characters already present.)

TUMULTY                        Hey, we’re all wearing black tank tops!

E. BAGGESEY                  What? (realizes what she’s wearing) Oh, yeah.

BRANDIFER                    Me too! See I’m wearing it under my shirt (pulls up her bowling shirt to reveal, yes, there is a black tank top on underneath)

THE ONEDER                  (rolls her eyes a little as she realizes the little things that amuse her bowling mates) Ummm… so where’s Nicole?

Scene 2

(THE ONEDER walks over to her lane assignment where she sees MERRITT, HIP CHIMP, OL’ REICHY and THE INTERNATIONAL)

THE ONEDER                  to MERRITT Hey, how’s it going?

MERRITT                           Alright. Did you practice?

THE ONEDER                  Is that always going to be your first question?

MERRITT                           Yeah. So did you?

THE ONEDER                   No, but we did make up the three games from that other week (motioning to TUMULTY who has joined the lanes)

MERRITT                           How did you do?

THE ONEDER                  Not great.

TUMULTY                         But it’s OK. It should bring down our averages. That’ll help against this team (motioning to WPS Pay Roll)

THE ONEDER                  It wasn’t my fault though. Listen up. First, they stuck us in lanes 1 and 2. Those over there (points to the far end of the bowling alley) We’re bowling right against the wall in one lane and then, if that’s not enough, we have gum on the other. Gum!

MERRITT                          Gum?

THE ONEDER                  Yeah, gum! Right in the path. It messed with my walk and got in my head.

MERRITT                           looks at TUMULTY for some clarification

TUMULTY                         (shrugs) Yeah, but at least it’ll bring our averages down.

OL’ REICHY                      (starts laughing) Where’s Nicole?

Scene 3

(All characters are gathered around lane as CHRIS starts dropping the bowling wisdom. He’s standing in an awkwardly balanced position, swinging his arm up and down.)

CHRIS                                I’ve noticed that some of you have terrible form. If you manage to knock anything down, it’s based on pure luck. (Grabs a ball and approaches nearest lane)

Here, let me show you how it’s supposed to look.

{Takes a few steps. Plants foot. Sweeps other foot behind. Swings arm forward. Releases ball and follows through. Bowling ball curves and spins its way down the lane until it knocks down EVERY pin. Applause}

Do you see how I’m standing? I could be here all day. I’m centered and balanced. Some of you are falling over the second you release the ball.

{His ball has returned. He picks it up and repeats the exact same motion as before with exact same results.}

Let’s work on that today.

(Enter Nicole)

OL’ REICHY                       to Nicole… whiskey shots, please.

HIP CHIMP                        A lemon drop

THE INTERNATIONAL            Corona

TUMULTY                           Blue Moon

Chorus of other bowlers makes the requests indistinguishable. People are shouting beer names, brands, and bar food.

NICOLE                                (to herself) I need another cigarette break.


End of Act I

PREVIOUSLY ON The Tragedy of Spare-Ta!: A comedy of errors: Cast of characters

UP NEXT: A cruel realization, a close call and a time of desperation in Act 2

Coming Soon: The Tragedy of SPARE-TA

I am proud to announce the upcoming release of The Tragedy of Spare-TA!: A comedy of errors.

The new work by promising playwright Claudia Bustachops captures in a few short acts the drama and despair that often runs rampant in America’s bowling alleys.

By micro-focusing on one night at one alley, Bustachops has successfully captured the existential angst that unfolds when top-tiered athletes compete for the biggest slice of pizza.

“A tour de force!” raved Michiko Kakutani. “Irresistably real. I felt the pain just as much as they must have,” said some other critic.

The Tragedy of Spare-Ta!: A comedy of errors, based on real events, will be published in pieces on this site. Keep a weather eye for new installments. We’ll begin immediately with the cast of characters.

