BHB: Unless this is the first time you've read one of my Soliloquies, then you probably already know that Ms Keogh [BAK] is my more significant other. For nearly twenty-five years she has been my sole companion and confidante. During that time we have supported, motivated, even inspired each other in our artistic endeavors. Of the 115 Soliloquies I have previously written, she has been my primary editor, reviewing my first drafts and demonstrating an astonishing lack of self-restraint as critic.
BAK: You’re welcome.
When I’m painting, and I’m stuck on anything, I can always go and pull Bruce away from his desk to come and look at the work and tell me what’s wrong. He has an amazing ability to assess in ten seconds or less what needs more attention.
BHB: When I was asked to make this essay a collaboration, it made sense to invite Ms Keogh. We tossed about ideas, most of them having me doing the writing and her creating illustrations to accompany my words. As we were running out of time, for our collaboration we had decided on a competition. This is a story about our two bowling matches.
BAK: On the drive over to Levittown Lanes, Bruce asked me to teach him the scoring system for bowling. After explaining poorly in the car how to keep score, without the benefit of graphics, I realized on arriving that the attempt was superfluous. The lanes have had automatic scoring systems for years.
Bruce was whining already, before we started, about the lack of practice balls. The smell of fear!
BHB: You could count the number of times I've been bowling in the last twenty-five years on one mauled hand missing a finger. Much has changed. First of all, the alley was automated, which is not to say I was expecting a pin boy hanging above the far end. And I wasn't whining, I was intoning my justification for anticipating a poor score to begin with.
BAK: That’s what whining is.
The first time I bowled was also the first time I went on a date. I was in the seventh grade and Scott Henderson invited me to go out with him on Valentine's Day. He and his mother picked me up and he presented me with a heart-shaped box of chocolate. I was nervous the whole time, worried he would want to hold my hand or kiss me, which I really didn't want to do. I’d never even seen bowling before having recently arrived from Britain, although it looked straightforward enough.
BHB: When did this become about you?
BAK: Background info.
Previously I had done fairly well in most athletic endeavors; long jump, field hockey, tennis -
BHB: She brags.
BAK: - but at this game I was humiliatingly bad. I must have made under forty points the first game and after that I just wanted to get home, climb into bed, and pull the covers over my head.
Not long after, Scott asked me to go steady. I told him I'd think about it, as I didn't want to admit I had no clue what "going steady" meant. When I found out it involved kissing, holding hands, and being considered his girlfriend, I decided I absolutely wasn't interested and told him so. He might have asked why, but I think I just blushed and ran away. After that I avoided him.
Years later I ran into him while I was married to my first husband. We had an infant daughter and were already having problems in our marriage. Scott had trimmed down a bit, wasn't bad looking, and was a saxophone player! I remember wondering at the time if I hadn't made a mistake.
BHB: This is becoming all about you. I really didn’t have to collaborate with you. I could have been clever and written both parts myself. It could have been “Bowling with Jesus”.
BAK: Well, I could have given you a vacation from writing this essay and ghost-written someone far more witty, erudite and wealthy. We’d be in Venice admiring the architecture from a gondola and discussing Ruskin.
Anyway, back to bowling. Our first game I was being far too serious, and in my notes I was writing a frame by frame analysis, and it wasn’t any fun.
BHB: I thought we would have been laughing more, but we weren’t laughing. We were playing in earnest.
BAK: As the game progressed, I started to pull ahead, and Bruce began to try out different balls.
BHB: I had begun with a traditional black ball because it fit my old-fashioned notions. It was very heavy and battle-scarred. The finger holes were too loose. According to my notes, I abandoned traditional notions and changed to a lighter ball that was lime green. With this ball, in frame six, I had my first gutter ball. I switched to a ball with blue swirls. The weight wasn’t as important as finding the right holes. Perfect holes didn’t seem to exist, but the blue ball came closest.
It made no difference. She won. She beat me. First game was over and her score was 100 while mine was 96. It wasn’t going to get any better.
I’ve checked my notes and find that as my game decayed my attention was on the old men who were playing in a lane to our right. They were unwilling to bend, throwing the ball into the air and having it come down on the boards with a thunderous bounce. Such is my curiosity that I asked the manager behind the counter as to the health of the lanes and learned that they are no longer wood. The lanes are now some artificial material that replicates the wood. The original wood lanes were still underneath. The old lanes start with maple, a hardwood that can withstand impacts. As you traveled further down the lanes they become pine. Where the pins get thrown around it is again maple.
BAK: No, I find that really interesting.
