The greatest thing is that Arizona is hot, and that Aliah accidentally left her wallet in her car one excruciatingly hot Arizona afternoon. Her ID, pushed against the plastic sleeve, became completely distorted, and now there is no face on the picture, only the outline of a head, brown hair, and white skin. It could be anyone, but in this moment, the only thing that matters is that it could be me.
The ID is passed around the room, and everyone is supportive. Everyone is ready to walk to Pecs and watch me use it. I don’t know if it’s the Jewish grandmother in me, but immediately I start worrying.
I ask Aliah, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me if I get in trouble?”
Because I am such a worrywart, I imagined walking to this dive bar, showing the ID, getting turned down, then getting thrown in jail for identity theft or something equally ridiculous.
She hands me her expired health insurance card for an extra form of ID, if I need it.
It’s been a year and that ID is still sitting in my wallet. I’m too afraid to use it, even if it has the potential to inflate my social life. Everyone reassures me that the worst that could happen is they’ll take it away, but I’ve convinced myself I’ll be the one exception to the rule, and not only will I get fined, thrown in jail and thus smudge my spotless record, but I’ll also get Aliah in trouble.
∗ ∗ ∗
I’d say the years between 19 and 21 are the most awkward ages to live through. Post-pubescence is awkward, too, but at least when you’re 13, having your mom drop you off at the mall for a couple of hours is an acceptable way to spend a Saturday night.
What do you do when you’re too old for the mall? You could do what I do and hope someone feels like going to see a late movie (the latest showing, of course, because if you go to the 7:30 showing of any movie that isn’t rated R on a Friday night, you’re asking to be surrounded by hordes of awkward preteens holding hands and picking popcorn out of their braces); or you can hope someone is having people over to their apartment to hang out and play beer pong. But no one really likes opening up their apartment to a bunch of drunkies spilling cheap beer everywhere, and movie tickets are stupidly expensive.
So, off to the bowling alley we go. Good, clean, all-ages entertainment lies in the middle of Kearny Mesa, otherwise known for its gun stores, strip clubs, and car lots. Kearny Mesa Bowl is a little grimy, in the fun-loving and charming way only a bowling alley can be. Just off Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, not too far from the 805 and 52 freeways, the parking lot is eerily quiet. The tint on the glass doors makes you wonder if the place is even operating. But as soon as your hand touches the dirty door handle and cracks open the door, doubt is pushed away by sensory overload: crashing pins, muffled cheers of excited bowlers, the mingled stench of french fries and industrial-strength antibacterial cleaner, and a man over the loudspeaker announcing that “numbers 81, 82, 83, 84 and 85 now have available lanes.” That’s right, there is often a wait at the bowling alley.
Beige walls are complemented with a dark-brown stripe and an even darker brown trim. There are large murals on the long walls surrounding the 40 lanes. An ocean-blue stripe serves as a background for a black-and-white checkered lane. At the end of the painted lane is a bowling ball smashing what looks like a perfect strike; this is the ultimate goal. Re-create this picture and your night will be a marvelous one. The carpet is brown-and-black checkers and stained. There’s usually only one man working the counter, maybe two on a busy weekend. This man calls lanes, he rents shoes, and he controls the lights on weekends after 9:00 p.m., when the room turns cosmic. He is the master and commander. Piss this guy off, and you get stuck in the corner lane with the wonky pin collector, next to the kid’s birthday party. Kearny Mesa Bowl also accommodates the older crowd, offering a bar filled with billiard tables and beer on tap. A sign prohibiting entrance to anyone under the age of 21 is plastered on its glass doors. Even at the one place in San Diego I thought I could escape age discrimination, these taunts creep in. Next to the bar is a more kid-friendly and much less glamorous snack bar serving the greasiest of the greasy — burgers, nachos, fried zucchini — and pitchers of soda.
The guy behind the counter looks about as happy as I do to be there. He’s not very excited to put me on lane 18, he’s not thrilled to hear that I wear a size 8 1/2 shoe, and he is definitely not even polite when I ask him to put up the bumpers on my lane.
“They’re not allowed for kids over six,” he says in a drab monotone.
I look at my friend Kim. “But we suck at bowling. It’s going to be a game of gutter balls.”
He doesn’t even smirk. “Sorry, those are the rules.”
I try to get playful. “Come on, friend! Just come to our lane and lift them up for us! It will enhance our playing experience immensely and you’ll maintain customer loyalty! I’ll even fill out a comment card!”
I work retail. I know how it goes.
“Sorry,” he says.
The thing about bowling is how gross it actually is. Thinking of how dirty people’s hands are and the fact that you’re sharing shoes with an entire city is something I try and put out of my head. It’s fun for the first couple games until…it’s not. One time I went six frames without hitting a single pin. And at Kearny Mesa Bowl, the hundreds of people who have scored 300s have plaques placed just above eye level as you’re about to hurl the ball, so that really doesn’t help your confidence.