There’s a problem particular to bowling alleys. It is beyond the persistent hum of machines and fans, the bass rumble of rolling balls, and the din punctuated at regular intervals by a clatter and occasional butt- and hand-smacks. It’s not just noisy, it’s unsettling. There are no places to retreat, no corners, no booths. Even the chairs are backless. A person is completely exposed.
We were here for a mother/son PSO-sponsored bowling event. We were late, and I was anxious. With every event I have a narrow window of time in which to get comfortable in my surroundings and it requires that I arrive around the same time as or earlier than everyone else. I need to find a place where I can setup base, a safe spot. But we arrived so late that I’d missed my opportunity. My son and I enter, the boy making a beeline for anyone, feeling total confidence he’ll know someone there. I follow and take the farthest stool available where I can still keep an eye on my son and sit.
My purse is my survival toolkit. Like every woman, I have a wallet, lip gloss, a comb, keys, a mini pen and notepad, a cell phone. As a mother, I have the other little necessities: sanitizer, tissue, a couple toy cars in case of emergencies. Because I’m me, I cannot be without a book and a water bottle. A book is to me what the security blanket is to Linus. It’s not only entertainment, it’s protective. As long it’s there, I have something for my hands to do, a place to go, a distraction. Reading a book says, “she’s not lonely, she’s not awkward – she’s quiet.”
Contrarily, I simultaneously want to be unnoticed and befriended. The latter is a desire, the former is a defense mechanism. Today’s selection was carefully chosen in case I’m approached by another mother: The Year of Living Biblically. A light-hearted, slightly quirky memoir, its Jewishness only mildly contentious for this exclusively Catholic crowd. It’s as close as I can bring myself to a perfect choice – perfect would’ve been Twilight or any book with a picture of high heels on the cover. I make a lot of concessions to try and fit in, but cannot bring myself quite to that point.
There’s a gaggle of moms nearby wearing Keds, True Religion jeans, and Juicy Couture hoodies. Terri, one of the mothers, smiles in my direction. Eyes fixed just above my head, she welcomes me cheerily if distractedly. It’s an amusing opposite to the problem women complain about with men. Women are always trying to bring men’s eyes up to the face; women’s eyes need to be brought down. They’re all friendly, intelligent, nice women but we don’t know each other really. I’m open to knowing them, but question whether I have anything to offer. They’re beautiful, bubbly, and wear Spanx that are completely unnecessary. They double-date with their husbands and sign their e-mails with “blessings” and a generous sprinkling of emoticons and exclamation points.
Kirsti appears at my left. “Hey, you! I was just talking to my neighbor about you yesterday!”
“Yes! You know Bobbi! We were talking about how smart you are. You’re so clearly educated! Someday, we should sit down so I can pick your brain.”
“Like a biology cadaver?”
Kirsti giggles. “See, that’s what I mean? Who uses ‘cadaver’ in a normal conversation? You’re so funny! Whatcha reading?”
I show her the book. “A man’s memoir living the Bible literally and the ridiculous things he had to do: not shave, carry his own stool so he knew he wouldn’t share a seat with a menstruating woman, that kind of thing.”
Her eyes mist over a little and she’s lost focus, her eyes scanning the lanes. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have cited the menstruating women example – there were probably better ones. Maybe about the time he threw a pebble at someone in order to “stone” an adulturer? Or is that not as funny to others as it is to me?
“That’s so interesting! I love memoirs, Did you read Eat, Pray, Love? Wasn’t it wonderful?” I did read it, but found it to be the most pompous, self-absorbed collection of psuedo-spiritual exploration ever written. Assuming she’s not looking for my honest opinion, I politely mumble some half-hearted agreements, which brings a casually friendly end to the conversation shortly thereafter. I return to reading, uninterrupted. Soon, it’s time to go.
My son comes over for his shoes. “Are you ready to go, Mommy?” I tuck my book away and we walk to the car. He takes my hand, swinging it.
“Did you have a good time, baby?”
“Yes, Mommy. Did you make any friends?”
“No, but I had a good time reading and watching you.”