Essays

Stream of Bowling Conscious Wood – by Mike Toe

My bowling coach is that kind of guy who seems hot enough at first (like, “hmmm…not too bad!”) but who then gets inexplicably hotter and hotter with every moment I spend with him, so that now he is smoldering. It must be something in the childlike glee of his beaming smile and cute dimples (which he displays after he’s said something not particularly witty or funny, but which becomes extremely charming because of this display, by which he indicates—completely oblivious to my own somewhat cold reaction—that he has just said the wittiest, funniest thing ever), and the way that this display of his plays against the macho mustache, the thick neck (with just the cutest little hint of a double chin) and the short beefy fireplug of a body with those massive bowler’s forearms always exposed and bouncing about animatedly in accompaniment to his words. He relishes the opportunity to be authoritative: it gives him visible joy. Once, just after I hired him, I did something completely wrong in my approach of the lane, and muttered something to myself like “holy mother fuck!” but against my wishes he heard it, only not correctly: he thought I had said “I can’t do this” and he quickly and aggressively went into a long diatribe about how he refuses to take on pupils who say “I can’t” because if you say “I can’t” then “you won’t” which makes this a waste of his valuable time. Well, I am just about the last guy around who needs to hear this speech: I fully agree with him on all counts, and, when I personally decide to accomplish something, I am utterly relentless in my pursuit of that thing. But, although I found his diatribe unnecessarily threatening and condescending, I did not tell him that he had misheard me: I simply said “yes” to each point and then apologized, saying, “Don’t worry, I will never say ‘I can’t’ again.” I knew that if I corrected him, it would take the wind out of his sails, and that—although he would cover smoothly with something like, “Well, yes, but anyway, don’t even think about saying ‘I can’t’!”—it would nevertheless become a black mark against me in his book: I would be known as the one who deviously mutters “I can’t” and then shiftily denies it, and I couldn’t bear allowing that to happen. Anyway, he’s so smoldering to me now that I can’t even look at him without it being sexual. I only dare risk looking directly at him when I know that he is looking away, and if he suddenly meets my gaze, the notion that he might for a moment have recognized the look that I know must be burning from my eyes, a look of burning sexual inferno, so fills me with horror that I quickly, almost instantly, burst out with some inane question or comment, followed by inappropriate and telltale laughter, hoping that all of this will manage to reverse time for the second or half that our eyes met with the burning flames, hoping that with this rapid damage-control of mine, he will either forget having seen that look in my eyes altogether, or, if he does remember it, he will write it off as “he’s just an intense young man who is shy to ask a known expert like me a question that he must realize is stupid, and therefore it takes him a lot of emotional intensity to work up the nerve to ask it.”

And it is precisely because he has just now suddenly met my gaze that I burst forth with this elaborate question or rather a simple question that requires an elaborate explanation:

I tell him that the reason that I decided to hire him and to finally begin to fulfill my decades-long dream of getting serious about bowling was because my brother had mentioned to me that our local Brunswick had $1 games on Sunday nights (compared to their astonishing standard price of $4.65 per game) and that, on that day and at that price, I knew I could commit myself to practicing my ass off. But the thing I didn’t know, I tell him, was that this was just a summer special, and that this special has now ended. I tell him that I know that many bowling alleys have discounted weekday daytime rates, but that I work during those hours and therefore cannot take advantage of those rates, which is what made this $1-games-on-Sunday-nights special so, well, special. I tell him that $4.65 per game makes practicing almost cost-prohibitive. Just when he is beginning to suspect that all of this is leading up to me letting him go as my coach, I instead ask if he happens to know of any weekend (or even weekday evening) specials that might exist in the fall, winter, and spring.

He says that I should open the phone book and call every bowling alley I see listed there and ask if they have any special deals. He said that first-rate high-profile alleys (such as the one that we are standing in, which also charges $4.65 per game) will never have any non-summer specials (since summer is bowling’s only off season), but that some of the second-rate alleys may have year-round Sunday specials (since Sunday is the least popular day for bowling) and that if I look hard enough, I might find one such alley that is actually acceptable for serious use (versus other second-rate alleys that don’t oil the lanes and let the boards get warped and split, etc.) It sounded like he was speaking from experience, so I asked, “Do you know of any such place specifically?” He mentioned three, one of which rung a bell as being somewhere near the area in which I work: Streamwood Lanes.

