We knew things were totally in the gutter when we’d start going to the bowling alley. Or even when we were just talking about it. It’d be a Saturday night and one of us would hit the group chat like: does anyone want to bowl? And no one would respond for seventeen hours because no one wanted to say yes, even if we all did want to bowl, because saying you wanted to bowl was like saying yeah, I got nothing. But sometimes we would meet up at Scott’s house to kill time, watch Family Feud or Baggage with Jerry Springer, tease Scott’s little black-and-white dog which was sequestered in a dark corner of the living room whenever guests were over because it was hateful and suspicious of strangers, all the time sneaking sips of a mix of regular and watermelon vodkas out of a Dasani water bottle (except Scott, who was going to drive), and eventually we’d say fuck it and slump into Scott’s Forester and ride to The Playdrome, which smelled like dust and gasoline and still had ashtrays built into the couches, and we would try to order beers with our fake IDs and play pool in the backrooms, sending the cue ball racketing over the edge every few breaks, letting the quiet men in dull, heavy shirts with frayed sleeves teach us new variations, Carom and Cutthroat, then bowl a bit and hit on the other teenagers, the girls with nacho cheese hair who worked scrubbing shoes and mopping lanes and heating up soft pretzels, and we would all laugh and roll our eyes and jab each other in the collarbones saying this sucks, this blows, we would rather die than ever come back here, promising out loud to each other and silently to ourselves that it would not be like this forever.
And it wouldn’t be. The Playdrome is now called NextBowl. And sometimes I drive down there, search for faces I know, and wait around for something half as good to happen again.
Samuel Milligan lives and teaches middle school English in Washington, D.C., where he is also pursuing a master’s degree in education. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College, where he studied English and Environmental Studies. He is originally from southern New Jersey, where listening to Mike Missanelli’s Philly sports talk radio show on the way home from school every day for several years perhaps permanently poisoned his brain and soul. He writes short fiction, mostly.