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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Just Another Day In Hollywood

They arrived at the Hollywood Bowl and were off to great start when Paul reached out for the door on the left hand side of the two entrances and it was locked. It was a likely situation and typical of his luck. His companions looked at him and he smiled ruefully before leading the trio over to the doors on the right, sure that one of the youths playing on the closest arcade machine inside had witnessed his misfortune from the other side of the glass. He couldn’t be sure though; distance not being his ally as a result of faltered vision.
               They got to the second set of doors and Nick, being the true gentleman that he is pulled open the door on the right and stepped back to allow Paul and Simon safe passage before stepping in behind them, the three of them looking at each other for somebody to take the lead. Paul bit the bullet, stepping forward slowly and looking over his shoulder as he spoke,
‘I haven’t been bowling for years. When was the last time you played Nick?’ He’d chosen Nick because he was ever so aware of his bowling precedent, his room stacked choc-a-bloc with various trophies, he probably should have gone pro.
‘I played with my dad last week.’ Great Paul thought, any slight hope there was of victory leaving him. It was to be the battle for second place.
               They approached the front desk, holding back as a couple in front arranged payment, Nick observing the pricing structure on the board above and Simon making reference to the lack of occupied lanes. They decided that three games were to be played, Nick working it out at just less than ten pounds each.
‘Fine by me.’ Paul said as they stepped up to the till, pre-emptively withdrawing his black leather wallet from his pocket and searching for what was to him a lesser spotted ten pound note.
               It was Nick who elected to do the talking. It may be that Simon was the one turning twenty one the next day but it was Nick who looked the most mature, his small black leather jacket unzipped over a figure hugging featureless black t- shirt that housed his powerful frame, over blue jeans and dark trainers, kind eyes and short black hair. In fact on the day it was Simon who probably looked the youngest, wearing black polyester trousers that dimly reflected the overhead lights, his white worn trainers with blue designs, (Paul would later make a light-hearted joke about confusing them with the bowling shoes provided, it was met with a disdainful look of utter contempt.) and his black Guinness t-shirt, not bothering with an extra layer because it was he who was in possession of car keys. He waited before producing his money, a feeling that told him not to get caught up in Paul’s haste.
               As Nick began conversation with the long black haired lady in her late twenties Paul placed his ten pound note on the counter. He’d subconsciously gone for the sketch pad look, light faded black jeans that looked store bought in a grey charcoal colour, his light grey zipped hoodie obscuring his dark blue t-shirt so that no colour other than greyscale was on display, his black laced Etnies trainers that shone comparatively dazzling white despite the fact he’d been wearing them since February the year before. He stared gormlessly ahead at the empty lanes, already slipping one of his feet out onto the carpet and picking up his shoe, Nick’s words lost on him until he realised it was not only he who was looking at him.
               The woman at the desk disappeared for a moment, a disapproving glance her parting gift. Finally the words came into focus.
‘I didn’t realise its peak time rates, it’s more like fifteen.’
‘Oh, right.’ Simon smiled a knowing smile as he came forward to settle payment, sweeping a strand of his long blond hair from the side of his face. Paul took back his lonely looking ten pound note and duplicated it, staring down at his feet in hope of a forming hole, unable to make eye contact with her as he passed the money over. Fortunately the woman was a solid professional, any attempt to short change him would have been fruitful, Paul just wanted the transaction over and done with as quickly as possible, not checking the coins and slipping them into his pocket for rearrangement later. He leant down and placed his foot back into the empty shoe, feeling decidedly bare as a queue formed behind them and waddled uncomfortably over to the other side of the of the desk.
               Once there he slipped it back off, shooting it skyward and catching it in one hand in a risqué display of acrobatic elegance. The successful performance helped restore a piece of lost confidence. He waited for the others to catch up and stood back a step in line with the drinks machine to make way for some people approaching from his left. It allowed Nick and Simon to take the lead, placing their shoes on the counter and waiting for the attendant to finish spraying the insides of the bowling shoes that had just been returned. They both asked for a size eleven, receiving them in turn and waited politely for Paul to place his order. A little bit of an inferiority complex kicked in when he realised they were both two sizes larger, the man looked up at him expectantly,
‘Err ten please.’ Double digits were respectable, so long as he wasn’t skidding down the lane after the first throw of a ball shortly.
               All geared up they made it to their lane without incident, lucky number seventeen, just to the right and in perfect view of future queue mongers. Great Paul thought again, free tickets to the slaughter. Nick was the first to place his shoe on the central rack that was attached to the electronic scoreboard control, relieving himself of his jacket on the way, folding it in a neat bundle just inside the start of the perimeter seat. Paul’s attention was caught by the luminescent display of a rainbow of colours that flashed in sequence at the side of the lanes at the foreground of a purple and blue backdrop.
‘I feel like I’ve just walked into a disco.’ He said.
‘I know.’ Nick replied scornfully, still smarting at the ratio of price per game as he set up the match. ‘They used to just do it at night, now it’s on constantly.’ He smiled and looked at the screen that hung above the ball spitter. ‘You happy with that?’
‘What?’ Simon smirked as he looked up at the screen. His lack of vision forced Paul to get up and take a few steps forward, a cheated grin lightning up his face as he read the name entries; Nick player one, Simon player two and Big Fat Paulie to play last.
               Next came the foray for appropriately sized bowling balls. Nick disappeared knowing exactly where it was he was heading, leaving the other two to fend for themselves. Simon led the charge, raiding the closest rack of available balls. He plumped for a dark green medium ball and weighed it up. A total lack of imagination caused Paul to do exactly the same. He realised that he needn’t grab another, the two identical balls should be sufficient when in circulation. Nick remerged with a range of balls, one seemingly for every occasion, and the match commenced.
               Three turns into the first game and things were going pretty much as expected. Nick took the lead on twenty six, Paul trailing on sixteen and Simon yet to register. Simon thought it about time for some food and pressed the service button on the electronic device, that being the original reason for their journey today. (The plan had been to go out to eat, but Simon changed his mind after there were a few cancellations, deciding that three guys going out to eat together looked a bit too homoerotic for his liking). It seemed to be an age before any service arrived, the three of them in sporadic conversation between turns about slowing down else they might be gone before it arrived. Paul rounded up the first game with another glaring miss, Nick beating the both of them by a deposit of just under and just over a hundred points.

