Jim Milak
•Easy Sex the Hard Way

Kiki Mercury
•The Modernist Gift Guide
•Iranica/Opposite Day in Iran

Matthew Shultz
•Animals in Pornography

Eric Ottens
•A Message to You
•Japanese Hangover

Mike Toe
•Bob Chinn's Crab House
•Stream of Bowling Conscious Wood
•My Young Coconut Juice

John Dugan
•My Terrorist Romance
•Politics in Your Coffee




Mike Toe

Stream of Bowling Conscious Wood
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).

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.

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