BHB: During our second game, a gym class from the local high school arrived to play in the alleys to our left. Why it is I can’t explain, but the presence of teenagers disturbed me. Suddenly, I was self-conscious, convinced they were studying and judging me, this old man, much as I guess I was doing earlier with the older men to our right. My game decayed further.
BAK: They were too busy talking with their friends and flirting with each other to pay attention to you.
BHB: I just didn’t want to leave with my performance as it was. I felt I could do better. I could tell even as the ball was departing my fingertips whether it would be good or not. It seemed like only a little thing was required to bring the damn ball under control. I remembered all the things I learned in childhood, to watch the target, which was the pocket or strike zone, a point between the lead pin and either of the two pins behind it. I remembered the importance of consistency in one’s movements and the follow-thru, raising the arm after the ball had departed as if you were going to shake a hand.
BAK: I was pulling ahead, but had started getting out of breath.
BHB: The second game she had 113 and I had a measly 72. I didn’t think it could get any worse and considered faking a twisted ankle.
BAK: Third game. He was thinking too hard. I wasn’t even trying.
BHB: I was thinking too hard. How do you not think? I couldn’t shake it off. In four frames I had five gutter balls. My game was dissolving. Meanwhile, she would make a spare and then come over and kiss me. I hated liking that kiss.
BAK: It was a sympathy kiss.
BHB: I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted to put terror into your heart. I wanted to shake you up. And then you began to instruct me how I should throw the ball.
The final score of that game: she had 108 and I had 65.
BAK: By the end we were both dissatisfied, so I suggested we go into the adjacent bar for a drink.
BHB: It was Ms Keogh’s idea that we should have a rematch. She made a wonderful suggestion over drinks, that we should have had our drinks first. She said I would probably enjoy the game more, and play better, if I had a few drinks.
BAK: That way he would loosen up.
BHB: Yes, then I wouldn’t feel so uptight. At the same time, drinking would be a handicap for her, giving me a chance to catch up. It was an excellent idea.
Five days later we were back at Levittown Lanes. This time I had dressed for the role, working-class. It was one of those extremely rare occasions when I wore a T-shirt in public. It was a black T-shirt. On the pocket was “CWA Local 1150”, my union, the Communications Workers of America. On the back, in larger letters, it reads “We BUILT it. They BROKE it.” Beneath that, on a tombstone, the words R.I.P. AT&T 1885-2006 Murdered by Mismanagement”. On my head I wore a cap, “MFM, Martindale Feed Mill, Poetry Feed & Seed”. The cap, a gift from my friend –
BAK: Paul Sampson.
BHB: - who lives near Poetry, Texas.
BAK: So when did this become just about you?
Bruce had a Yuengling lager, and I had a bloody Mary (my potassium for the day). I was feeling chilly and borrowed Bruce’s jacket which reduced my flexibility.
BHB: Ah, now you are making excuses.
BAK: Well this was certainly more fun. I wasn’t as worried about my game and I was doing okay anyway.
BHB: I was on my third beer and very relaxed. Philosophers still speculate on the edges of science and I was thinking how at any point in the game a different combination of pins might fall creating a tangent into a different universe.
BAK: Huh? I can see you weren’t over-thinking your bowling, but where did that come from?
BHB: I also found a house ball that suited me. It was another blue ball, this time marked Ebonite Magnum Urethane. Less pearlescent than the others. Ebonite was the name of the manufacturer and not the material. They used to use ebonite, but this one was coated with Urethane. Why did PGP, whose initials were engraved into the ball, give it up and donate it to Levittown Lanes? Probably because the latest technology, I’ve since learned, is using something called reactive resin, a stickier material. In any case, I will be looking for PGP’s ball if ever we go back to Levittown Lanes.
BAK: We played two games and he beat me both times. 97-94 and 141-106.
BHB: The more I drank, the better I got.
BAK: I felt some victory at having predicted the outcome, but I felt we needed a playoff game. Next time only you should have a few drinks before we start. What do you think?
BHB: I’m not sure I want to go bowling ever again.
BAK: But we have to have a playoff to determine who’s better at it. I think it might be you. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that you, with a few pints, will beat me.
BHB: Okay, but let’s also make it a money game.
BAK: Okay, how much?
BHB: You’ll buy me that Yard-O-Led Viceroy Grand Barley fountain pen I want.
BAK: Okay, and if I win, you’ll take me to Venice.
BHB: Uhm, we need to discuss this further, but not here. So who’s going to have the last word?
BAK: By all means, you.
Bruce Bentzman and
This essay is the most recent in
a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr
Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the
writer would be pleased
to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"