Part way into the second game she arrived. Paul was busy observing Nick’s action, trying to pick up some tips. By the time he turned round he saw Simon engaged in conversation with her, placing his order. She was short, her company shirt a glaring purple that draped off of her, looking about three sizes too large, dwarfing her figure. Her hair was dark and tied back into a practical ponytail and she clutched a pen as she scribbled things down on her little notepad. Her skin was slightly tanned and her expression was one of frustration, her brilliantly intense dark eyes the focal point of her well proportioned face, her eyebrows scrunched heavily above them as she struggled to make out what Simon was saying. Paul wondered if that was her natural look, he sure hoped so, a naturally downturned face making any successful attempt to force a smile all the sweeter.
               Simon finished his order by choosing a drink, opting for a Pepsi over a small array of alternatives. He looked over to Paul, who was lost in silent awe for a fraction too long, the girl registering the look.
‘Do you want Pepsi?’ Paul nodded before catching Nick as he was selecting his ball in preparation for his next shot.
‘Yes please.’ He replied. Simon turned to the girl and confirmed it,
‘Three Pepsis.’
               She was off like a shot, leaving Paul and Simon to deal with the fallout. Simon turned to Paul with a frown on his face, Paul could see his displeasure and felt he should offer a case for the defence.
‘I think by ordering plural drinks it sounded like me and Nick didn’t want any food.’ He didn’t intend for it to sound like Simon had made the mistake, but the reoccurrence of the frown suggested that was how it was taken. ‘It’s okay, I’m not hungry anyways.’ Temporarily ignorant of Nick for the moment.
               The lack of response led him to believe that the issue had been resolved, but a few minutes later it was Nick’s turn to bowl again and she came back with the drinks. She still looked annoyed, Paul couldn’t help but smile again. She didn’t get a chance to relax her expression however because Simon started requesting more food, pointing at Paul. She shot him a severe glance, his heart sank a little.
               He got up from his seat and stepped towards her. She waited pen on pad as Simon sat back down, a satisfied grin taking control of his features. He was now so close to her that he could reach out and hug her, somehow he managed to resist.
‘Could I please have the cheeseburger and large chips?’ He’d fallen foul of his usual problem. The background noise was set to high and Paul struggled to make himself heard as a result of his naturally quiet voice. (Softly spoken was how the lady had put it on the telephone a few days before). He resorted to shuffling even closer, using his finger to point at each item on the menu as he spoke. ‘Cheeseburger and chips please.’ She scribbled it down, to his dissatisfaction he didn’t get to see her handwriting, the ridge of the surface working in tandem with the angle of her arm to cover it.
               As she neared the end of the order she gave him a quick glance. From nowhere Paul sprouted a measure of audacious confidence,
‘And err, your phone number.’ He was absolutely stunned at his bravery, but there was no reaction. She just continued writing before looking up at him and then at Nick.
‘Does your mate want anything?’ Paul followed her gaze,
‘Oh err I’ll check.’ He walked over to Nick and brought his attention to the order girl.
Nick placed his order and started rummaging around for the exact change from various pockets. Paul stepped in and gave her another ten pound note. He spoke to Nick over his shoulder,
‘Pay me in a minute.’ She took it and departed from the scene without favouring him another glance. Paul slumped down into his seat, dejected. He took out his frustration on his next turn, picking up his first strike of the day. (Unless strikeouts counted). As he sat back down he found time to reflect. Maybe she didn’t hear me. It was a simple enough assumption; he had after all struggled the instant before. But something told him she had heard, call it intuition maybe. That left him with a further two possibilities. She could have heard him and respectfully pretended she hadn’t, kindly saving him any embarrassment. The other option of course was that she deliberately ignored him through a touch of malice, knowing full well the mental anguish he was going through whilst sharing a joke at his expense with friends.

