My boyfriend Ginno is a pro-bowler. It is not as glamorous as it doesn't sound. I was on the streets for a long time so I took the first chance I got to settle down. Ginno doesn't know I'm really a man, but other than that we're completely honest with one another.
I keep saying I don't want to get married because "Honey, it's a piece of paper. Know what else is a piece of paper? A dry-cleaning receipt." Luckily Ginno isn't much of a detective. He doesn't dig too deep. He just goes to the alley and rolls the balls.
That was where he and I first met. Ginno was breaking the house record and a big crowd had gathered around him, so I put down my Sea breeze and went to go see what the fuss was all about. My Tuesday night regular had been a no-show. This was fine by me; the guy's cologne was suffocating. He liked to wear a captain's hat and made me pretend the botched anchor tattoo on his arm didn't look like a green worm.
I knocked my way up to the front of the crowd and there he was: trim moustache, thin-rimmed glasses, white bowling shoes that made him look kind of disabled. I don't know, Ginno saw my breast implants and makeup and big hair and just fell for me. I do it up 80's style or I don't do it at all, go big or go home. That kind of thing.
He took me home that very night. When we got back to his place, I looked around and just decided this is it: I will become the queen of kitsch. Cuckoo clocks, red dice napkin holders, all of it. It was a gamble but it paid out almost instantly. The first week I moved in he won a regional that paid $10,000 and he split it with me 50/50.
I didn't do what you're thinking, drugs or whatnot. I put it back into us. I gave half of it back to Ginno to help with a down payment on a conversion van and spent the rest on gear for tournament travel—an eight-piece set of rolling luggage and a handful of velvet pantsuits. We also got a little dog named Gogo that I could take to all the practices and the games for company. I'm really in this thing with Ginno, committed. I go to every game, every time.
He practices weekdays at Pins and Pockkkets, an alley right down the street from our condo that opens at 9 a.m. It's run by white supremacists. Ginno somehow hasn't caught onto that. Please don't get me wrong, that's not my belief system—I'm a minority too, my upstairs vs. my downstairs. But it's right next-door and they just love Ginno so I turn a blind eye. I take Gogo (Chinese Crested, ugly as a newborn) there with me, and she and I sit at the gaming machine for most of the morning and the afternoon. I keep my fingernails long to tap cards on the screen with. It hardly takes any energy.
And they let me drink for free, because Ginno's such a wiz. Their well vodka tastes awful but it's not bad with 8oz of Clamato mixed in. All day long I get my vegetables. They let me play the claw machine for free too; I just have to give back all the stuffed animals I win before I leave because I'm so damn good.
Sometimes they talk about "queers" and throw around the n-word. It's hard to keep my peace, but I don't really like to open my mouth when I'm at the alley anyway—my breath smells like tomato and clam and Virginia Slim Menthols. When I see Ginno start to walk over towards me, I shove Altoids into my cheek pockets like I'm a hamster.
"You've given me a whole new life," Ginno tells me every time I blow him. I don't think that he was a virgin or anything before we got together–maybe he was; he doesn't ever move during it, he just lies there frozen like he's witnessing an earthquake. He certainly has never been with someone as experienced and in-tune to the cravings of the male organ as I. Few have. Less than eight hundred, I guess, if you count clients as well.
Supportive as I wanted to be, life at the lanes got a little dull. So I found a hobby I could take to the lanes while Ginno practiced: bejeweling and sequencing holiday-theme sweatshirts. I began rolling my whole setup with me to the alley in the little suitcase from our new 8-piece luggage set. It took me a while to learn how to keep from gluing things on crooked when my buzz creeped up, but I adapted. Whatever I am, I'm nothing if not adaptable.
The sweatshirts got better and better. One day Ginno said, "Babe, those are good enough to sell." So I went to a few boutiques and started consigning them. Things were rosy for our whole little family: just picture us in the living room after dinner, Gogo running around in a mini jewel-sequins bowler shirt, myself in a human-sized matching one, she and I literally the sparkling light of Ginno's life.
Thank God, his mother is all the way across the country in a Montana nursing home, something about her spine. His sister lives there too. He doesn't talk about his mother or his sister much, but I get the feeling they bossed him around when he was growing up. Even though he's getting to be quite a big-name bowler, I hear them treat him like a nobody on the phone.
They didn't even call when we were on ESPN with Gogo. Ginno placed second in Nationals–$30,000! Of course I ran from the stands with Gogo and we both planted kisses all over his face and the brushy inchworm of his moustache, "Jesus I'm SOMEONE!" I wanted to scream. Both of us, we were finally really somebody.
But the sad thing is, everybody is always somebody, even when he's nobody. I used to be a nobody's somebody. I used to belong to a pimp named Daddy Valentine.
