A Slow Build to the Gutter

The decided lack of bowling allusions in pop culture in comparison to, say, “sports” like football or baseball is rather surprising considering how much more of a grand metaphor it is for life above all else. Alas, the only legitimate offerings to prove as much are The Big Lebowski and Kingpin. And even if she was a suburban goth princess, Elvira (that’s what she made people call her, though her name was actually the more approachable Olivia) wasn’t averse to acknowledging the poetry of the game.

This is precisely why you could find her at least once a week between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. at The Deadwood, knocking down pins for the sheer catharsis of it whether a friend or acquaintance accompanied her or not. Often, it was not (goths were too cool for everything, after all, most especially “athletics”), which is how she came to find herself as part of a mere perpetuation of the once common 50s-era stereotype that those who bowled were dregs, low-lifes. She didn’t care, even if everyone around her most assuredly embodied the trope. The release it gave her was too valuable. Too uniquely precious. Even if it meant her share of more than occasional odd encounters at the bowling alley’s bar. Sequestered from the main area and its disco ball-lit lanes (replete with disco hits playing on a loop, as one would expect of an environment so frozen in time). And because Elvira’s life was, well, a life, she took it upon herself to drink whenever she could afford to (which was rather often considering her scant wage and equally scant ability to work very many hours).

Yet, in spite of her intermittent visits to the bar, there were still a great deal many more loyal and regular barflies than she. One such barfly, Rick, would while his days away at a corner seat, regaling the mid-40s bartender, Tiffany, who needed meth in order to will herself to even show up for this job, with tales of nothing.

On a particularly slow Wednesday afternoon, Elvira, all bedecked in her long, form-fitting black lace gown, sashayed into the place after bowling a game consisting primarily of gutter balls of the worst variety–the kind that initially appeared as though they might hit at least one pin but then sneakily sauntered on over into the proverbial gutter. Again, there is no sport more metaphorical for the trajectory of existence than bowling.

Long ago having been rendered utterly disinterested in “men,” and anything they might have to “offer,” Elvira’s blinders to them were fairly well-established. Thus, when she bristled and guffawed at the seemingly strung out bartender suddenly snapping to attention to brusquely demand, “Can I see some ID?,” the expectant order prompted Rick to titter, “Welcome to California.” As though Elvira herself was not a native. Wasn’t “in” on the joke about how incongruously strict the state had become with their crackdowns, slapping businesses with fines whenever an older-looking plainclothes cop went in to order and wasn’t asked for ID. This much was also explained by Tiffany at the sight of Elvira’s vexation. And as Tiffany reverted to her docile, drugged out persona while pouring Elvira a Stella Artois (decadent indeed, by bowling alley standards), Rick, once more endlessly amused by his stock joke (as though he were a wind-up doll with but one phrase on hand to “enchant”), laughed to himself as he noted, “Welcome to California.”

It made Elvira want to throw the drink right in his face to shake him out of his dullard’s haze. That was the true irony of him thinking he was clever by saying, “Welcome to California”–for he was the one-man welcome wagon signaling the slow-paced malaise of the state. She knew if she tried to explain this to him, however, he would not understand, perhaps would only continue laughing in that Beavis or Butt-Head way. Soon, Tiffany was affixing a wristband to Elvira’s arm so that she could roam freely about the giant confines of the space with her beverage in tow.

Rick side-glanced her as she started to amble away. “Hey, why don’t you stay here and finish that before I gotta go to my mechanics class?”

“You’re trying to be a mechanic?” Elvira inquired, instantly knowing she had made a mistake by further engaging him. That it would open a floodgate of “camaraderie” on his part. Make him falsely confident in her actual interest in anything to do with him or his meager existence. But it was too late, he had been unwittingly reeled in by her sarcastic charm (for that was another thing about Californians: their sense of sarcasm was not so finely tuned)–mistaking it for a genuine attempt to charm. So it was that he began to spin his yarn, though, in truth, it didn’t matter how attentive she was (or wasn’t). The mere presence of a human husk was enough to serve as a “viable” audience.

Elvira wrestled with the notion of simply walking away, reckoning that he might not even notice the difference, yet, as soon as she started to perform a sort of delicate backward tiptoe, he raised his voice louder, almost as a means to assert that he was still talking to her (even if it was at her), and that no one else would do. She supposed politeness was the bane of the suburban goth as opposed to the city goth–and the reason she found herself guzzling beer with a simpleton at 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in the middle of January. A time when people were supposed to be detoxing (like that was really an option so long as one inhabited this toxic earth). Save for the sort of degenerates that hung out at a bowling alley though. Where it was forever, essentially, the mid-twentieth century. Then again, there were worse time periods to trap oneself in (just ask Bill and Ted).

And if Elvira was going to surrender to her existence being just another slow build to the gutter called below averageness (as evidenced by her numerous baby splits and bad racks–all while trying to “stay in her lane”), it might as well be right here, right now. With Rick. Just as subpar, just as rightfully belonging in The Deadwood at midday in January. If life was solely a series of splits and strikes, Rick and Elvira had successfully accomplished nothing more than a blind score.

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