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Suburban Island

Cosmic Bowling
Friday, Jan. 24, 2003, 11:54 p.m.

Question: What could be better than bowling for dollars?

What I learned: There are many places where smoke gets in your eyes and not all of them are particularly romantic.

I recently took my youngest cosmic bowling. When you go cosmic bowling the lights go down, the music turns way up, black lights glow, and disco lights start to rotate and spin. There used to be a fog machine – maybe it was too retro because there’s only second-hand smoke hanging in the air these days.

The kids love it.

I get an iced tea and write to-do lists in the dark. The lady at the snack bar gives me extra ice. I think she feels sorry for me because I have bought so many orders of french fries from her and filled so many of those little white paper cups with watered-down ketchup. It's not so bad though. You can write a pretty good list if you sit just where the spinning light hits the table a couple times a minute. Sometimes I doodle instead, like I am writing down something really important, and think about how I am going to get to sleep late in the morning – cosmic bowling is a weekend gig.

This past week we hit the cosmic scene early. As we arrived older folks with bowling ball bags on wheels were pushing though the door towards the parking lot. A visible cloud of smoke trailed behind them as if attached by gray strands of string to the cigarettes dangling in their fingers. They were on their way home to the soft glow of a TV set, the sound of bowling ball against pin still rolling around inside their heads.

Inside the league crowd was still hanging out. They are the real thing. They are hardly ready for TV. Who knows what’s next this evening for them. The smell of smoke and beer, intertwined in the stale air, seems to be a sort of perfume to them. I dodge a guy demonstrating bowling techniques between the snack bar and the ladies room. I sidestep a woman excitedly waving a cigarette in the air while dissecting the evening, play by play, with a guy in a real bowling shirt. Plastic cups of beer are drained in quick urgent swigs. These are serious bowlers talking about serious bowling things. There is no time to linger over beer or monitor the movement of your cigarette. There is only bowling.

In the meantime, the cosmic bowlers are arriving. The cosmic bowlers are the party bowlers. They like to eat their french fries and onion rings in the semi-dark while the music blasts. They drink a lot of coke. They are mostly teens and pre-teens. Many parents lurk in the background buying trays of fries, slices of pizza, and fetching sodas by the gallon, without even the consolation of a lite beer to sustain them.

At some point they will play some song about a chick with cha cha hips, who is certainly not holding down a regular daytime job. Small children cavort about – oblivious. Maybe their parents have gone deaf or are wearing earplugs or are just worn down, what with the constant sound of bowling balls rolling, demands for items from the snack bars, and forking over every last quarter for the video game arcade.

There are other songs that are a sure thing on the cosmic bowling hit parade as well. Something about trailer park girls going round and round, a Justin Timberlake tune that sounds suspiciously like a Michael Jackson song, some kind of ode to army shoes, a song that simply repeats the words – jump, jump, jump (this one really gets the crowd going), a chick who digs being like a Barbie doll, and a song by someone from the 80’s just to break up the monotony.

I pay by the hour instead of by the game. One hour, thank you. After all, even a mother has limits.

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