A few weeks later Gogo and I were taking instructions off the TV on how to cook a roast, multi-tasking, painting our nails at the same time. My toes were all stretched out with cotton balls and polish, the same color as Gogo's. She's a princess in pink.
When the doorbell rang I was a little baffled—Ginno wasn't due home from the lanes for hours and it's not like we have friends. But the vodka had made me cordial—vodka before cooking; vodka so that if and when I start another grease fire I don't get overly agitated.
When I opened the door, a large zebra-print shoe landed on my toes and I yipped. "It's your man, it's Daddy V." He took off his sunglasses, looked around the condo and whistled.
Daddy had been flipping through channels during Ginno's bowling game and he'd recognized me on ESPN.
Gogo offered a small growl but was afraid of Daddy's fur coat.
"Get out of here, Daddy. The person you knew is long dead. I mean it; leave or I'll call the cops." The estrogen has done such a great number on my voice. Despite feelings of terror stinging me all over like jellyfish tentacles, I couldn't help but savor how much I sounded like a distressed heroine.
"Well now see," and then Daddy reached into the purple silk lining of his leather jacket and pulled out a folder. I realized: I'm totally sunk. "I don't think you'd want the police here, because then your lover man would find out he has a lover man."
I paused. "What do you want?"
He wants the money. All of it, the whole pot of Ginno's winnings. Daddy didn't change the channel until he saw Ginno receive an oversized $30,000 check.
The terrible part is that I know I could invent some story that makes it seem like I really need the money and Ginno would have no problem giving it to me. Somehow that means there is no way that I could ever bring myself to do it. He's the first and only decent man I've ever been with. And that makes me a decent woman.
But I wouldn't be anymore. Not if I did this.
"Ginno already spent it," I lied. "He owed some people big and used the money to square things up with them."
Daddy popped a switchblade knife open. I followed as he walked over to our novelty calendar hanging above the dinette in the kitchen. It's one of those calendars where the month rips off but the picture never changes. In this case it isn't a picture at all but a giant bowling pin that says 12 MONTHS OF ROLLIN' right beneath the pin's stripe.
He used his knife to slice off months and stopped at March. He then stabbed the third Thursday. March 24th.
"Tell me, what happened on this glorious day?"
"It's your birthday," I muttered.
"So if this is my birthday, all these months away from now, there's no way I could've been born yesterday, is there?"
I didn't know what to do. My first thought was to run out to the van with Gogo, but that plan would be a battle of my vodka buzz vs. my 6-inch heels. My secondary concern was that even if we ran, Daddy would find us or find Ginno and tell him everything. I know how Daddy works: if he didn't come away with something, I would lose everything.
"I'll get your damn money," I yelled. "Now get out of my condo." Of course, Daddy took his time sauntering out the door, looking at pictures of Ginno and making moustache jokes.
The second he left, Gogo whimpered. She knew as well as I did that trouble lay ahead.
Damn him! I wept for hours until my eyelash glue began to run and sting. I attempted the roast and poured way too much cooking wine into the pan. Ginno arrived home to the oven smoking and me coughing, trying to get the roast out of the oven. I forgot a potholder and burned my hand.
"Oh, whoa. What is going on here?" Ginno's voice was sympathetic but confident. He put on an oven mitt, delivered the roast from the oven, and chucked the entire smoking pan from our balcony into the novelty pond out back. I ran to him crying, "You are my hero," I gushed, and I meant it.
Why did things always complicate? Complications had made finally getting off the streets so difficult, and now complications were threatening to send me back. Ginno and I clung to one another in the smoky-hot kitchen like survivors of a brush fire. I gripped him knuckle-white.
"Hey, let's just go out for dinner, right? To a buffet." He likes the ones that have soft serve ice cream machines for dessert.
"I don't want to go out, Ginno. I just want to stay here and be next to you." I led him to the bedroom and tried to earn it, the way he's made me an honest woman.
The next morning I decided there had to be another way. Maybe I could hire someone part-time to help make my jewel-T's and sweats; maybe I could open a store online. I vamped it up and worked my fake nails off and at the end of the week had $600 from consignments, which I Western Unioned to Daddy. Even though our number is unlisted, I got a call from him the next day.
"Oh no you didn't, caketrain baby." He was upset.
"$600 every week will add up, Daddy."
"I want $10,000 by the end of the month or your bubble is boiled."
Over the next few weeks, my mind went into overdrive. I began to get so desperate that I even started tossing around ideas for stories I could tell Ginno to get the money: that a relative was sick and I'd pay him back; someone needed chemo maybe. I thought about waking him up in the middle of the night and saying I'd just had a dream where God told me to donate $10,000 to charity. And then over the next few months, maybe God could visit me again and tell me to donate $20,000 more.