Katie was slumped with her elbows on the edge of the balcony that overlooked the lanes someway on the far right. She was looking at the three of them, her notepad loose by her side, twiddling her pen between the fingers of one hand. Paul had just delivered his strike, she allowed herself a smile as she witnessed his muted fist pump. A deep exhaled breath escaped her.
               Her friend Linda was a couple of years older than Katie and happened to be passing at that moment. She came over and mockingly lent in the same slumped position to her right.
‘Who are you spying on Katie?’ Katie was somewhat startled, her pen slipped from her grip.
‘Nobody.’ Linda smiled a wry smile. Katie saw it and knew she’d been had. ‘One of the guys from lane seventeen asked for my number.’
‘Oh.’ She leaned forward to get a closer look. ‘Which one? The hoodie, the hottie or the long haired tottie?’ Katie smiled her approval.
‘The hoodie.’ Linda picked up Katie’s notebook.
‘Is this their order? I’ll put it in at high priority shall I?’
‘It’s their second, there was a mix up. I’ve got to go give the long haired tottie his change and his receipt.’ Linda pulled the top sheet from the notepad and put it in her left pocket.
‘Good luck.’

After following up his strike with another solid eight Paul wandered triumphantly back over to his seat. Nick looked at him despairingly,
‘How can you wear that in here? I’m boiling!’ Paul was surprised, a quick look between Nick and Simon confirmed their point, foreheads shining with sweat.
‘Not me man, you’re talking to Paul McCool.’ They shared a laugh and then Nick got up to take his turn.
               Paul sat down, by the time he looked up Simon was speaking to Katie, adamant he was entitled to a further pound in change. They looked over the receipt, Simon stating his case, Paul smiling helplessly at her drawn, puzzled features. She realised her mistake, foraging another pound coin from her pocket and adding it to the pile before running a hand about an inch over her head to indicate her apologies, her steely expression loosening. It was the first time Paul had seen a chink in her armour, and suggested the malicious reaction he had considered earlier may have been an exaggeration.
               She left and Simon turned to Paul, sweeping back another strand of hair and sliding his change into his wallet.
‘She tried to rip me off!’
‘Easy man, I don’t think she meant it.’ Simon scrunched up his receipt in protest and threw it into the middle of the surface in front attached to the control panel. Nick rejoined them after securing another strike. Paul turned to him, ‘I think we might need to slow down if we want time to eat, no more of that Nick.’

In the last turn of their second game Nick had picked up a spare so was entitled to his third shot. It was during this time that Linda came over with their food. She handed it on a big platter to Paul, each item separately wrapped in blue and white bedding, garnished with tomato sauce and salt sachets. She smiled and then looked up at the scoreboard,
‘So who are you?’ Paul placed the platter down on the surface between the back of their seat and the one adjoined to lane sixteen. He realised what she was referring to,
‘I’m the BFP.’ It forced a renewed smile.
‘Well.’ She leaned closer to get to grips with the scores. ‘If I were you I’d aim to get at least a hundred in your last game. Numbers are sometimes rewarded with other numbers, if you get my meaning.’ He was confused for a moment, but then Linda hinted with her eyes as Katie walked down to take the order of the older couple playing in lane twenty. Paul smiled excitedly,
‘Thanks for the food.’
               Nick came back after picking up another strike and ending his game on one hundred and sixty seven, an improvement of thirty on the previous. He stepped down to the side to let Simon pass and sat down on the other side of the platter Paul had brought down to the centre of the seat.
‘What was that about?’ Paul finished his current chip before he replied.
‘Just err, making sure it was the right order.’ Nick nodded without realising. He pointed at one of the burgers,
‘Is that one mine?’
               Simon sat back down and allowed Paul to step up and take his last turn. He chose his ball and took his shot, a contented nine bringing his final score to eighty eight, over double what he had chalked up the first time. If he could keep up that rate of improvement he’d be sorted.
               The first turn of his final game Paul replicated his previous shot almost exactly, securing another nine. When he stepped up to take his second turn though it suddenly dawned on him that nine points a turn wouldn’t be enough; it would bring him to a total score of ninety, ten points short of his target. Perhaps then that played some part in hampering his performance; he may have tried too hard as he ended up planting two gutter balls in succession.
               Katie walked past without looking and Paul took in a deep breath. He sat down in contemplation and watched Nick secure a spare. An idea came to him. As soon as Nick sat down and Simon stepped up to take his turn Paul shuffled closer and disturbed Nick’s meal, looking at him meaningfully. Nick bit into his chicken burger, but couldn’t take another bite, Paul’s glare proved to be too much of a distraction. He finished his current mouthful,
‘Bowl for me.’ Nick smiled and went back to his burger, but Paul was still staring. ‘Nick.’ Nick looked up. ‘I mean it, bowl for me.’
‘What? No way. Do it yourself.’
               Eventually Paul was resigned to the fact he had to. It was half way into the final game and things weren’t looking great. He’d just rocked another gutter but got some way to recovering it by knocking down eight at the second attempt, leaving him on a score of thirty two. Less than ideal. On his way to sit down Katie arrived with his change and the receipt, quickly placing them in his hand. There was a brief moment of eye contact and Paul was sure she flashed him a quick little smile, but decided the dire situation on the scoreboard had altered his perception of her expression, mocking him into seeing what he couldn’t have. He discarded the receipt on the empty gap that was once occupied by his burger and slipped the change into his pocket.