I have never gone to practice bowling on a Friday night because I assume that this is one of the most popular social/recreational bowling times, and it would be embarrassing to have to squeeze myself through the crowds into a lane between a high school “group date” (the cheerleaders and the football team) on one side and a bunch of drunken thugs on the other side, me, by myself, having to ask them to move all of their shit off of my table (them saying, “Gee, oh, sure, sorry” then rolling their eyes and being unable to suppress their laughter), me then making an elaborate spectacle out of taking out all of my own equipment (when everyone else there is using house balls and rental shoes—and bowling better with that fourth-rate equipment than I can with my first-rate stuff), only to throw one gutter ball after another (because I do not know what I am doing yet) as the teenagers and thugs laugh openly at me. I usually practice at times when the alley is likely to be near empty (namely, Sunday nights).

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But it’s specifically for the purpose of practicing on Sunday night that I want to find out if this place has a Sunday night special, as my coach thought they might (which, by the way, they do: Sunday nights after 7 it’s two games for the price of one), and I wanted to do this in person (instead of, for example, by just calling them) so that I could visually assess the condition of the lanes, because, although this place isn’t all that far from my office, it’s profoundly far away of my home, and if I’m actually going to make the long drive here on Sunday night, I want to make sure that the ratio of discounted price-per-game to lane quality justifies the long journey. So I will stop by the alley, check out the lanes, and ask about the specials. And, I was thinking, I might even get there early enough (it was 5 pm when I left work) to miss the nighttime social/recreational crowds, so it might work out to where I can toss in a few practice games, as a bonus.

But thanks to Friday rush hour traffic, I got there at 6 pm. But the expansive parking lot had only a few cars in it, so I figured I had still managed to beat the rush and I heaved my heavy bagful of equipment onto my shoulder and went in.

Sure enough the alley was virtually empty—and it was also surprisingly nice: there were signs of second-rate-ness around the edges (mostly in the finish of the boards of the lanes: there were areas where the varnish had flaked off causing the exposed wood to discolor, but it was hardwood and well oiled, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem, and at least the boards were not visibly warped or split)—so I went up to the counter. There were what seemed to me an exorbitant number (four to be exact) of inexplicably busy-looking people behind it wearing matching costumes (blue splotchy abstract graphical print—like the print on a late-80s/early-90s women’s gym bag—oversized short-sleeved rayon shirts tucked into baggy pleated black polyester slacks) all with hi-tech-looking telephone headsets on.

One man, a big, white-trashy, ornery-looking fellow with dead fish eyes whose mean appearance was compounded by an excess of puffy flesh around his pock-marked face asked impatiently if he could help me (in a cocky tone that was more like “what the fuck are you doing here?”). I said “Can I get a lane?” He said, “No,” and then turned halfway away. I said, “Huh?” He turned back, snapped, “No! It’s league night!” then turned fully away in anger. I stood there waiting for him to turn around again. I was more than happy to leave tonight without bowling, but I wasn’t going to leave without accomplishing my primary goal: asking about the Sunday specials. I stood staring at his wide, dumpy back and the garish rayon that hung distastefully from it for some time. Then he suddenly turned around again and handed me a laminated piece of yellow paper on which “32” was printed and said, “Yer on lane 32.” At first I began to rebut: I was thinking that perhaps he had gotten confused and had thought that he had heard me say, “Yes, mother fucker, I know that: I’m in the fucking league. Give me a lane!” But then this short fat dumpy ugly (but in her way actually quite cute) lady (that is to say, she looked almost exactly like that early-90s Saturday Night Live actress Melanie Hutsell, who’s most famous for her big-boned, cross-eyed, manic (or nearly-manic) “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” caricature of Jan Brady)—also in the costume and with the headset—comes around from behind the man and says “You’re welcome to join the league, we still have openings,” with a smile.

I then realize that while I am staring at his back and thinking about nothing but the Sunday specials that I am going to ask him about when he eventually turns around again (and about his wide dumpy back and the garish rayon that hangs distastefully from it), this lady has meanwhile been pleading my case to him: “Come on, you know lane 32 won’t be used and there’s several lanes between it and the last league lane, so it’s not like he is going to cause any distraction. Can’t you have a heart and just let him bowl?”

