It's in these moments, these hastily sputtered turns of phrase shot out of unsuspecting mouths and left to hang long enough to enter my nasal cavity and brush casually up against the yes/no reflex of my weary mind, that I find trouble. It doesn't start with me, see. Here I am, minding my own fingers as they poke into the holes of the public balls at Colonial Lanes, just searching for the perfect weight-to-penetration ratio capable of sustaining my middling "sports" prowess, when somebody I happen to work with, somebody who has likewise been thrust into the context of a collective work outing, opens his jaw and releases a plume of possibility.
"They don't make the right balls to fit my fingers." Said co-worker grabs a pink, then a green, without a shade of irony.
"Isn't that always the way?" My eyes twitch and my chin warbles, summoning the ghost of Paul Lynde. "I tend to go for the red swirly ones, because you know they're already sore!" Ha!
The Orlando Weekly is notoriously creative in its choice of team-building scenarios, almost always opting for the ball-to-pin inclusiveness of sissy-can-do bowling, and I'm fine with that. One year many moons ago, some erratic rumblings from the management random clue generator spat out the rather masculine result "paintball!" and that was the opposite of fun, with welts included.
Don't be fooled, though. These seemingly tame bowling shenanigans involving two hours of light ribaldry, the greased-up wings of dead chickens and innumerable buckets of beer are usually a gateway to somebody sexually falling into somebody else in the bushes outside a karaoke bar, somebody else losing a tire driving home and, with any luck, some inappropriate behavior featuring nudity and very blue language. Let the games begin.
"I'll take a double Stoli and cranberry," I tap my ball-touching fingers on the sunken '70s bar, unexpectedly gifting a fingernail with what I swear is one of Leona Helmsley's wig-hairs. "I'm feeling wiiiiild tonight."
The scrunchy wet curls of the bartendress puff out something covered in nicotine and relating to her 18th grandchild before settling on, "Would you like a lime with that?"
And then there's the bowling. I'm on the (self-ordained) "pretty" team, with two hot girl ad reps and one hot guy ad rep, so I slug back half of my drink and fall neatly into the drunk cheerleading-captain mode that I think will make me most likely to lose my virginity tonight. Every time one of us manages a spare, there's a slanty-armed chest bump; every time a strike should occur, there are spirit fingers in X formations followed by screams and simulated standing sexual acts. We're The Caligula Lebowski, and everybody hates us for it. Mission accomplished.
Or is it? At the bar after the last pin has dropped, the remaining detritus of liquored-up carnal whimsy is just mutating into its droopy-eyed scheme. Somebody burps "Wally's," but noooooo, that's not quite apocalyptic enough for the grimy hands of a recession-era print industry drowning in dark bar sorrows. If we're going to hit rock bottom, let's hit it with our pants down (and fake names).
"Dancers it is, then," burly ad rep J.R. Ewing throws back his last backwash, and before anyone knows it, six of us are on a caravan of shame to the Royale East Colonial breast emporium, each knowing in our dead hearts that this cannot end well.
"Don't worry," belches the Hagman adman, "they take care of our kind here."
And just then, my hymen cherry-pops.
Inside, it's all grubby men and "Don't Stop Believin'" and plastic heels and smoke machines, the sort of tattooed inner thigh of a nightmare I've certainly had before. There's that peculiar dankness of submission, devil-may-care bare breasts wandering around and waiting for their fake names ("Cherry," "Misty") to be blown out of the PA, and the inner knowledge that there are children at home right now not saying "My mom's a stripper." In short, it is amazing.
J.R. orders three full bottles of Three Olives, then slaps a stack of singles on the table like somebody who might just have done this before. I die inside. Within two plucks of a bikini pubic hair, the novelty of the evening turns its blacklight on me. I'm the gay here, see, so any tinges of guilt felt by the surrounding men of means — and the one bodacious lady we'll call Glindsay Labora — can be circumnavigated with an awkward bachelor-party-gone-wrong jump of their probably hardening penises. Not one to look a gift-whore in the mouth, I gladly play along, going all nimble-fingered while slipping singles into gyrating garters and squinching my face into sour contortions.
"Let's buy Billy a dance!" comes the rallying call more than once, as some hapless harlot with handful hangdowns preens untouchably to the undanceable sound of various atoms splitting. By my third drink and private dancer — a dancer for money, who'll do what I want her to do — I'm blurred into an amorous blob of deutschmarks and dollars, so I stand up to engage the dancer, to dance with "Misty," to make her know that she is a human being and not just some glittery skin-bag full of milk with a warm hole on her bottom. I am nothing if not a peacemaker.
"You're going to need to sit down," a giant tattooed arm pounds me down, blocking my good intentions; the music seems to stop and everybody stares.
"But I'm gay!" I scream just loud enough for everybody to hate me, and leave that thought hanging in the smoke of the vulvic air for somebody else to tear apart.
I play with balls.[email protected]