Each idea was a total stinkbucket. I used to take money from men all the time, but that was because I had to, and I didn't love them. Things were different with Ginno. He and I were making a life.
I kept sending Daddy my weekly consignment earnings and trying to figure out what to do. I guess the days snuck up on me because one night after the lanes Ginno and I came home to find Gogo strangled to death on the kitchen floor with a large chain lying several inches next to her body. "PAY UP, SUCKERS," read a note attached to the wall with a switchblade knife. I was crying too hard to tell Ginno not to call the cops and the next thing I knew they were there asking all kinds of things–my name, my birthday, basically everything that was a tell on my gender. I just cried and said I didn't know where my driver's license was (it's fake) and finally they stepped off. I was obviously in the throes of grief.
Ginno told them we had no enemies and we didn't owe anyone money. They left, assuming it was a case of mistaken identity, and encouraged us to get a security system. Which we did.
Over the next couple of weeks I became a hostage in my own condo. Every time I ran to the store for craft supplies or vodka there were threatening messages on the answering machine when I got back. It was a harsh thing to have to look upon the peaceful life I'd finally built and realize that people from my past could just come in and destroy it for no good reason. My days were filled with drinking and bejeweling—dropping off sweatshirts and picking up consignment checks and going to Winn Dixie to have the money transferred to Daddy. One afternoon I was so out of it that I almost picked up Ginno with just a single eyebrow drawn on. Sure, I was quite a ways away from $30,000—I wasn't even halfway to $10,000 yet. I was sending steady money though, and making progress. But that wasn't good enough for Daddy.
He finally did the unthinkable. He took it to the alley.
That day I pulled into the parking lot at four like usual, but Ginno was already outside, sitting over to the left behind the patio. I thought this strange because everyone knows that's where the teenagers throw up on Friday nights. He was squatting down like a dog—I thought of Gogo for a moment, subconsciously—and then I pulled up closer and saw that he was crying. He finally got in the van but wouldn't let me lay a finger on him. Then he unzipped his bowling bag and pulled out a manila folder.
"This guy with diamonds on his teeth came in and gave me this," he said. I took it and looked even though I knew what was inside. Pretend to be shocked,I coached myself, but once I opened it up I didn't even have to act. It was all so far away, really, those years. To have them in front of my face at a moment's notice was just a lot.
You could say that I met Daddy at the start of my transformation. He had pictures from every step of the way. They were regular photos—they hadn't been taken to document the change or anything. We'd just had a life with one another, even though it was brutal, and he was cruel.
Ginno was broken. He really didn't understand. The poor thing dealt with it the best way he knew how, talking about God and Jesus and the whole bible show. He told me that as soon as we got home, I was kicked out. "At least you had the decency to let me drive you home first," I said, which was kind of mean and cheap, but I loved him. I had made up my mind to love him and I did; if there were parts about him I didn't know about, I was pretty sure I could make up my mind to love those too. I'd been telling myself the whole time that he felt the same way, and now that it was clear he didn't, it hurt more than I knew how to deal with.
I packed up our new 8-piece luggage set because it's pink and I figured he wouldn't want to use it without me. Then I went out to the deep freeze in the garage and got the shoebox I was keeping Gogo's body in until I had some free time to bejewel a tiny dog coffin. If I had to leave, Gogo was coming with me.
"Goodbye, Ginno," I said.
His face seized up a little. He looked like he was about to say something deep but then decided against it. He settled for the obvious. "You're a man."
"If you say so." I was crying and they were womanly tears. My sobs sounded nothing if not womanly. "You know, the man who came into the alley wanted me to take your money and give it to him and I wouldn't do it. That's why he blackmailed me. If I'd just lied to you and had taken your $30,000 we'd be in bed together right now." I hoped this confession would stir something inside him, but he just sat there glaring at my crotch.
"I think you should go," he said. So I went out to the van and left.
My short-term plan was to reside in the conversion van. I didn't make a long-term plan because I figured Ginno would come around. He'd miss me; he'd have to. I parked the van in front of the alley so Ginno would know where to find me when he changed his mind. The next day I watched him pull up to the alley and walk inside. He saw me but made no sign of acknowledgment.
I began a new schedule where I slept in the van during the day, when it was safer, and woke up just in time to see Ginno leave the alley and head home. Then I'd go to a dive bar, grab a back booth, and bedazzle and drink all night.
By the fourth night of doing this, depression had really set in. I stayed in the parking lot even after the alley closed. When I finally saw the little high school boy come throw that night's unsold fried foods into the dumpster, I knew it was time to say goodbye to Gogo. The ice required to keep her body below thaw-temperature in my small beach cooler was an expense I would not be able to maintain for long. I took her shoebox into my arms; my hands were shaking as I walked up to the dumpster. To lose so much in just a week!
