[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Lydia Millet, has ended. Original price: $0.50. Final price: $49.00. Significant Objects will donate the proceeds of this auction to 826 National.]
I’ve always wanted to be good at a bar game. Pool would be my first choice, but no hope there. Darts was an option, once, but the first time I tried to get real instruction, in a pub in a dreary English town called Wokingham, I bloodied the ear of a man. It was the ear of the man I was seeing at the time, a small-time drug dealer, if I’m going to be honest, who liked to watch sculling on weekends while drinking himself into a stupor. He had almost nothing to say, yet many nights I would take the train from Bayswater, where I lived, to Wokingham and we would sit on his beige couch in his carpeted, bland living room and watch television in an awkward silence. There was a vague idea of sex, but that rarely occurred and when it did I found myself missing the television with a pitiful urgency.
And finally there was bowling, which isn’t a bar game per se but can be practiced in the evening over a cluster of tabled beer bottles. Don’t get me wrong here — I’m not a big drinker. I do like a social beer, though, on a night out, or three or four, or a few glasses of wine. Or I can do frozen margaritas, or maybe vodka with a strong mixer. So there was bowling, but I never made much progress and the round things kept veering into the gutter. Still the realization took years to settle in fully: I would never be a good bowler. And by good I only mean the kind of bowler who doesn’t draw laughs and jibes from onlookers. I would never be passable. With billiards it was my natural gracelessness that hindered me, but with bowling it was mostly a case of laziness. I wanted to be a natural, that was all. I had no interest in effort.
I found myself at a bowling alley, one night, while other people were rolling strikes and spares and I had nothing to do for a while but wander. At the shoe-rental counter they sold accessories — the shirts, the shoes, the bags — and a number of knickknacks. In the glass-fronted display case I noticed a small object, red, black, and white, in the shape of a minuscule bowling bag; it turned out to be a salt shaker without a pepper mate. It struck me that this was something I could own. I could buy the salt shaker, and I would own it, and at the same time, true enough, I would never be a good bowler. Those other bowlers, those casual bowlers of strikes and spares, might have their talent, their grace, their lovely affinity. But I would have my laziness. And the salt shaker.