Hittin' Stride

Rodger Davis Jackson

Issue 3 * Summer 2000

Almost every weekend, me and Leroy take us a trip to the Rosemont Alleys, and play us some ten-pin. Rosemont isn't that far away -- just like five minutes or somethin', at least in Leroy's red Z. Actually, I guess it don't really matter what kind of car it is we're ridin' in, seein' as it's really that lead foot of his that gets us there so quick. We only got stopped one time by the pigs; he was this big ol' linebacker lookin' fella', and when Leroy started talkin' smart to him, that big ol' cop like to have picked Leroy straight up out through that open car door window and throw him across the road. He didn't, but he sure was mad. Man. We was lucky to get away alive that night. I could've killed that damn Leroy. Damn.

Anyway, we go bowlin' almost every Saturday night. Just the two of us, and sometimes a pal of ours will be at the lanes alone, and we'll ask him to join. It ain't really the bowling games that I go for. That's the only night a week that I spend with Leroy, and bein' as he's my cousin and him bein' such an entertaining talker an' all, it's the conversation that keeps on bringin' me back for more ten pin. Leroy slings a mean ball, too, so he's fun to watch. Me, I just roll them things down the lane, still ain't got ahold of my stride or whatever. Don't see as I ever will. That boy beats me every time, hands down, but I still have me a good ol' time.

So lemme tell you about this one time. It wasn't any sorta' special day beforehand.

I'd just spent the mornin' watchin' some WWF on t.v., watchin' the Shark-man beat the hell outa' Nature Diamond Nic Slap. It wuddun't even a contest, really. But you can't expect much from a guy who wears one of them long feather things around his neck when he comes out to the ring. An' I knew Nic Slap was gonna' get his ass whupped before it even happened, see, 'cause the feather thing he wore that day was pink.

Then I went to work in the kitchen at Applebee's for a couple a' hours. They been shorting me on hours since the get-go, but it's cool 'cause my mom don't charge me rent or board or nothin'. I got to see this redhead girl I was sweet on, too, named Becky or somethin' like that. A hostess there. She always gave me some sort of eye, and we'd chat it up. She's fly as anything too, and I was hopin' someday to get me a bit of that.

Then at 'bout eight Leroy came to pick me up, and hit that pedal to the metal as usual, makin' the Z spin out on the dirt road that comes back to my house.

"So anyway, Jason," (that's my name) "what have you been up to?"

"Awh, you know Leroy," I said, "ain't no vacuum in my design."

Then he went all wacko on me, like I wasn't tellin' him nothin' he didn't know and the like. I said, "Whatever you damn fool." Like I knew what the hell I was talkin' about. I was just quotin' a Flacid Muffin song lyric.

Then, 'cause we was there already, we made us an exit from the car. I had to hit the door with my shoulder to get it open, but I got me a technique down after all these months. Good ol' Rosemont was there flashin' before us in its neon green and purple sign (with the the "m" and the "t" burned-out, like they been since I can recollect). Now, I may not have been 'round in the seventies or nothin', but that there buildin' is as made for the glamour an' shit that any of 'em was back then. It's a purty building with a lot of cool flashy colors inside and out, and them lanes gleam like a still pond. It just looks kinda' old is all.

On the way in, we see Raliegh, a big ol' guy with blond hair who Leroy knew from his high school. Them educated fuckers; they both went to Beesley instead of to some sort of normal schoolin'. Went to school with a pack of rich snobby preppies. But these guys were alright. Just talked big and stuff.

"What's up, you old jerk!" Leroy shouted,"How in the hell are you?"

"Aw, I'm alright," said Raleigh, lookin' bashful or somethin' as he come up to us.

"Cool to hear," Leroy responded. "You wanna' join us for a game or two of ten?"

"Aw, alright, yeah."

"Well then, step on it, jerky. We're going inside right now."

"Cool," said that Raleigh fella. And we went inside. The stale air smelling of beer, nachos, cigarettes and ball wax.

