- Author: vinnie Kinsella
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© 2020 by Cari Scribner
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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“Lucky Strike” had a photo of a bowling alley in his dating profile. I hadn’t been bowling for years, not since the kids were little, but I’d heard it was good exercise. After exchanging several messages making small talk, we agreed to meet at High Roller Lanes.
Strike, aka Louie, was waiting outside the doors, a zippered vinyl bag in each hand, when I pulled in. He was wearing a brown-and-gold striped bowling shirt and yelling my name, as if I hadn’t already seen him.
“Jessica! Yo, Jess!”
Well, at least he’s friendly. And it would be nice to play with a pro, not with the kids who threw gutter balls, then cried.
“Jessica?” He was still yelling, and for a moment I worried he was hard of hearing and I would have to shout back.
“Yup, that’s me. I heard you calling when I was parking, Louie.”
“Wanted to make sure you saw me.”
It would be hard to miss him. He had packed at least fifty more pounds on the already large frame he’d shown in his photos and in real life he had a greased-back, Elvis-style pompadour. He pushed the door open with his shoulder and sailed through, leaving me to hold the door for myself before it shut in my face.
OK. Maybe just overly eager to get onto the lanes.
“It’s $20 for two games, so you pay for one and I’ll get the other,” Louie said generously.
“What about renting shoes?”
“Got my own right here.” He held up the smaller bag. “And my lucky ball.”
I suppressed a laugh.
I traded my sneaks for scuffed bowling shoes and followed Louie, who was nearly skipping, to our lane.
“OK, well, let me just get warmed up.”
He cracked his knuckles and did some side bends at the waist. Then as I watched in amazement, he bent over and touched his toes to stretch the back of his legs and rotated his neck, which also cracked.
“How’s that going for you?” I asked.
“One second,” Louie said, massaging his own shoulders, then briefly running in place. “OK, ready. I’ll go first.”
I sat down in the orange booth, a front row seat, thinking maybe I’d learn something from him. “Go for it.”
He picked up his purple bowling ball that looked so shiny I wondered if he’d polished it.
And then he began to shuffle. Literally shuffle, from where I was sitting all the way out to the lane, already swinging his ball with his right arm.
OK. Maybe bowling form had changed since I’d last played.
But when he got to the line to make his throw, instead of making one more swing and propelling it toward the pins, he just dropped it, making a really loud noise that interrupted the man on the next lane.
The ball took an interminable time to roll down to the pins, eventually reaching a near halt and knocking down two pins. Two.
“Well, I got gypped on that one. Should have been a straight shot, but it had a wicked right hook.”
He took his second shot, knocking down two more pins.
“Jesus!” Louie was clearly pissed. “Guess I’m off my game today.”
He came back and glumly sat down.
I got up with my not-so-shiny pink ball and tried to use good form, throwing with surprising force, knocking down half the pins, leaving room for what might be a spare on the next roll.
“You got lucky on that one,” Louie hollered.
Relaxing my shoulders, I took a shot that curved directly where I wanted it, taking down the remaining pins. Spare!
Louie glared from his seat.
He did another shuffle throw, taking down three pins, followed by a gutter ball.
“Where’s the bar?” he growled.
He stormed away, not even asking if I wanted a drink.
I threw a 4 pin, then knocked down 3, narrowly missing a spare. Then I waited.
When my kids were little, I’d taken them bowling many times, but the only part they liked was choosing a bowling ball, always too large for their tiny handspans. Ian would carry his ball halfway down the alley, then drop it with a thud and try to kick it toward the pins. Madison threw hers so hard it would end up in the adjacent lane. After a few more attempts, I lured them off the lanes with quarters for a machine that dispensed rainbow hair ties and plastic orange motorcycles, because no kid wanted gumballs anymore.
It occurred to me that Louie might have run, leaving the bowling alley and me in his dust.
Eventually he showed up with a half-empty plastic cup of beer, and foam on his upper lip.
He took another shuffling shot. Threw a 2 pin.
“Goddammit!” he said, still too loud.
After his second shot, a gutter, he drained his beer and went back to the bar for another, this time also bringing back a soft pretzel drenched in cheese sauce.
Screw him, I thought.
I bowled my best game ever, scoring 150. Louie: 79. Actually, I was surprised his score was that high.
By then he’d had three beers, the pretzel, and a slice of pizza with bacon. He used the men’s room almost every time I shot, as if he couldn’t bear to watch.
“Well, that’s that,” I said when the game ended.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Louie said. “My shoulder’s been bothering me, so I didn’t play like I normally do.”
Neither of us mentioned the second game we’d paid for.