One of my earliest religious experiences took place in a
bowling alley. Apparently, according to the movie Pleasantville, this was much more common for Americans during the 1950s.
To this day I have no clue who’d taught me about the intricacies
of intercession because I’m positive I wasn’t even in grade school
yet, but somebody somewhere had injected the idea into my
pasty white head that, if I prayed for something and sincerely believed, God would answer. Of course, a rational adult would know this doesn’t mean that the Big Guy in the Sky is a genie who wants His chubby belly rubbed with fervent hands so He can (POOF!) grant you a wish, but I was just a kid.
You see, in Dynasty Lanes, Willard, Ohio’s dark, dingy
temple of all things blue collar, I’d stumbled upon a clump of fellow rugrats who’d discovered something that incited pure
ecstasy. Ever the curious little fella, I peeked in between the writhing bodies and what did I see? The Ark of the Covenant?
Stone tablets bearing the moral code for western civilization?
Close, but no cigar, Indiana Jones. What I discovered was a swarm of kids vying for a chance to cram their parents’ hard-earned quarters into this squat, coffee table-looking thing with 10
glowing primitive, digital tanks dueling to the death within a maze beneath its glass surface. And just like my peers, my eyes
saucerized and my mouth gaped in astonishment. Whatever this
thing was, it was the most awesome piece of awesomeness ever
called awesome so I bolted off to beg my mom for some change
to feed this attention span devouring digital god.
Maybe Mom was bowling a particularly shitty game that
day or perhaps she didn’t see the value in diverting her son so
she could focus on improving her score, but I was told to buzz off. No dice. Apparently hurling a heavy, greasy black ball at dingy, white pins in a sport that was probably invented by cavemen was cool. But that glowing little box of futuristic heaven in the darkness behind the lanes was stupid and pointless.
I was crushed. Bummed. Depressed. How could my loving
mother not be supportive of my newfound dreams of violent
digital glory? Had she gone mad? Were the down and out
country tunes echoing throughout the bowling alley
brainwashing her against her adorable son? Whatever was
causing this serious lapse in judgment, I knew that begging wouldn’t change her mind. So I sloughed off to pout and torture
myself by watching the other, more-loved children bask in the glow of Tank.
But I didn’t waste much time feeling sorry for myself. Oh
no! The lights within that gorgeous hunk of cutting edge
electronics before me weren’t the only bulbs going off in that 11
beer-sodden shithole. Nobody else could see it but there was a giant, Catholic chandelier of epiphany glowing over my head. I knew I still had a chance if I went over Mom’s head. There was
someone else who would see my side if she wouldn’t.
So I slammed the door of the Men’s room open and
barreled past the sink and into a stall, locked the door behind me, and took a seat on the throne. It was time to get serious about achieving video game Nirvana! With my brow furrowed in
earnest concentration, I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and began praying silently.
God, please. Give me fifty cents to play that game. Lord, I promise I’ll be good for the rest of my life. Just, please, make those quarters appear in my pocket.
I paused with bated breath, my heart pounding double
time, giving God time to do His thing. Then, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story scrambling to open his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, I wrangled my chubby little fist into my jeans pocket in search of the silver, minted manna. Oh, I just couldn’t
wait to feel those cool, jingling coins! Tank, here I come!
But nothing was there.
So I tried again, pleading with even more intensity. Lord,
please, just fifty cents. All You have to do is pop them into my pocket. I only need to play the game once, then I’ll be satisfied.
Please, God?! Please?!
Again, nothing. Just my sweaty little paw encrusted with
some lonely scraps of lint.
I prayed a third time, desperately trying to block out the
noisy people coming and going beyond the Holy of Holies where
I sat supplicating. An annoyed man knocked on the stall door and
asked just how much longer it’d be for me to take care of business. “Just a minute!” I growled while jamming my hand into
my pocket. And, just like the watery bowl beneath my little buttcheeks, my pocket was still empty.
As trudged out of the stall, the angry, balding man glaring
and cursing at me beneath his breath for keeping his bowels waiting was the least of my worries. Tears welled up and my face
reddened with disillusioned anger as I rushed past him to the sink. Where was God when I needed Him? Wasn’t He supposed
to answer people’s prayers? Wasn’t He supposed to always be there for me, even when nobody else was? I mean, He could turn
water into wine but not lint into quarters? What a crock!
Obviously this little incident reveals more about the
nature of my naïve, pre-adolescent mind than it does about the
mysterious workings of the universe, but ultimately it’s an
excellent metaphor for my spiritual experiences as a whole.
Whoever taught my toddler self this concept of prayerfully
asking and receiving had meant well, and the countless others
who’d reinforce the message throughout the rest of my life
probably did, too. These people were only repeating Jesus’
words (“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do
it.” John 14:14).
Yet, even if this statement originated from the messiah’s
lips, without concrete evidence of results, why believe it? Despite constant reassurance from the Bible, priests, nuns, preachers,
and friends, reality never seemed to stockpile any proof to back
up Christ’s claim. Even after years and years of desperately
wanting to believe that there was an omnipotent being in the sky
looking out for me, time and time again life revealed that it all
boiled down to me either taking care of or not taking care of
business. If anything was going to get done, I had to do it. Or, as Mom always said, “God helps those who help themselves.” Well,
then, what the fuck’s the point of God or praying to Him then?
Prayer was and will always be, if you’ll excuse the cliché,
a perfect example of wishing in one hand and shitting in the
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