Jim Milak
•Easy Sex the Hard Way

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
(continued from page 2)

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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Mike Toe is a computer programmer,
food critic, artist, and provocateur.

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