The newly discarded fried food made steam pour from the dumpster like fog in a horror movie.
"Gogo," I said, "you were a great dog, for great times." When Ginno kicked me out, I had taken his headlamp from the garage on my way. It was the kind of lamp that people wear when mountain climbing or going underneath the crawlspace of a house to investigate a smell. I wore it inside the dark bars as I bedazzled, and I wore it now. It shone down on the shoebox like a light from heaven. I felt like if there were ever a moment where I could open up and talk to God, this was it.
Let me have a second chance, I thought. Let Ginno come riding up out of the mist. Let him be in the matching pajama set I bought him; let him tell me he can't sleep at night without me by his side. I sealed this wish by tossing Gogo into the dumpster like a penny into a well.
Ginno didn't come. I broke my rule of not spending the night in the parking lot and drank myself into a stupor.
The next morning was very sunny and when I woke up all the gems and glitter filigree on the sweatshirts inside of the van were dazzling like a 9 a.m. disco.
I made my usual round of consignment boutiques but because of the van-living I didn't look as put together as I normally do. I felt like a few of them could maybe tell my secret. I made it just fine through the first sad song that came on the radio. "So I have to be the woman who lives in her van and sells sweatshirts for awhile," I thought, "but soon enough I will be the woman who lives in her apartment and sells sweatshirts, and it will only go up from there."
Then tears came and I had to pull the van over. My life was worse than a blues album, losing my man and my tiny dog and my new life all at once. I ran to the first gas station I saw that would probably have just one little bathroom with a lock and I took my entire make-up bag inside. It was the first stroke of luck I'd had since Ginno kicked me out: there was one wood-paneled door that said "Restroom" instead of "Women" or "Men."
Inside, I was instantly calmer. I knew I'd have to return the conversion van. I couldn't just keep driving it, following Ginno across the US to all his tournaments like the lost ghost of a former soccer mom. No, I could not haunt Ginno. I could only keep the van for a while. A couple hundred miles, a week at the most.
After I got fixed up, I went to the bar to try and drink Ginno away. But a few too many sea breezes went down the hatch and I made the mistake of returning to the bowling alley parking lot on karaoke night. Sometimes Ginno will sing, and the way his timing isn't quite right makes me realize that things don't have to be perfect to be beautiful, like how his crooked teeth are somehow crooked in a nice way.
I could hear the people singing inside, and I sat in the van and sang along. I closed my eyes to a couple doing a bad country duet and fell asleep for a little while.
When I woke up there was a great cloud of fire soaring from the dumpster next to me. In my drunken dream-state, all I knew was to be scared. It looked as though a portal to Hell had opened next to the conversion van.
And in a way it had. A bottle hit the glass of the driver's-side window, which shattered to reveal them: the KKK boys, the same ones that used to smile at me and comp me vodka.
Tonight they did not look so friendly. Ginno must have told them.
They were lined up in a triangle-formation, looking a bit like bowling pins themselves with their bald heads. Several had brought bats.
Then, in the background, I saw him. Ginno was standing near the entrance of the alley, watching with a distant look that let me know right away he wasn't going to intervene. I pleaded with the boys first, then finally to Ginno. When I called his name he turned around and went inside. This seemed like a small an act of kindness on his part—to not watch, to spare me having to look up and see him in the distance and know that he could ask them to stop if he wanted to. When I saw the door to the ally shut, I decided to accept this last gift from him and surrender.
"I guess you strong boys are going to kill me now," I said. "You know you'll kill me just dead as a real dead woman." I laughed, mainly frightened but maybe a little bit relieved. "As dead as your wife or your mother or your sister."
But then there was silence. Their shouting died down, their thumping bats suddenly rested in their palms. So I opened my eyes again—I still had a little hope. I looked them right in their human eyes, these boys standing in the dumpster's firelight. Then they killed me. Their mothers and sisters, of course, are alive.
Every time I go into bowling alleys, I'm always taken by the people who seem to be very at home there—the ones who bring their own ball, and who are wearing clothing designed to enhance their performance in the game. I'm a terrible bowler and I always get increasingly nervous in said environment. Everything starts out okay but soon the wild carpeting and the repeated crashing sounds and the teenagers who keep running in and out of the bathroom and whispering start to make me feel like I am inside a circus tent whose top may instantaneously fall down. To me the best part of bowling is getting to chose an amusing moniker for myself on the scoreboard. Perhaps because I never do well enough at video games to put an amusing moniker into the HIGH SCORE field. If I could just return my shoes and leave after I've selected a nickname and gotten to see it on the screen, I would certainly do this, but peer pressure consistently forces me to stay for the game.