The ball veered left. It went into the gutter. Less than halfway down the lane. The bowler turns around for the sad Charlie Brown shuffle back the little step at the beginning of the approach. Those strips of wood are so narrow; why don’t they use wider strips, or even narrower strips? He makes it all the way to the little fan. Can he pretend to dry his hands long enough for the ball to return without looking up and seeing the disappointed looks on his teammates’ faces?
Every pin fucking matters, and you’ve just fucking missed ten of them you fuck! This is important stuff, this Monday night league of bowling homos. People aren’t giving up their MONDAY nights to watch you throw gutterballs.
He wants to punch his head so bad, but he knows how much that scares people.
But it feels so good. In a hurtful way.
He takes a deep breath, and, in doing so, makes the mistake of looking up. One of his teammates, the one who takes care of the paperwork because no one else understands it, looks right at him. The bowler knows a lesson’s coming. He knows it’s coming from a pure place of respect, concern, and brotherly love, but he dreads it nonetheless.
The team mate, the one who does the paperwork, delivers the lesson. From back at the table he holds the back of his hands to his head and flicks his fingers out in a poof moment. It’s reminiscent of the “you just blew my mind” gesture, but the bowler knows it means “Clear your mind!”
For some reason, the teammate does the gesture twice in rapid succession. To the bowler, it looks like he’s honking a tiny pair of tangerine boobies at head height. Now you’re thinking about boobies? It’s a gay league, and you’d get to draw a naked man card for the side bet if you’d ever get a mark. Nothing but gutterballs and with the occasional impotent trip to the pocket for a split, though. He did get a strike in the third frame. “Now just do that six or seven more times,” laughed someone from the opposing time. Everyone actually is pretty nice, except for that one guy from that team he bowled the other week. Never smiled once.
That guy looked like the guy on the card he drew for the strike, and oddly flaccid four of clubs. The bowler wishes they’d mix it up with a deck of lady nudie cards.
Get out of your head.
Why does that dick on the other team, the one who’s obviously still mad at you for not voting for him for most creative costume a few weeks back at Halloween, keep throwing his little yellow ball wipey towel on top of the fan? Doesn’t he know that people need to hide in that fan? The bowler gingerly moves the towel aside, not wanting to draw the wrath of a man who actively lobbied for most creative costume. You could’ve been nicer when he went from lane to lane showing it off. But come on, he was dressed as Pizza Rat, and all your face did was convey the emotion of “You got a costume online based on last week’s meme. Were they out of Dramatic Prairie Dogs?”
The bowler sees his ball drop into the tunnel between the lanes. Why don’t they line the tunnel with little wipey towels so the balls are nice and shiny for everyone? But then he figures that would be stupid because ball wiping is an important ritual. Still, he never knows when he should wipe his ball. So he wipes it every third frame just so people see him wiping his ball, being normal.
Gutterballs are not normal. The bowler therefore is not normal.
Everyone is watching. Why not? Gutterballs are endlessly fascinating. There are literally an infinite number of points where the ball could fall off the lane. There’s an infinite number of ways the bowler can be not normal.
The bowler thinks of the lesson he got that afternoon from the professional coach who was both gold-rated and, according to the bullet point on the website, Coach Ukraine National Bowling Team, 2008-2013. The bowler wonders if world events caught up with the bowling coach. The bowler feels small, but still remembers the lesson: arm parallel to body to begin with; second step that doesn’t look “weird;” SWING HEIGHT!; right foot at 7:30 to end. But mostly focus on SWING HEIGHT!
The bowler picks his ball up. Don’t use a death grip. Out of the corner of his eye he see his teammate do that boobie squeeze thing again despite that fact that the bowler asked him to look out for his swing height. Boobies!
Initial stance. Parallel arm. “Normal” second step. SWING HEIGHT! Right foot. Oh, and follow-through. How could you forget about proper follow throw? Shake hands with the head pin. Grab the head pin’s balls. Reach for the ceiling.
The bowling feels like he’s Heil-ing a particularly silly Hitler with an even sillier stache.
Gutter. Right one this time. Infinite ways to not be normal.
The bowler avoids all eye contact, and head for side door that the smokers use. He slips off his shoes. Apparently, bowling shoes are the most fragile of all footwear and cannot ever never ever touch the ground outside.
The bowler looks up at the few stars he can see through the haze of the city light and wispy clouds. He takes a deep breath. Tries to do some circular breathing. Fights the urge to punch the brick wall next to him. People don’t like that. And his hand would swell, and he couldn’t continue bowling.
Get that idea out of your head. Be normal. Clear you mind like a normal person.
He turns to go back inside. The door is locked. He can see but not hear the others bowlers. No one can hear him.
Normal people looks so excruciatingly happy with the sound off.