“So what do you guys want to do tonight?” Jason asked, reaching across the table to grab another handful of my pizza fries.
Simon shrugged. “I don’t know, what do you think, Gary?”
“We could go play pool,” I said, pulling the plate closer to me.
Jason frowned and wiped some tomato sauce from the side of his mouth. “Nah, I’m tired of pool. What about a movie?”
Simon shook his head. “Nothing good’s playing. How about Dairy Queen?”
Jason groaned. “Why do you always want to go to Dairy Queen? You can get ice cream here.”
Simon shook his head. “But no Dilly Bars.”
I rolled my eyes. “We were there last night, you ate all the Dilly Bars. Isn’t there something else we can do?”
Simon shrugged and finished the last of his second burger. Jason started reaching towards my plate again but then stopped suddenly.
“Hey, what about bowling?”
I thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, we haven’t done that in a while.”
“Sounds good,” Simon said.
I picked up the white slip of paper on the edge of the table. “Alright, Simon, you owe 12. Jason, eight.”
“Eight? All I had was a grilled cheese.”
“And half my fries. Pay up.”
After some more arguing over the check, we left the diner and piled into Simon’s old Toyota.
“Looks crowded,” I said as we pulled into the big Sunset Lanes parking lot. We found a spot in the back next to a dumpster and headed towards the entrance.
The stench of stale cigarette smoke greeted us when Jason opened the door. As we passed a few old video games and a tired-looking air hockey table, we checked out the busy alley. Several people, most wearing bowling shirts, were meandering around, sitting and eating, and of course, bowling. The sound of rolling balls crashing into pins rang throughout the building.
We walked across the worn, gray and brown carpet up to the front counter. After waiting for an old man to finish complaining about his rental shoes, I approached the middle-aged, mullet-sporting woman wearing a nametag.
“Hey, can we get a lane?”
The woman smiled, revealing some spaces in her mouth where teeth presumably existed at some point. Then she said something the common man who just wants to bowl a few frames dreads to hear:
“Sorry, boys, it’s league night.”
I groaned. “Why does it seem like every time we come here it’s league night?”
After glancing at a disappointed-looking Jason, I turned back to the woman who was now spraying something from an aerosol can into a pair of gray and brown shoes.
“Excuse me,” I said, gazing at her nametag. “Francine. When exactly are league nights?”
She put down the shoes. “Mondays and Thursdays this month. Next month it’s Tuesdays and Fridays. And once the tournament season begins, well, you just never know.”
“When’s the tournament season?” Jason asked.
“Well, it depends. Odd numbered years it runs from September to January. Even numbered, October to February.”
“But today’s Wednesday, May 15.”
Francine nodded. “It sure is, but today’s the Senior Tourney.” Just then a group of old men, all wearing the same blue shirts, shuffled up to the counter. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Well, what do you think, Gary?” Jason asked.
“I guess we’re out of luck, why don’t we just- hey, where’s Simon?”
After a moment we spotted him in a corner playing the claw machine and walked over.
“Damn it!” he shouted and smacked the machine hard. “Almost got that Kermit Pez dispenser.”
“C’mon, Simon, we’re going.”
Simon slapped the machine again and we headed for the door, passing several unlit, unoccupied lanes along the way.
“Would you look at that?!” I said and stopped. “Nobody’s even using these! They can’t give us one lane?!”
“Will you pipe down?!” To my left, standing in front of a lane was a small prune of a man in a yellow shirt holding a shiny bowling ball. “Some of us are tryin’ to bowl!”
“Oh, sorry, sir, it’s just that me and my friends here would also like to bowl but apparently because it’s league night we can’t get a lane.”
The man stared at me for a moment and then smiled; his lips kept curling until he resembled the Grinch. Then he laughed, a shrill, raspy laugh, and his craggy face began quivering. It was a repulsive sight yet I couldn’t look away.
I felt a tug on my arm. “C’mon, Gary, let’s go,” I heard Jason say. I was finally able to tear my gaze away from the man and turned to go.
“So, long, ladies!” the man yelled between hoarse chuckles. “Better luck next time!”