So she has volunteered herself as my advocate. But about her question regarding the joining of the league, I am somewhat flabbergasted. I don’t know what to say. I know that I should not say “What is a bowling league? What are you talking about? How does it work?” (Because of course I know of bowling leagues—I hear the phrases “bowling league” and “league night” all too often, in fact, since these phrases often foil my plans to practice bowling—but I have never even thought about joining one, let alone been asked to, and so it occurs to me, upon being asked, that I really have not even the slightest idea what they entail or how they work.) And I also know that I should not say, “Well, I live about 60 miles northeast of here, so I really have no business being here at all, much less in a league here.” But I must say something because she is staring at me awaiting a response, so I (somewhat hilariously) say, “How much does it cost?” “$20 a week,” she says with a smile. To which I (even more hilariously) say, “Hmmm…not bad!” I tell her I will consider it and I ask if she has any literature on the subject that I can peruse in the meantime. This totally throws her off, she fumbles confusedly and then finally, in frustration, rips a sheet of red-colored paper from a counter display that holds dozens of different such sheets, slaps it down on the counter in front of us where I observe that the purpose of the sheet is to list the hours during which the alley is closed to the public due to leagues, points to the timeslot that says Friday nights from 6 – 10 pm with the words “Tri-Burbs Men” next to it, and says “Here, it’s this one,” and then turns fully away from me in anger. I say, “thank you,” take the sheet, wonder what the “Tri-Burbs” are, and proceed to lane 32.

Meanwhile, the few bowlers who were here when I first entered have inexplicably stopped bowling, and, as I’m unloading my equipment, putting on my shoes, toweling off my bowling ball, and placing it on the ball return, I notice that the alley is filling up to the brim with nothing but dozens upon dozens of macho blue-collar West-suburban men. They are descending upon the alley like locusts. I feel like they are a floodwater, and that the space of three empty lanes between mine and the end of theirs is a half-assed sandbag embankment that soon will collapse under the overwhelming pressure of all these dozens upon dozens of macho blue-collar West-suburban men.

I look down the expanse of lanes and observe that all of them are shut off (the pins are not lit up). All except for my lane. In spite of the dozens of men pouring in, it is remarkably quiet: just the muffled sounds of men quietly stating their names as they are checked in, then quietly ordering their pitchers of beer in the quiet bar. Except for one disconcertingly jovial (and disconcertingly short, as if they had suddenly become ashamed) burst of cheering in response to something that the Cubs quietly did on the quiet bar television (and even this cheer was quite restrained compared to anywhere else where this kind of thing occurs), the atmosphere is a serious as a funeral.

But the men just keep pouring in (much later I did a count of them: there are 130 in total). And as I sit here, staring, probably with a shocked if not slightly horrified-appearing look on my face, I am astonished: they all have the machismo that is so pervasive, so concentrated in Chicago’s Western suburbs, and they have it in spades. Every single one of them has at the very least a big bushy brown mustache. Many have full goatees or beards. Every single one of them is in a short sleeved shirt (while most of them are thirty- or forty-something, there’s even a twenty-something thick, beefy, stubble-headed, fully-goateed, fan-of-pro-wrestling type in a sleeveless rock t-shirt) proudly showing off their massive, brown-or-black-fur-covered, mutton-leg forearms. Several were even wearing shorts, to show off their massive, brown-or-black-fur-covered, mutton-leg calves. There are no blondes here (excluding the dishwater-blonde Melanie Hutsell), and certainly no one who could even remotely be called effeminate.

I, meanwhile, was the only one in the entire alley who was dressed “business casual” in flat-front khakis and bright, window-pane plaid, long-sleeved oxford shirt. I was also the only skinny one. And the only one without facial hair (more often than not I go around with a few day’s worth of stubble on my face, but, in an instance of unfortunate timing, I had just shaved this very morning). As if an alley filled to the brim with macho beef was not intimidating enough, on top of that, they were clearly all hardcore bowlers, wheeling in their suitcases-on-wheels full of bowling balls, carefully lining up the balls in the ball returns, strapping on their elaborate wrist supports, checking the slide-ability of the sliding inserts of the soles of their sliding shoes (real bowlers have one shoe that slides and one that does not, and the one that slides uses interchangeable inserts for the sliding—often Teflon—so that the slide may be replaced when it wears out, without having to replace the shoe). Throughout all this I was either ignored (I would say sometimes even consciously ignored, ignored as a statement, like the statement, “you’re nothing”) or else given the occasionally curious glance.

If I were to stand up and begin to bowl now, in the middle of this, it would be like a bomb going off in the building. That is to say, when you have 32 lanes of smooth hardwood, and 31 one of those lanes are shut off and sitting in darkened silence, and you’ve got 130 men in the building who are just standing around quietly waiting, if you were to then suddenly begin to bowl, which entails first the dropping of the ball onto the lane, which is a louder and more violent sound than you have ever realized (it sounds like a professional fireman slamming the blade of his axe through a hardwood door), followed by the wall-of-tension noise generated by rumbling-scraping of the ball as it churns down the lane, then the shattering explosion against the pins (which—with the “heavy back-end reaction” ball that I am using—sounds like a piano crashing onto a street after plummeting three stories), needless to say, were I to do this, it would stop the entire alley in its tracks and every single eye in the house would turn and stare at me (first with just a feeling of surprise at the unexpected sound of someone bowling, then with the question “Hey, why is that guy bowling?!” followed by “And why by himself?”, “Why at a time when the alley belongs to us?”, and “Why so embarrassingly badly?!”).

So I just sit there, looking down at my shoes (my astonished staring at all the men as they entered had by now become conspicuous, and so I simply bowed by head toward my shoes), pretending that I have not put them on right and therefore have cause to keep fidgeting with them for an incredibly long amount of time. If this is indeed a bowling league, then sooner or later they will have to start bowling, and that is what I will wait for. (But just how long must I wait: it seems like hours have passed in this near-silent alley. Why can’t they just start bowling already?!) Finally, perhaps because the pitchers of beer are beginning to take effect, the tenseness of the atmosphere relaxes a little as the peripheral talking begins to increase ever so slightly and take on a more casual tone. This makes me feel comfortable enough to look up, not at any of them, but straight up in front of me, at my lane. That is when I see that the lights have been turned off, and that the electronic scoreboard above my lane has been darkened except for a blood red warning flashing across the top of it that says, “Resume bowling now or you will forfeit the lane!”

And so now I am trapped. I cannot leave (that would be too much, to get up, put all my stuff away, and walk past all these men without having bowled a single frame, like a coward), and I cannot keep sitting and waiting. I have no choice now but to bowl. Slowly, with a feeling of devastating humiliation, humiliation so thick and tangible that I can’t even find a way to describe it, I stand up, pick up my ball, step onto the lane, and bowl. I try not to think the words “All of them are going to turn and stare at me.” If I were to think those words, I know it would ruin me. I try only to think about what I have to do in order to make this a strike. I tell myself, I am alone here, in my own private alley, no one is watching me, because no one else is here. I try to focus on the formula that my coach has attempted to drill into my head (and which I nevertheless keep managing to forget), the formula for getting a strike. I throw the ball, it crashes onto the lane like a fireman’s axe through a hardwood door, it rumbles and scrapes down the lane with a tenseness that tingles the spine, then it explodes into the pins and they shatter into the back wall and ricochet violently off of the sides—a strike!

Knowing that when the first shocking impact of the explosive bowling noises that reverberated throughout the entire silent house and echoed off all that endless hardwood drew the attention of 130 macho hardcore West-suburban bowlers, that they saw a strike, instead of, say, a (much more typical of me) gutter ball, does not make my one-man spot-lit bowling show easy, but it makes it possible. Had I thrown a gutter ball for that first shocking throw, I don’t know if I could have ever lived that down. I don’t know how I would ever have extricated myself from the place. Having to walk out of that alley, to walk past every single one of those 130 macho men (which is what I would have had to do, as the exit was on the other side of them), knowing that the defining moment between me and them was my violent, obnoxious, pathetic gutter ball that startled them from their serious pre-game mental chilling—I just can’t even imagine. I couldn’t do it, I know. I would have instead had to do something rash.

But it was a strike! So now at least I can proceed. But still, it remains incredibly difficult to keep doing this. It’s quickly becoming just a blurry dream of humiliation. I’m paying utterly no attention to my bowling. Am I even bowling? I don’t know. All I know is that I am repeating to myself, over and over, “I will live. I will probably live through this,” while my body, blindly and unthinkingly and therefore randomly and chaotically, keeps throwing ball after ball at the pins, to unimpressive effect. Then I start to wonder whether or not it would take me more than five minutes (which is what the “Resume bowling now!” warning has stated is the maximum amount of time I can go without bowling before forfeiting my lane) to go to the bar and get a drink. I blurred my focus so as not to make eye contact with any of the men—which would have been humiliating— and glanced at the bar: the bartender was unoccupied, so I made a run for it.

