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Xmas Spirit

Sad, angry, lonely—Daniel Asa Rose and his sons are reeling from the recent family breakup. But in a closed bowling alley on Christmas Eve, they open their hearts and find seasonal cheer.

Their mother wanted to have a few hours to herself, so I left the little rat’s nest I was subletting in New York and drove three hours to take our two boys to a bowling alley, one of the few things open the afternoon before Xmas. But the sign on the door said CLOSED.

We charged through the two sets of unlocked glass doors anyway. This was in East Providence, Rhode Island, and the three natives who ran the place, lounging around the shoe rental counter with tall glasses of beer, seemed accosted by our entrance. Most of the lights were off, they were beginning to relax in the half-light of a long Xmas weekend, and the last thing they expected was to have three blurry figures barge in through the CLOSED sign. A robber with two midget sidekicks, maybe? Instinctively they reached for something with which to arm themselves, before the man in the blue shirt rallied.

“How you gents doing?” he called.

“Right now not so good,” I said with mounting irritation. “I called from the highway a couple of hours ago and was told you were staying open till 4:30.”

The two cronies piped up on either side of the man in the blue shirt.

“We had to close early—no business.”

“Also we just steam-cleaned the carpet.”

They were overruled by the man in the blue shirt who said, with masterful calm, “We can open up the last lane for you. What size shoes do you take?”

“You sure?” I asked, my anger evaporating.

“Sure thing. Just avoid the center of the carpet where it’s still wet.”

“Thank you, guys. I appreciate it—almost nothing’s open the afternoon before Xmas.”

“Have as many games as you like,” the man in blue said. The other two tilted their glasses to their lips and seemed okay with his decision.

So there in the dying light of Xmas Eve, we prepared to bowl, and I was glad because I wanted this to be a successful outing. The family break-up was still fresh and we needed something good to happen. Every time I said goodbye to the boys these days, the older one hugged me tight, pressing his cheek to mine so I couldn’t help but notice a few sharp whiskers. “Don’t always leave!” he moaned. His cheeks were rough-smooth and enflamed with adolescent flush, a combination of shyness and hormones. At fourteen he was raw and gangly with a mouth full of braces, but I would feel the softness of his cheek imprinted against mine, warm, for hours afterward.

As for the twelve year old, I was concerned that he was even more than usually cheeky, to use an old-fashioned word. Impishly bold. A certain amount of retaliatory cheekiness was fine, but I worried he was forcing it.

As instructed, we stepped around the wet center of the carpet, where the blue was darker. The margins were more fun to walk on anyway, festooned as they were with decorations of party hats and bright, colorful streamers. When we got to the last lane, we filled in names for our automatic scoring, selecting noms de bowl off the top of our heads, as was our habit: “Love Machine” for the little one, “Nervous Wreck” for the older, “Powder Keg” for me. But the older one said he wanted to be “Powder Keg,” so I had no choice but to become Nervous Wreck.

We bowled for an hour, having many laughs. The little one, Love Machine, would shake his butt at us each time he threw the ball, then lick his fingertips and touch them to his butt as though it were sizzling. Powder Keg kept complaining that Love Machine was throwing off his game by aiming his laser pointer on the pins. “I’m just excited by it,” Love Machine said. It was a Hanukah gift from the week before and the novelty of being able to point a red beam anywhere he wanted had not yet worn off. Our scores were comically low, and sometimes we took potshots to make them even lower. The whole time we bowled and bantered, the three guys at the counter talked authoritatively among themselves about car engines with their East Providence accents. They were enjoying their afternoon at leisure.

We started a second game but decided to stop after one frame, when all three of us suddenly realized our bowling yen was satisfied. We wrenched our street shoes back on and walked the perimeter of the carpet back to the shoe rental counter.

“That’s okay, it’s on me,” said the man in blue.

“C’mon, you’re kidding,” I said.

“You gents have yourselves a merry Xmas,” he said.

Outside we were infected with the Xmas spirit. Love Machine beat us to the car and when Powder Keg and I got there he was dancing on the roof. But inside the car Love Machine’s mood suddenly crashed, and he declared he wished he were Christian so he could celebrate.

“I think a lot of Jews feel that way around Xmas,” I said. “It’s a really nice holiday and we feel left out. That’s why there are so many Jewish parties in New York on Xmas Eve.”

Powder Keg peered into my eyes, as he did these days, frank and hurt. “Are you saying you’d rather be there?” he asked.

“Of course not,” I said truthfully. “There’s no place I’d rather be right now than here with you two.”

We all thought about that for a minute, waiting for the car to warm up. “Of course, I do have to get back there tonight after I drop you off, but for now there’s no reason we can’t take part in the feeling of Xmas. How about we go spread a little cheer somehow?”

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