It was Simon who really started everything. I remember seeing a blur and suddenly the old man was on the floor, his ball rolling slowly towards the gutter. Simon towered over him looking eerily like Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. Except this wasn’t two equally matched boxers in the ring, this was a former All-State shot putter who had just knocked down someone who was probably almost three times his age.
“Dude, you just hit an old guy!” Jason yelled as we sprinted towards him.
Simon looked at us and shrugged. “He was asking for it.”
I nervously glanced around at the shocked elderly faces. “Let’s just get the hell out of here,” I whispered out of the corner of my mouth, and started backing up.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Blocking our path was the man who had laughed at us. He had gotten up and was leaning on a wooden cane.
“I think we’re just going to leave now,” I said quietly.
“You think you’re tough, dontcha?” he asked, pointing a withered finger at us. “Beating up an old guy. Real tough guys, huh? Is that how you get your kicks, goin’ down to bowling alleys and pickin’ on old people? Huh?”
I felt something whiz by my ear and the old man yelled as a bright green bowling ball sailed towards him. He took a shaky step backwards and, with a loud thud, the ball landed on his right foot. The cracking of bone was clearly audible and he yelped and tumbled to the floor.
I turned around and stared at Simon; he shrugged. All of a sudden Jason gasped. That’s when I noticed them. Like a scene out of The Birds we were surrounded; it seemed like almost every senior bowler in the place was suddenly there, silently watching us.
“They killed Lester!” a hoarse voice cried out.
Then, very slowly, they swarmed; canes and walkers and flabby arms flailing.
Before I could do anything, I felt something hard whip across the back of my head. I turned around to see a tall man with a white Lincoln-beard holding an empty bowling ball bag. He was grinning and he easily could’ve given Francine a run for her money in the poor dental hygiene department.
I was a little stunned and backed up quickly. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something sitting on a chair and reached for it. It was a large loafer and in one motion I picked it up and flung it at him. It hit him in the forehead and with a groan, he went sprawling.
I heard a shriek and turned to my right. Near the ball rack a woman in a wheelchair was holding Jason’s arms behind his back while another larger woman wearing a green and purple muumuu punched him in the stomach with a chunky, liver-spotted hand.
I quickly glanced around and then grabbed a ball from the ball return. In perfect form, I took two steps and rolled it; it smashed right into the woman’s thick left ankle and with a squeal, she fell to the floor. Jason broke free of the women holding him and sent her chair flying.
“We gotta get out of here!” he yelled. “Where’s Simon?”
We found him holding two guys in headlocks.
“Simon! Put those guys down. Let’s go!”
He quickly spun in a circle and after a moment released the two men; one went sailing down a lane, almost all the way to the pins; the other crashed into a table.
As if the cavalry was called (perhaps through one of those medical emergency necklace things), several more old people descended upon us. The pungent odor of Polygrip and Vicks Vapo Rub filled the air.
The last thing I remembered was seeing Simon howling and swinging his large arms, sending seniors flying. A terrified-looking Jason was trapped against the wall chanting “please, Gramps, no” and before I could help him, something cold and metallic hit the back of my legs and I went down hard. Once on the floor I quickly felt the sharp pang of dentures sinking into my arms and legs.
And then everything went black.
When I regained consciousness, I was lying with my head in the ball rack. My whole body ached and I slowly got to my knees and looked around. Several old people were sprawled all over the lanes and tables. I couldn’t see Simon but after a moment spotted Jason near the ball return.
“Jason. Hey, Jason,” I called, crawling towards him. His eyes were open but he had kind of a glazed expression on his face. “Jason, are you alright?”
When I finally got to him I saw he wasn’t alright, not at all. All that was left of him was his head, sitting on the ball return next to a blue Brunswick 10-pounder.
I screamed. Just before I passed out again, I heard what sounded like the scrape of a walker on the floor.
“So, what do you think, Gary?” Jason asked. “Bowling?”
Suddenly I noticed the booth across from us. Sitting there, noisily devouring hash browns and fluffy piles of scrambled eggs were four old men. They were all wearing similar yellow shirts.
“Nah,” I said, popping the last fry into my mouth. “It’s probably league night.”
“Okay, so Dairy Queen it is!” Simon said. “How many Chipwiches do you think I can eat?”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED