I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

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June 21, 2007

It is almost time to return to the websites of our youth, almost time to speak again of the early summer crazy. I am back from Hiroshima, back from Australia and Thailand and Cambodia and Vietnam, back in Chicago. I have some things to post from the back-log before I really get caught up, though.

Below is an entry that I started last July and never finished. It's about bowling and some of the students from Hiroshima. I can't remember how much more I planned to add, but it has a narrative and establishes some suspense, so I think it's worth passing on.

July 24, 2006

There was another school bowling event a couple weeks ago. This was the second of its kind; in an earlier entry, I described how the first one began with frustration and ended with delicious maple cream cookies. Evidently, I had talked up these maple cream cookies so much they ascended from third prize to first prize this time around. Second prize was a jar of some kind of seaweed jerky, and I didn't get a good look at third prize; the "good effort" prize, which as far as I can tell was given to the bowler with the worst score who was the biggest spaz about it, was a can of Hanshin Tigers coffee. I wasn't on the prize committee. It's the sole province of a demented, cheerful old lady who enjoys failing to learn anything about pronunciation from me on Saturday afternoons.

(She respects my authority as teacher and would never contradict me, but I have to keep an eye on her during class, because she is fond of instructing the other students on any points that I do not specifically cover. I had to dedicate like half a class to un-learning to make the 'you' in 'thank you' high and squeaky because of her. She had taught them that your intonation should go up really sharply on 'you', and they're all terrified of her, so they do what she says. Meanwhile, this woman doesn't even know how to introduce herself.)

Always optimistic about the future

The second time was bigger than the first; the students who organized the event had so much fun last time that they drew up rosters, diagrams and flow-charts for this one. (That's how the Japanese show they are having a good time.) There were to be three games. Each teacher was made captain of a team, and the team rosters changed every game in order to give all of the students a chance to flourish under their favorite foreigner's leadership. That, also, was not my idea. I'm paid to be a pleasant, encouraging figure in a classroom. I'm not paid to be that way at a bowling alley. The rules are different in a bowling alley. Nobody gets congratulated for anything less than a mark, and a score of less than 100 is cause for great shame and embarrassment; if there are nihilists in the parking lot, we fight them, and if you throw two gutter balls in a row, you are banned from bowling in the presence of other human beings for at least one year. I don't think any of that is unreasonable. Unfortunately, the other teachers were being model cheerleaders for their charges, making me look like a sullen mope instead of the figure of unimpeachable integrity that I actually was. When my "team members" jumped around and squealed with delight over making contact with the pins - and looked at me for approval - I didn't know what to do, so I stuffed eight Ricola tablets in my mouth and abdicated the ability to speak. (I'm not totally positive whose Ricola tablets those were. There was a bag of them, so I helped myself.)

Predictably enough, I started slowly. The Ricola tablets were down to a relatively manageable blob by the middle of the second game, and I began rolling well. I only registered an 8 in the first frame of the third game, but then a zen state descended upon me and I reeled off eight marks in a row. It was, perhaps, some manner of Ricola-induced derangement; I don't know. My memories are fuzzy. I remember a lot of chest-bumping with a Japanese guy who was bowling well at another lane. I've forgotten his name - I do remember that he only knew one English preposition, 'near', and he had discovered that people thought it was hilarious if he just kept using 'near' instead of learning any other prepositions, even though his teacher was annoyed at everyone for encouraging him, so there was a lot of chest-bumping and yelling "near!" - but when I emerged from the zen state, it was the tenth frame, and a huge crowd of people had been watching me for some time, and I didn't pick up the spare, leaving me just barely short of 200. I hadn't looked at the score since the beginning of the game, so I honestly didn't even know I was close. Someone told me, and I crumpled to the floor.

I should explain that I want that 200. I want it like I used to want to be president, like I used to want to be an astronaut; I want it like I used to want to be published. I really want that 200. The thing about bowling - what separates it from almost every other sport - is that the circumstances never change. It's always you, your arm, and a ball with three holes in it - always ten pins at the other end of a long, wooden lane. In basketball or soccer, one game may be drastically different from another because of the opponents, or your overall physical fitness, or even the conditions of the place where the game is played. Each game is its own, independent entity. But bowling exists outside of time and history. When I bowl, I am bowling in that moment, but I am also bowling in every game I have ever bowled. I am still with my friends at the Diversey Rock 'n Bowl in Chicago on a Tuesday night, and I am still alone at JJ Club Ichi Maru Maru in Kyoto, waiting for the rain to pass. Nothing is past. Every game is a response to every other game; everything is everything. (And that's why 300, a perfect game, is not something I like to think about; it represents transcendence, but it also represents death.)

I picked myself up off the floor, now aware of my failure. At the prize ceremony, I was awarded first place, and the delicious maple cream cookies. I had been far and away the winner of the total pin count and three-game average. Everyone congratulated me. But I could think only of the failure. I didn't know how to say "I want to die" in Japanese, so I did the best I could, which was to say "I am going to a grave", which confused everyone.


So there is that; we are back in the present day, in 2007. We all went bowling several more times in the months that were to come, and had a grand old time doing it. I still haven't bowled 200, and haven't really come any closer than I did then, but I've had some respectable games. My friend and frequent correspondent Arden emailed me a few weeks ago about a book he was reading where a Japanese general, Shoichi Yokoi, returned from his second tour of duty in the war and said, "It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive." I guess that's what I was going for with the end of that entry. Well, now it's published.

I keep forgetting how much I enjoy this sort of thing. Jesus! I haven't even written on here about the monkey painting that I bought. That will be the next topic.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.