Bam. Soon as we walked in, like . . . there's that gal from Applebee's, Becky or whatever her name is. Just standin' there at the bar all tricked-out n' shit. Her red hair's all curled up and framin' her face nicely. I didn't tell her I was goin' there that night. But I was there with my boys, so I couldn't be makin' my approach, makin' my hip-stuff impression. You know, throwin' my feathers around an' stuff. So I decided right then and there that I wouldn't go up to her or say nothin'. When I finally did talk my stuff to her away from work, she'd be all sorts a' into me, but . . . so . . . whatever. Damn.

But I know she saw me as I walked in, since we looked in each others' eyes, and she smiled. Givin' me that eye again, twinklin' green. I just walked on, though, with my boys, and I think I saw her smile fall.

We grabbed our shoes from the old skinny-ass dude behind the counter with the name-tag "Mr. Angus." He was all like, "What size?" And I was like, "That'll be a ten, Mister Angus, please, and don't spare the ribsauce."

And he gave 'em to me, and they was too small as usual, but I didn't wanna' go back up there an' waste my time, so I just wore 'em anyway.

All this time Leroy was talkin' 'bout his girlfriend troubles or somethin' to me an' Raleigh. But I just didn't get 'em. It ain't my fault, 'cause he wasn't makin' much sense. He was all:

"I'm convinced that names have a serious effect on reference points, or something. 'Cause, see, all the Angies I've even known in my life have had horrible things happen to them when they were pretty young."

And I'm like: "What?" 'Cause I just didn't get it.

And do you know he just stood there, lookin' at me like I'm a damn fool or somethin'.

Raleigh called over to us that the score-screen was ready, so we got right to playin' ten-pin. Raleigh put himself first so he could play first an' strut his stuff. He has his own ball on reserve behind the desk -- he plays at the Rosemont that damn often. So I couldn't figure out how I'd beat him in this game, when even Leroy was lookin' at him like this was Raleigh's game already.

Sure enough, Raleigh side-spun himself a strike straight off. He turned around from his stride, actin' all smug but lookin' like he was tryin' not to but just couldn't help himself, right? I felt right then, at that moment, that I was gonna' hate him for the duration of this game; he was gonna' just kick my ass, but I'd go down' spittin' fire.

Then Leroy started spewin' some more of his run-on nonsense before he walked up to the lane:

"Man, I don't think you understood back there what I was talking about."

Aw, dammit, I'm thinkin'. He's gonna' talk down on me tonight. He does that every once in a while, and I hate it; it makes me crazy as a loon deep down, see? This is why I sometimes have to find some kinda' good excuse to miss these ten-pin nights.

So it was lookin' to me like my next Saturday evenin' was gonna' be free, an' I was thinkin' about asking that Becky (or whatever) to Screech 4 or some other scare-flick, when Leroy bowled him a split an' came back. I started for my swirly green ball, but he started back in with it anyway:

"I'm serious, man." he says to me, "Like Angie Earheart just died in that train-wreck; my cousin Angy broke her back jumping from a tree; and Angee Bluebrass -- you remember her? -- she had that whole downfall with her parents and school and all. Now she has kids, man, you know? Already. Married to some guy in the Air Force in Atlanta or something."

I nodded at him, and stepped to the lane, thinkin' that last one don't sound so bad, I know lotsa' gals with worse shit than that happenin' to 'em. I lined up my ball with that first little arrow out front, so hopefully with the center pin, too. It looks that way, at least. But I ain't no physician or whatever. I almost failed physics in the tenth grade, but Mrs. Murphin was awesome. She's friends with my mom from way back. She at least let me pass, which was cool with me.

I took me two steps back, gathered my energy, and then took my shot, you know, steppin' all ballet-like, and swingin' the ball so that it timed perfectly. The stride. I hit it, like happens only every once in a while to me, and -- SMASH -- them pins went down, each and every one of 'em. Two tottered near the end, but it was obvious they was gonna' fall, and sure enough they did.

"STEEEEE-RIKE!!" I yelled. And did a little dance like James Brown woulda' done, or Michael Jackson back when "Beat It" was on t.v. all the time. Before all that weird shit with turning white and bein' queer with children.

Those two guys just looked at me, then gave me fives. Damn, they were jealous fools. Lookin' at me like I's some sort of monkey-dawg or somethin'. They wanted to be me so bad right then.

