By Steve Fellner
I remember my father with his pot belly, polishing his bowling ball,
standing on the lane, taking a deep breath, getting ready to swing his
arm back and then forward. I never told my father how beautiful he looked
and how grateful I was that when he threw a strike, he always turned
around to see the audience. He looked relieved when he saw that I was
When my mother worked nights, my father would take us to the bowling
alley. Once I remember seeing men fighting in the bowling alley after
someone missed his spare, causing him to lose his game. He had no money
to pay his debt. I asked my father why no one seemed to be calling the police. My father looked at me and said, “Everyone
knows that man deserves to be beaten. He didn’t do what he set out to
It always amazed me that my father had so much confidence, as if he
always did what he set out to do. Even if he had a particularly hard
spare, he’d announce to his partner: “You better be prepared to win
this one. I’m going to nail those pins.” When he missed, he looked up
at the ceiling, shocked that such a thing could happen, and then cursed
the lanes. I loved that he never found fault with himself.
I took everything personally which caused me to throw my game more often
than not. Eventually, I quit bowling and pursued acting in the school
plays. They often made me student director, denying me a role, making
me the gopher, fetching coffee, writing down the blocking. My father
rarely went to see the plays I wanted to be in.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “Plays aren’t my thing. I just thought you had
real talent as a bowler. In fact, I know you did. You could have probably
My father loved to arrive at the bowling alley when it first opened
at 9 a.m. We would watch huge wax machines painstakingly move across
the lanes, coating them with a thick gloss. They almost looked heavenly
in the way that they reflected light. I never got close enough, but
I bet I could have seen my own reflection. Cleanliness always impressed
me, having grown up in a trailer park. The idea that someone would go
to such lengths to make something so tidy for a sport intrigued me.
Everyone seemed to smoke in the bowling alley. My brother and I would
pick up the cigarette packs people left behind and go into the bathroom
and light up. We’d compliment each other on how mature we looked, and
we did look cool, older. Outside the bathroom, we’d hover around the
chain smokers. When they tried to be considerate and blow their smoke
in the opposite direction, we’d beg them to be rude. We’d beg them to
let us have a drag. They usually acquiesced after they laughed at our
admiration of them.
My brother was so small that he often sat in the trophy case. The trophy
case was pretty big and was placed where people bought their shoes.
The woman who worked there was like another mother to us. When someone
didn’t know what size they wore, the woman asked my brother. From behind
the glass of the case, he pushed his head as close as he could to the
person’s feet and guessed a size. He was usually right. He looked so
cute behind the glass, protected from the more adult sounds of pins
crashing. I liked knowing that he was safe from mature collisions.
Perhaps bowling is why I became such a nervous person. The first sound
I recall is the shattering of pins, the sound of them ricocheting off
one another. I remember going outside after spending the day in the alley and being
shocked and disturbed by the silence, almost angry that God would create
an alternate world, one without the noise that drowned out my own anxieties.
have appeared in Cimarron Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Northwest
Review, North American Review, among others. He has completed an as-of-yet
unpublished memoir entitled Where I Went Wrong.
by emilie valentine,
used with permission