I don’t know what made me do it; I don’t know what put the phrase in my head. But for some reason, I typed two words into the Google search bar: Strolling Bowling. And there it was. A quirky little toy from the Tomy company which consisted of a hard plastic case and a bowling ball on feet. The case unfolded to become a bowling alley complete with a set of ten pins, each of which was attached to the case/alley by its own individual hinge so that they could be flattened and then easily reset. The bowling ball on feet was powered by a wind-up motor and, once sufficiently wound up, could walk in a (more or less) straight line. Put them together and what you had was a fusion of pop art, ironic statement, and just plain fun that kept an eight-year-old me busy for hours at a time. I don’t think I ever played Strolling Bowling with anyone else as a game (even though it was labeled as such on the box it came in); I don’t even think I ever played Strolling Bowling for any type of score. But I did enjoy winding up the bowling ball and sending him (it was always a him in my mind, never an it) down the case/alley toward the pins. I in fact enjoyed winding up the bowling ball and sending it down any flat surface toward any target I could find. I even enjoyed packing the bowling bowl back into the case and then unpacking it again (the fact that the bowling ball could go in the case and the entire toy could fold into a self-contained, relatively tiny package intrigued me more than you would believe).
And since the Google search brought me not just an image of the Strolling Bowling set but also an opportunity to purchase one, I did so; I bought one for $4, plus shipping, which I didn’t think was too bad a price for recovering a cherished childhood memory. After purchasing that Strolling Bowling set, I started having a nagging feeling, the nagging feeling that Strolling Bowling was not wholly unique, that there was a companion game to Strolling Bowling, a game that was like it or related to it. But since I didn’t know what that companion game was called and couldn’t remember exactly what it was, I couldn’t search for it. I was stumped for awhile, until I started thinking about what sports were similar to bowling, specifically what sports had a ball that could be equipped with wind-up feet and sent hurtling toward some object. “Golf,” I quickly realized. And I was right. A search for “Tomy Golf” found Goof Around Golf, the companion game I had vaguely remembered, a game very similar to Strolling Bowling except that the case became a green with a hole and the ball was a golf ball. Now I wasn’t privileged to have Goof Around Golf, so I didn’t have the same memories of playing with it that I had of playing with Strolling Bowling. I did, though, have the memories of being aware of its existence, the memories of seeing it in a catalog or department store ad and wanting either it or at least the chance to get my hands on it for awhile. And Goof Around Golf, it turns out, was not the end of this particular Tomy line. There was also Bumbling Boxing (the case opened to be a boxing ring and contained two motorized boxers that could be wound up and then unleashed on each other) and Funny Football (the case opened to be a football field and contained two motorized football players that could be wound up and then unleashed on each other). And I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure that I was also aware of their existence and wanted at least the chance to get my hands on them for awhile.
And that’s pretty much the way it went back then; at least, that’s the way it went for me, and I’m sure that’s the way it went for hundreds of thousands of kids like me. There were plenty of great things out there that you could see on TV or in the store or at school that you would never get your hands on, that you would never get to play with, that you would never get to have. You’d never have or even have access to the full line; you’d never own the entire collection. And yet, every so often, you would get a crack at something really great, something that would give you a lot of happiness and create a lot of memories, something like Strolling Bowling.