The bartender had long hair tied into a ponytail snug against the join between his head and his neck, and, of course, the costume of graphic-print blue shirt and black slacks with the hi-tech headset. I was starting to feel very strange, like I had somehow landed in a paradoxical alternate reality that was a combination of the bowling scene from a movie that takes place in a future Los Angeles, and some white-trash, third-rate, macho, blue-collar, economically-declining, “heartland,” old-souse bowling alley like one that I once encountered in rural Missouri (not to mention the additional bizarre component of what feels like some sort of mysterious, surreal “real-man”/“man’s man” men’s-only club that’s not unlike a certain sexual fantasy of mine (but which has been twisted into something strange and uncomfortable, primarily because of the disturbing silence that replaces the social gusto that I assume must dominate a private men’s club, which gives this the creepy air of a cult ceremony) and which I couldn’t imagine existing in real life (I have never before been in a place where there were so many men and so few women—there’s just two women here, and they both are costumed and headset-wearing employees of the alley)). I ordered a beer and realized as I attempted to pay for it that I was visibly shaking from nerves. When I swallowed the first swig, I realized that I was parched and burning up from nerves. I chugged as much as I could as I walked briskly back to my lane in order to begin bowling immediately to keep the lane from shutting off.

It got slightly easier then: I worked out the timing between the lane’s threats of discontinuance and how long it takes to get a beer from the bar, and I made several beer runs throughout each game. (One thing that I found very impressive was the fact that the bartender would notice my approach from several yards away and would take out a beer of the brand I had been ordering and open it so that it was on the counter, opened, waiting for me at the moment I reached the counter—in spite of the fact that I observed (the alcohol was permitting me to look up and take glances around now) that he was having to constantly serve more alcohol to the 130 men as they came back for refills. Although I have never seen the movie, nor read about it, nor seen any advertisements for it, for some strange reason this incredible customer service (which is actually by far the best bar service that I have ever received) made me suddenly think “It’s just like ‘Cocktail’!”)

Finally, like a watershed, after what felt like hours of tense waiting, a loud PA voice announced that it was time to begin pre-game practice, and suddenly my sole hammerings and explosions were instantly, aggressively, drowned out by a full bowling-alley’s worth of the same, as the house completely filled up with loud noise (which is really the first time in my life that I can recall being relieved by the sound of loud noise). Now I could finally relax and actually concentrate on getting in some meaningful practice.

However, by this point I was drunk, so the practice was fairly worthless. But I found it very difficult to stop practicing. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t want to walk past all these men until enough time had elapsed that I could be sure they were fully engrossed in their competition and I therefore had become invisible to them? Or maybe I just wanted to actually get a good score first, so that I could leave with a feeling of mild vindication, like “See, you ass holes: I don’t suck as much as you assumed I did!” I had been thinking all the while that I had no fucking clue what the price was for each game, but the standard first-rate alley price is $4.65, so I figured that it was entirely possible that they would charge as much as $3.65 per game here. Which means that I could probably reasonably afford to play about five games. But I had played my fifth game long ago, and still I just couldn’t stop bowling! I figured I would simply have to charge whatever the final price was to my credit card, and deeply regret it later. Finally, after fourteen (consistently inconsistent and awful) games, I felt okay with stopping. The men were deep into their games, and were never even so much as glancing at me now. At this point I still had half a beer left so I sat down, switched to my street shoes, put the ball in the bag, let the lane finally act upon its threat to shut itself off, and sat there finishing the beer.

If the reason that I couldn’t leave until now was indeed that I couldn’t leave until I believed that the men were so engrossed in their playing that I had become invisible to them, this assumption was suddenly shattered when the raspy old-souse “Hey! Hey! HEY!!!”s that I had been hearing peripherally—but ignoring as just one among many other ambient noises—suddenly became clear as being directed towards me: it was one of the guys from the team closest to me (the only one of the five who was not perfect, ideal, pure sex hotness). He said, “So, you’ve finally run out of steam, huh?” I said, “No, I’ve run out of money.” He laughed and said “Yeah, watchyah bowl?” I said, “Fourteen games.” He said, slowly and seriously (with a hint of bitterness and condescension), “More games’n I could afford,” and turned away coldly. Could this actually have been some sort of clash-of-the-classes comment inspired by my “business casual” attire?!! How unexpected and how disappointing! I said, “Yeah, tell me about it,” stood up aggressively and somewhat angrily left.