In his final game Paul had finished with a score of seventy two, well below his target. He tried to cast it from his mind as he slumped over the balcony that overlooked their lane, waiting for Nick to finish his drink as he hovered by the bin, Simon electing to keep his to finish outside. (His usual cinema trick and the best way generally, apparently). The place was busy now, a long queue forming a few steps behind them and a hive of activity in front for Paul to watch. Paul turned to Simon,
‘Do we get a print out of the scores?’
‘I don’t know. You probably have to pay fifty quid.’ Paul laughed at his companion’s gross exaggeration and his firm belief that anything optional must cost the earth.
‘I’m willing to pay up to two pound fifty.’
               Nick told him to ask the guy in charge of the shoes so that was what he’d done. He waited for the older gentleman in front to be seen to, the two of them sharing a joke when a woman’s shoe was produced as a possible option for his size. Nick was first to put his bowling shoes up on the counter, the attendant retrieving Paul’s dazzling white trainer from the rack. He and Nick turned to each other as one, Nick finding the words,
‘You must have picked up my shoes.’ (Whilst waiting for Nick to finish his drink the two of them had elected to walk around in their socks). It was easily resolved though, they waited for both sets of trainers to hit the counter and discreetly took the correct ones, careful to wait for the man to turn towards the printer so as to avoid any chance of making him feel as though he were the guilty party.
               They were walking towards the exit, when Paul noticed that the air hockey table was free,
‘Anyone fancy a game?’ Simon chose not to, leaving Paul and Nick to play the best of three. Paul won both games comfortably, although the machine could be deemed favourable; several of Nick’s goals not registering on the score. Paul didn’t mind the assisted victory, after all two wins is plural wins is more than one win.
               Probably feeling a little left out Simon then challenged them both to a game of Mariokart. Paul won again, despite having a broken item button and having to ask which pedal was the accelerator. (Those seven or eight driving lessons he’d had a while back proving to be money well spent). He took the plaudits, and then led the three of them out of the building, a quick glance over his shoulder in the hope that Katie would be tearing up at pace to catch him up.

She hadn’t been. As he sat in the backseat of Simon’s car he looked lazily out of the window at the fine rain that engulfed the air above the car park. He felt detached from Simon and Nick, their conversation masked by a combination of the radio (Capital FM despite Nick’s efforts to have it changed to radio one) behind him and the window that Nick had opened slightly on Paul’s side of the car, caught in the back draft. He was weighing up whether or not to further pursue Katie, seriously considering returning next week on his own if he had to, just to develop some kind of rapport.
               The car pulled out of the car park and Paul looked across to the other window. He watched as the Hollywood Bowl sign disappeared from view, not craning his head round to prolong the experience. He decided it would be better if that be the approach he adopted. True love was supposed to overcome all obstacles, but he didn’t fancy testing the theory at the expense of a restraining order. He let it lie.

Katie was on her break, sitting in the staff room and relaxing for the first time in what seemed like days. It had been non-stop. As she reached for her phone and passed it between her hands she caught her breath, eyes closed. When she opened them again Linda was sitting in the seat opposite, a smile on her face.
‘So did you give him your number?’ Katie smiled back.
‘Yes. I wrote it on the back of his receipt.’
‘Aww how sweet!’ She reached out and gave Katie a hug. Then she got up, her break over. ‘Keep me posted. I’m really happy for you!’
‘Thanks.’ She watched Linda leave, smiling to herself and looking down at her phone. She was the only one in the room. ‘I’m happy for me too.’

Triumphs and failings, whirlwind romances, high hopes and missed opportunities. All in all, it was just another day in Hollywood.

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