Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vivian's Vortex of Discontent

The Bowl 'n Roll's main business is bowling, but within the confines of the establishment, a dimly lit tavern and a sandwich counter add to the glamor of the bowling alley experience. Redondo, the sandwich maker who has taken sandwich making to a new standard, has a gold capped tooth that lights up his friendly smile against a neon Pabst Blue Ribbon sign.

It's not just me, lots of people have discovered Redondo's sandwich-making abilities. At lunchtime, people are lined up three deep around the counter, waiting for his specialty creations, each one named after a different bowling term: The Strike, The Spare, The Ten Pin, The Railroad, The Turkey, The Lucky Shot, The Crawler, and my favorite, The Gutter Ball. Often, the purchases are made to reward or insult a bowler. Like one time, a guy ordered a Gutter Ball for everyone on the opposing bowling team, hoping, amid howls of laughter, the culinary prophecy would jinx their games.

I don't bowl, but Redondo's sandwiches have become a part of my dietary regimen, so I guess you could say I'm a regular at the Bowl 'n Roll, regular enough for Redondo to greet me with, "Hello my friend, Gutter Ball un momento." There's other regulars aside from the sandwich regulars like myself. There are, of course, the bowling regulars, and then there's the tavern regulars. The tavern regulars often mix with the sandwich regulars as the sandwich counter extends into the bar, and one particular tavern regular perches on the bar-stool closest to the sandwich cash register so she can divide her exposure between the two groups. Her name is Vivian, a little too much lipstick, a little too much Vodka, and a steamer trunk full of opinions.

Vivian has been a fixture at the Bowl 'n Roll since 1978, the year her bowling team, The Alpacas, took the alley championship. There's a plaque in the entryway "to prove it, if you have any doubts." She waves her ice-filled glass in wide, circular gestures while offering her odious commentaries. Vivian is disagreeable and often times downright nasty, but the truth is I'm drawn to her like a moth to a flame, even though it's always me feeling scorched. As soon as Vivian begins one of her barb-filled bombasts, it's like a carnival barker calling, "Step right up, right this way sir, don't be afraid, come listen to Vivian's Vortex of Discontent!" And I'm drawn in every time, like wanting to see the bearded lady but knowing I'll be sorry later and pay the price with a series of nightmares.

All these conversations take place amid the background crackle of tumbling bowling pins. Vivian's favorite response to anything that doesn't please her is, "Oh, give me a break." This phrase discounts all those who don't measure up to her standards. Once, I mentioned Bob Dylan, and she broke into something about how Sinatra was the only singer worth mentioning in her presence. "Bob Dylan," she said with a wave of her glass, "Give me a break."

In an effort to limit my exposure to Vivian, I've been getting my Gutter Ball sandwiches to go, but while waiting, I find myself being sucked into the eddy of her vortex. The other day, she went on a tirade about how there's no such thing as global warming, and when I tried to explain about the polar ice caps melting, her response was, "Warming schwarming, give me a break."

Lately, she's taken to calling me "honey" in a tone that's anything but endearing. After our disagreement about which color M&Ms possess the qualities of an aphrodisiac, she slurred her final remark, "Listen here, honey, it's the yellows, but don't get any ideas; I have a boyfriend who could squash you like a bug," followed by a demonstration with her thumb mashing an imaginary insect on the bar (It's possible the bug may not be the only imaginary thing in Vivian's world).

Once, in an effort to build a bridge of friendship, I bought Vivian a drink, but it had the opposite effect: "What, you think you own me or something, just 'cause you bought me a drink? You bongo-playin' types got nerve. Give me a break." Even when I agree with her, I'm curiously delegated for blame, like when we both mourned the loss of Pluto's designation as a planet, I was reprimanded, "You and your fancy-assed telescopes couldn't leave well enough alone."

This whole unstable relationship is as much about my own culpability as it is Vivian's. If it weren't for Redondo's fine sandwich making, I might be able to end this sour flirtation with her. But several times a week, I pull open the doors of the Bowl 'n Roll, and my arms flail wildly and I spin around, helplessly caught in the swirling vortex of Vivian's discontent.... and somehow, knowing it'll end with a Gutter Ball, it seems okay; a risky road worth taking.

I forgot to mention that each sandwich comes with a complimentary, medium-sized pickle.