But Raleigh went up again, an' Leroy started back in on me:

"I've known three Matts pretty well, too. And every one of them has acted like the world owed them everything just for existing. Like they didn't have to earn respect, they just deserved it."

So I replied that I have in fact known a Matt who was nothin' like that. He was a short little guy with only one ear, an' he just sorta' sulked around my high school, Heights, like a reclusive hermit or somethin'. But I used ta' chat with him, back freshman year when I was the new kid, after I just transferred from South for gettin' beat-up in the hall by a group of assholes just 'cause I was smaller'n them. That Matt kid was nice an' all, just a little weird. When I told Leroy this, though, he just got all huffy, and was like:

"No, this only applies to me. It's like the chain of coincidences which makes it so that I meet Angies -- the spelling doesn't matter, it seems to be the sound that counts. The 'An-G.' Or whatever. You know? And they all have bad things happen to them young. Sort of accident-prone."

I said "yeah," and looked back over to where that cute chick Becky or whatever her name is was standin' before, an' saw she was talkin' to this big guy from my school named Nick, a football player who's a real asshole. Hit a good friend of mine once just for lookin' at him funny. But Becky (or whatever her name is) seemed to be all into him. So. He had a couple a' his football friends with him. All of 'em was wearin' their letter jackets, blue with gold letters n' stuff. I saw him look over at me, a scowl on his face, and I turned away right quick.

Leroy was steppin' to the lane, and Raleigh came up, gazin' over at the jerks who were stealin' my girl.

"Those guys over there are looking at us funny, man," he said. I looked back over at the bar again, and he was right. Those three dudes were starin' right at us. They were actin' kinda' drunk or somethin'. Bein' loud an' noisy, soundin' like a herd of buffalo, which was kinda fitting seein' as that's Heightzes mascot. So I gave 'em a look back and turned around again, noticin' that Becky (or whatever) was lookin' with em'. Thought maybe she'd said somethin' to make em' scowl at us like that, but I couldn't be sure, an' I couldn't think why she'd do such a thing.

I was my turn again to roll (Leroy had bowled him a spare). I stepped up again, lined up. Started to take my stride when I heard one a' them buffalo holler, "Hey!" So I stopped, my ball swingin' out then back in, and made me an about-face.

An' there they was, standin' right up there over the table, lookin' at us, all puffed-up an' the like. Lookin' like badasses. Badass buffalo. "What's this shit I hear about you callin' my friend here jewish?" Nick asks me. He's pointin' to one a' his pals, the white one on his right, a guy who I ain't never said nothin' about, more or less to call him jewish. I told 'em so.

"Bullshit," he said to me, sneerin', "I heard you say it."

"Look, friend," Raliegh said, 'Nobody over here said any such thing."

"I ain't your damned friend," Nick said. He was lookin' all superior. They all of 'em was. There was that fire in their eyes what said they was lookin' for a fight they could win, an' they felt they'd just found it.

"Fine," Raleigh said to him. "But all the same, none of us called your friend jewish."

And then Leroy piped in, "What's wrong with being jewish?" Aw, shit, I thought. That's just the kinda' thing to say ta' get our asses whupped. I put my ball down on the stile.

Them buffalo snickered. "You're kiddin' me, right?" Nick asked him.

"Look, at me," Leroy replied. "I'm jewish."

At that point I just about shit a brick. Leroy ain't no more jewish than the day is long. He looks it a little, I reckon, but that's just on account of his dad bein' from Italy.

"You ain't no jew-boy," one of them buffalo said. He was black, an' I found it sorta' interesting that he was race-slingin'.

"Just look at me. I'm jewish." He pointed at his dark curly hair.

By that time I guess both me an' Raleigh was lookin' at Leroy like he was the craziest fuckin' loon we ever had seen. I know Raleigh was. Me, I was jus' numb all up inside.

I saw Becky (whatever) still over at the bar, with a look on her face like she was glad this was happenin'. Damn. I began right then to reckon that maybe Leroy wasn't so off with all his name-theory crap. The only other Becky I ever known was from a movie, and she killed five fellas in that flick. It was called Black Widow or Spider Woman or somethin'.

