You and your friends are going bowling!
You choose Dino Drac’s Bowling Alley. Of course you do. It’s the one you grew up with. The one that was halfway remodeled in 1997, but pretty much looks the same way it did in 1986.
It’s a warm blanket in the form of a seedy bowling alley. It used to have the TMNT arcade game.
You hate wearing bowling shoes, but rules are rules. Since you don’t know how to tie shoelaces, you just sort of wedge your feet into them while leaving the existing knots unmolested. You look really dumb while doing this.
The night is off to an iffy start.
Next you pick your bowling ball. You were hoping for one of the neon ones, but none are the right weight. You tell everyone that your 9 pound ball is really 13 pounds. You feel like they’ll laugh otherwise.
The bowling part is fun, but only for a few frames. You always get a lucky strike to start, but then it’s gutterball after gutterball. After a while, it feels more like you’re just waiting for your turn to go sit in the dunk tank.
You tell your friends to play without you. No one puts up a fight or really even responds. Perhaps they expected this. You are, after all, historically difficult.
You go exploring. That’s the real draw of any bowling alley. Why else would there be 500 people in a place that can’t handle more than a hundred bowlers at a time? Are there really 400 people waiting to bowl?
There’s a certain energy in the air. There always is at bowling alleys. Nobody seems like themselves. People in bowling alleys act so subtly drugged out, or like they just woke up, or like they’re somehow unaware that they have high degree fevers.
It’s kind of nice. Like wandering around some alien world that just happens to be populated by beings that look human.
You stop at the snack bar, because it’s criminal to go to a bowling alley and not stop at the snack bar. They’re always the same — like a diner mixed with a pawn shop mixed with the sad remnants of some low budget company picnic.
The clientele is exclusively composed of people who cannot possibly be here to bowl. They are the chaperones, the vagabonds, the unwell. You feel at home with them.
The snack bar is run by Dino Drac himself, no doubt trying to save money by not hiring legit waiters or cooks. You want to ask him for a clearer explanation of “corn dog bites,” but he seems aggravated enough as it is.
You just order some fries. You know from prior experience that they’re good, but the fact that everyone else at the snack bar ordered the exact same thing only bolsters your confidence.
Is it possible for fries to be really oily and really dry at the same time? Because these are. Few storied gourmands would agree, but to you, they’re perfect.
You notice a few quarters in the change from your bill. You know just where to go next.
The alley’s game room could best be described as “here’s a bunch of shit piled in a corner, have at it.”
It’s almost empty, save for that one dude who clearly has no interest in any of the games, but will for 100% certain manage to stand exactly where you want to stand for the duration of his stay.
Sure enough, there he is, staring lovingly at Arkanoid but never actually playing it. Your soft gestures of impatience grow into out-and-out dominance displays. You only stop short of literally screaming.
The dude, of course, won’t take the hint. Or maybe spiting would-be Arkanoid players is just his thing? Why else would this stupid jerk who wears sunglasses in a bowling alley keep standing there? There, right there! In front of Arkanoid! Arkanoid, of all things!
(Arkanoid game provided by Classic Games Arcade)
Arkanoid is interesting. You swear you remember being good at it, but every time you play, it’s the same story: Three lives gone in two minutes, and you haven’t even passed the first level.
This time is no different.
As you walk away from the machine, you notice Sunglasses Dude nearby. He’d been watching you play. He swears a smug look, but not so smug that you have absolute proof that he was laughing over your shitty Arkanoid skills.
At least, that’s what you tell yourself as you leave the arcade, ashamed that you didn’t just kick him in the face.
You decide you need a drink. The bar is full of regulars. I mean, you don’t know that they’re regulars, but you still know they’re regulars. They have to be. They’re as familiar with this place as a spider is with its web.
They smell your fear. It’s like being the new guy in prison, but since we’re at a bowling alley, I more specifically mean the prison from Star Trek VI.
Your Budweiser arrives warm, and in a plastic cup. You notice a suspicious amount of frosty mugs around you, leading you to wonder if they’re strictly for regulars. Whatever, it’s beer.
You should have kicked Sunglasses Dude in the face.
It’s time to check on your friends. If shit ends up going down with Sunglasses Dude, you might need back up. Besides, the only part of the bowling alley that you haven’t explored is the billiards room, and that place is even scarier than the bar.
You notice the carpets. Everyone does. People make fun of bowling alley carpets, but when you see them, you think “throw blanket.”
Your friends aren’t nearly as far along as you thought they’d be. You sit for a while, fiddling with your phone. The connection inside the alley is awful.
You decide to rejoin the game. It beats waiting five minutes for conjectural wrestling scoops.
At this point, your disinterested participation is an outright nuisance. When you state your intentions, your friends let out purposely audible sighs. You’ve heard those sighs before. Like the plastic cup at the bar, those sighs are exclusively for you.
Another fuckin’ gutterball.
Why’d you want to come here, again?
(In six months, you’ll be dying to go back.)