Strolling down the concourse. Wiping my hands with a red rag so old it’s pink.
“Hey, buddy, don’t I know you? You’re the guy does the lanes, huh?. . .”
I turn and there’s a fella who’s six-two at least, substantial, wearing lots of leather and one of those beards guys wear who live way back in the mountains—waaaayyy back. There’s a heavy link chain running over to his wallet and a studded scabbard hanging at his side that’s as long as my forearm.
“Well, umm…I might be,” I return with my usual scintillating wit, “sayyy…how’s the ol’ game these days?”
“My game stinks,” he barks, like I’d poked him with a stick. Carefully my right foot slides sloooowly back.
“Sorry to hear about it. Maybe with. . .you know, the weather and all—Say, how about a free shine in the ol’ ball polisher? How about that? Why don’t you go ge—”
“The last time I put my ball in there it came out with a big chunk missin’,” he spits, then pauses a moment, as if weighing the possibility I might have tucked some personal insult in with my words. “You guys had’da fix it, remember?”
Now he’s backing me down the concourse, step by step, until the Coke machine comes up hard behind and sticks out too much for me to get around.
”Oh I see… Gee, that’s very unfortunate. You know, with that spinning flywheel and all…centrifugal force…sometimes things get loose—”
“Fergeddabouddit,” he roars, then leans in like a dark thundercloud. The piquant scent of eu-de-crankcase wafts in.
“This ain’t about that.”
All exits seem covered. I am seriously considering a mad dash between his legs when a hand drops on my shoulder like a tree branch. I close my eyes and make a final appeal to the Good Graces above.
“I’m really gonna miss you guys, man, when you close, you know. . .”
I count to five and then venture one eye. He’s all misted up and not even looking at me, but more down and away.
“I been comin’ here…I mean, my family’s been comin’ here, you know, for as long as I can remember. My dad got a patch for 267 standing right over there by the desk, back when scores meant somethin’, you know. He’s dead now.
“. . .My little girl she made the board for ‘High Score Juniors’ two weeks runnin’ last year. She ain’t forgot about that. …I ain’t neither.”
He comes in real close and fixes me steady. “You guys need anything,” he says, with the gravity of a guy who could make it happen, “you just ask.”
Never put too much stock in first impressions. Didn’t I hear that someplace?