The Power of One

For three weeks, eight teams have been competing in one-one-one bouts of the most ferocious competition at Mar Vista’s AMF. The Area 15 rookie league has brought out the best and the worst of mankind. Including the liars… those who so obviously are NOT ROOKIES.

This league isn’t for the timid or the weak-hearted. There are 10- 12- 16-pound spheres being chucked at record speed. Blink and you’re dead. Always keep a weather eye. Or if you’re bowling near me, it’s the deceivingly light 8-pounder coming at you.

After two weeks of play, Team 5 came in second place. That’s me! yay!!
[Our official name: This is SPARE-ta!! Our inspiration:  300 get it, get it]

-pause for adulation-

I redeemed myself after that abysmal 38 pins in Game 3 the previous week. I got over my final-game fatigue and posted my highest score to date: 115. My average skyrocketed from a 68 to 75 or 76. I’ll have to double check those stats.

Amazing, but short-lived.

I was back to form this week. But learning some lessons, nonetheless:

1.) Embrace the older bowlers

After the initial week, Tumulty (teammate’s bowling name) and I were paired with another bowler to make a complete three-person team. I initially ho-hummed at the guy because he had spent the first week telling me all the rules of league play. Obviously, I didn’t care. But after I bowled and after Tumulty bowled, I realized that our team’s salvation would rely on him. The older bowlers, the ones who don’t have to order a new bowling shirt and can provide their own ball, bring a level of skill that will obviously benefit a team.
EVIDENCE: Ranked second.

2.) Looking legit doesn’t make you play any better

I already own a pair of bowling shoes and Week 3 was the first time I had my shirt and Tumulty had hers. They’re plain turquoise bowling shirts with our nicknames on them. We look legit-ish. We played terribly. Even the guy who was supposed to be holding up the team wasn’t at peak performance. I didn’t break my 38-pin record, but I came mighty close and was only able to make my target once, in the final frame.

Game 1: 49           Game 2: 53           Game 3: 97

3.) Wishes do come true

Early on in my bowling career, I kept noticing a pattern. The number 1 kept haunting me. It got to be kind of ridiculous. If I didn’t out right throw a gutter ball, I only managed to knock down ONE pin. If I didn’t luck out with a strike, I only left ONE pin.

I decided to call myself The Wonder. Well, actually — The Oneder, straight out of That Thing You Do! That’s the name that’s on my bowling shirt. It was funny.

Only trouble is… it’s now annoyingly accurate. ONEs… everywhere! Damn, self-fulling prophecies!!

PHOTOS: The Oneder’s bowling shirt and shoes.

Redemption: Thy name is bowling

The bowling competition officially began this week! The cut-throat campaign will be raged Wednesday nights in Mar Vista. Come down, only if you’re not squeamish.

So I’m still unsure how the scoring goes and what the deal is with the average handicap. I’m assuming I just need to worry about improving each week. To be determined.

What I do know and what the photo above proves is that somewhere, deep deep down, lies the capacity and potential to rock the lanes. Full disclosure—the frames above were not from the first game of the season, but rather the warm-up a week earlier.

I was third in the line-up. My bowling game—Cousteau (misspelled above)—is marked with record gutter balls, but also has a total of three strikes, including two back-to-back Xs. If memory proves, I’m pretty sure I came back from behind to win this game. The ultimate sand-bagging ninja!

This is all a long windup/preface because I’m about to share my scores from the first official game on Wednesday. I felt the need to preemptively justify myself.

Game 1… 85

Game 2… 80

Game 3… 38!

38!! I was that abysmal. My bowling endurance can’t yet go the distance. And because Game 3 was a complete failure, now my average hovers around 68. Or maybe it was all part of my low-bowling strategy that will surely pay off in the long run… muahhhahahaahha

For now, there are more pressing issues. Like coming up with a team name, shirts and deciding if I’m ready to make a shoe commitment.

PHOTO: Shot of the scoreboard during a game last week where I bowled back-to-back strikes.