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Dear Matthew Alice:

I've been a bowler for more than 40 years. And it's only last week that it finally hit me. Why are bowling shoes always the same wherever you go, and why are they so ugly?

-- Seven-Ten Split, Santee

Straight from our "Huh? Wha...Where Am I? How Long Have I Been Out? Oh, Man, and My Wallet's Gone" file. Life goes by at such a rate that sometimes it's hard to catch up. Anyway, a bowling alley is one of the few places we go where they insist that you take off your shoes and put on a pair of theirs. If they gave everybody Bruno Maglis, we'd be out the back door before the first gutter ball was thrown, leaving our funky shower shoes at the desk. There are some categories of objects (paper clips, safety pins, matchbooks, golf tees, the little black caps for the stem of the tube of your car tire) that are universally recognized as more or less up for grabs. They never really have an owner, even if someone paid money for them originally. In the maybe-yes, maybe-no category there's already-read newspapers, pencils, and cheap ballpoints. If it looks like the owner isn't around, they suddenly shift into the free-for-all pile. Bowling shoes don't qualify for either category; but because we will try to walk off with whatever seems to be semi-orphaned, the industry makes the shoes as identifiable and ugly as possible to make sure we'll turn them back in and retrieve our own.

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