The herd a' buffalo stepped down the three steps and were with us in front of the lane. The other white fella' picked up a light black bowlin' ball from the rack there against the wall. I say light. Was probably a niner or the like. They all started chucklin', then he tossed the damn thing right at Leroy.

Now I know for a fact that Leroy don't like to have things throwed at him. He straight up told me as much one time back when we was younger. In fact, as I recall, he was poundin' on my face as he said it. 'Cause I had just throwed some playin' cards at him or some such. He'd been in a bad mood in the first place, but he didn't usually fly off into crazyville like that.

Leroy dodged the ball that feller throwed at him, I don't know just how. Got away with it only landin' on his toe, but damn if he didn't holler a good one. His face got real red, like a fire engine, and he lunged for the guy who throwed it, even though that guy was twice his size. Caught 'im square in the jaw, knocked him on his ass. An' I knew damn well it was party time.

Nick moved to hit Leroy, and I jus' couldn't let that happen, so I charged him with my head down, like a bull or somethin'. I was aimin' for his stomach, but he just kinda' pushed me backward an' sent me sprawlin'. I felt my face get all hot, which meant it was also turnin' red. He looked all like he was gonna' kick me or somethin', but Raliegh stepped in, grabbin' him 'round the neck from behind. They was about the same size, so it was sorta' fair, but then that black fella' punched Raliegh in the back, an' Raleigh got a pained look on his face. He let Nick loose, an' turned to the black guy.

So I was just sittin' there, right? And it occurred to me that, hell, if them assholes could use a ten-pin ball, then why the hell couldn't I? The ball that fella' had busted Leroy's toe with was sittin' right there next to me, gleamin' all black an' shiny, its three finger-holes just beggin' me to go on an' pick it up. So that's what I done. An' I got my ass off the floor.

I took me a good look at the situation. Leroy was still workin' with the fury inside him, takin' advantage of gettin' that first punch in. Limpin' around, but makin' that ball-throwin' cheater feel it. Raleigh was grapplin' with that black guy. Nick was standin' with his back to me all arched-up an' ready to spring on Raleigh's back the first chance he got. Which kinda' decided for me.

"Hey, Slackface," I said, puffin' my chest out and talkin' like the Shark-man. To which Nick turned around, sneerin' like usual. "Why don't you suck in that goddamn gut?" An' I slang that ball at the buffalo with all the strength in me. Felt like my arm moved in some sorta' funny way that was gonna' make it sore as hell in the mornin'. But, bam! It hit that asshole square in the stomach, just where I'd been aimin' at with my head before. I swear to god, I saw the wind come right outta' him in one big gust, and his eyes nearly popped out from their sockets too. They got all bug-like, an' he doubled over, then sorta' crumpled to the ground. He made him a attempt to get up, but he still couldn't breathe, so what was the point, right?

Me, I puffed up. Jus' couldn't help it.

By then, Raleigh had laid that black fella' out on the floor. An' I swear ta' god that Leroy had the other asshole bleedin' from all over. That crazy look was leavin' his eyes, though, an' I guessed his spree was purty much over with.

Just then, Mr. Angus appeared outa' nowhere an was all stammerin' about callin' the pigs an' stuff. So I hit that Nick jerk another 'un in the jaw, said "That's for takin' my gal," an' hollered at Leroy an' Raleigh that we had best get the hell outa' Dodge right quick.

We all started runnin' straight off, still wearin' those damn tacky slick shoes, Mr. Angus callin' behind us that we best hang around or else. But I knowed with my whole bein' that them buffalo wasn't gonna' let any cops know they'd been bested by the likes of us. So more'n likely we was safe.

Becky (or whatever) was standin' there at the bar, lookin' shocked. Hell, I cain't say I blame her. But don't you know that as I ran past I just looked away, puffed myself up, and strutted my stuff right on out the door? If I'd a' had me some feathers, they woulda' been at full mast, boy, and they wouldn't have been nothin' like pink.

Hopped into Leroy's shiny red Z, an' we was gone, just like that. Hittin' the highway in stride.