When I got to the counter to pay, suddenly the white-trash man who had turned his back on me so angrily before was now inexplicably my best friend. He was all smiles and was like, “Hey!!! Okay!!! All done now, huh!!!! Well, I tell you what, I’m gonna cut you a deal!!!!” and he charged me $1 per game, so what would have cost me $70 at my local Brunswick or at the alley that my coach works out of cost me only $14 here! So it was worth it after all, perhaps.

As I started to leave, Melanie Hutsell walked right past me, so I got her attention and said, “So when you said that there were still openings, does that mean that you are saying that there is actually a team here that doesn’t have all five players?” (I had since deduced from my observations that the league is composed of teams of five players each. And I had been hoping that I would run into her again so that I could ask her this question of mine, because this was the single highest concentration of pure ideal hot sex candy that I have ever seen in my life, so, although I have absolutely no business being in a league, I thought that if I discuss the matter with my future team upfront and let them know that I am very, very bad at bowling, that they might still opt to take me on because it’s probably even worse to have no one than to have someone who is bad (I have since learned that this is not true—the team is given a handicap to cover for the missing players), and that in return I would get to surround myself with this ocean of hot macho flesh that heretofore I had only been able to observe, covertly, from a distance.) She said “Yes. Would you like to meet them?”

They proved to be the only non-attractive men in the league. There were three of them. They were forty-something, and overtly blue-collar and macho, but among those rare instances of overt blue-collar machismo that’s not in any way hot (exactly like “Norm” from “Cheers”). They apparently didn’t know each other. Apparently, this was the team of “people who have no friends” that was pieced together from individuals who expressed an interest in joining the league but who did not have four other acquaintances who wanted to do the same. But they were nice enough guys (well, two of them were nice enough, the third did not say a single word, neither to me nor to them!) in spite of the tangible air of melancholy that hovered over them.

Melanie Hutsell told the dominant bowler among them that I was interested in joining his team, to which he immediately said to me, “Well, sure, I mean you’ve been in leagues before, right?” then realized that what he was saying had to be extremely insulting to me and quickly corrected himself, “Of course you’ve been in leagues before!”

I said, “No, actually, I haven’t. I’ve only been bowling for five weeks.” This was utterly incomprehensible to him, as proven by his blank, glass-eyed, endless stare. I said, “I have only been bowling now for five weeks in total. I often break 100, but don’t usually get much more than that. Sometimes I do get strikes. But I also throw a fair amount of gutter balls. I don’t know how to pick up spares because so far I have only learned how to throw a strike ball.” (Strike balls go along the side and then hook toward the center pin. It is incredibly counterintuitive, and, since you aren’t aiming anywhere near the pin that you actually intend to hit—quite the opposite, in fact: you are aiming far away from it—I really can’t even imagine what you are supposed to do to hit the few scattered pins that may be left if the attempted strike fails.)

He tried to suppress a look of mild horror and quickly stated, “Well, well, sure, sure, yeah, well, sure…you would get a handicap for your low 100s, they would probably give you a 70, so that brings your score up to say 170 – 180, so, yeah, well, sure, that wouldn’t hurt us, I guess. That wouldn’t hurt us too much.”

I think he was just inherently nice and didn’t want to turn away an actual live human just for the sake of retaining whatever the handicap is that they get for not having that actual live human on their team. He invited me to stay and watch the rest of their game. They won. Apparently they have always won, every game so far (they are good, more than twice as good as me, and I also suspect that the handicap they get for not having a full team is generous). This means that if I were to join the team, I would probably put an end to their winning streak. But it also means that, if they keep winning, I will get a chance to play with every fucking hot unbelievable macho stud (I am especially thinking of the sleeveless-shirted goateed pro-wrestling fan—and the beefy daddy with the massive brown-fur-covered calves exposed by his cute shorts—and the burly, brutal-looking football-coach with the full, bushy, black goatee and fierce black eyes (one of the few men in the league who would periodically give me an unabashed “What the fuck are you doing here!” stare)) in this building, instead of just glancing at them covertly from afar as the skinny over-dressed freak who bowls badly by himself on the far side of the alley at a time when the alley is supposed to be reserved exclusively for these hot macho men. Yes!, I decide, I am going to join this team and take on this league! It should prove to be utterly humiliating, if not totally disastrous!

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