the poetry bowler
we arrived at the party early, even though we left my apartment late. it was the second day of december and the chill was in acute effect that night. we were as bundled up as we could be. upon entering the house, i removed my knit hat and was quick to attack the tortilla chips and celery.

we made our way back and forth from the kitchen to the backyard as i tried to remain comfortable. i'm not one for parties, really, but given that my companion had a look of sheer terror on her face most of the night, i actually felt outgoing by comparison. it was sarah's apartment, but it was her roommate's birthday we were all celebrating. every once in awhile sonia would come by with some new gift she had just received, showing it off to everyone.

i was polishing off my second or third cup of apple juice (inconspicuous in its non-alcoholic nature, hidden by the red plastic outside of the cup) when jeff labeaf arrived. well, i didn't know his name was jeff labeaf at the time. he'd state that later, as he was leaving. i think we all grinned when he did. he was skinny, wearing a navy blue zip-up hooded sweatshirt and jeans. his hair was dark brown and very shaggy, much like the way mine was at the time. needless to say, i thought he was quite a hunk.

kirstin and i sat on opposite sides of the table, occasionally grabbing for carrot sticks or shoving a piece of brocolli in our mouths. jeff was making eye contact with me minute by minute; it was the kind of tense, across-the-room moment that occurs when one knows that someone else wants to talk to them but it just hasn't happened yet. we were obviously "interested" in each other, for whatever that was worth, given the situation.

the birthday party was actually a joint celebration for sonia & sarah's friend peter, who was celebrating a birthday as well. he was significantly older than sonia's age; she was only just turning twenty-two, which surprised me. due to the difference in their ages and groups of friends, there were two different factions at the party, somewhat. it was sort of obvious when peter's friends were in the room and when sonia's were, although there was some overlap. i honestly don't think jeff labeaf knew either of them.

the older group had come into the room and were looking at some video that peter had recieved as a gift, some video with "they couldn't show this on television footage" featured within. jeff had been sliding along the counter, nearing closer and closer to where i was sitting. two guys in the older group were howling about something or another, and pointing at a tiny vial of unnamed alcohol that featured a sticker encouraging people to "take a chance."

jeff looked me in the eye again and said, "who's birthday is it?"

i pointed to sonia, then to peter, all while not saying a word. when i pointed to peter, he spoke again, this time in a more hushed voice. "how old?" peter wasn't looking. "25?" he asked.

i raised my hand and extended my thumb, nodding a "no," turning my hand slightly upward to indicate that he should guess again.

"28?" he queried. my thumb still pointed upward. "32?" this time my hand moved into a downward position. this went on for awhile until it was determined that peter was officially thirty years old and the ice had been sufficiently broken between jeff and i.

he would leave in ten minutes, but not before he would reveal his membership to a "poetry bowling" team (a group of guys who take the names of poets and go bowling) and had sufficiently wowed the cluster of people who stood near the snack table and listened to him speak. upon his departure, i grinned at kirstin. she grinned back, adjusting her glasses.

the following monday i caught up with sarah and told her i was sorry i missed her at the end of saturday evening. we'd slipped out of the party as it began to get more crowded and we started to feel more self-conscious of our massive guacamole dip consumption. i hadn't had a chance to say goodbye to her. she didn't mind. "we might be going bowling tomorrow night in the east bay," she informed me.

"oh. am i invited?"

"sure," she told me. "i'm hoping to see that cute boy from my party at the bowling alley.. jeff labeff or whatever his name was."

if i had been drinking soda at that moment, it would have been coming out my nose. "woah.. so do i."

sarah giggled. "yeah, wasn't he cute?"

"yes. he was one of those boys that made me think, 'is this straight thing really for me?'"

sarah was actually the one who had managed to get him talking, and had pried the bowling info out of him. "i had to make some kind of contact with him. when i realized we had bowling in common," she explained, "i made my move.

"even if he does seem like some kind of a player with his 'poetry bowling team,' he's still a hottie." i told her how he was at the party yet didn't seem to know whose birthday it was. sarah was quick to reprimand me.

"you should have told him it was my birthday! he would have had to give me a birthday kiss!"

i giggled. "it would have been my birthday in that case!"

we never did go bowling the following night; i think sonia had to cancel. jeff was mostly forgotten other than one time when sarah saw him somewhere.

one night in the cold of mid-january, lindsay and i were exiting the bart station to head into berkeley when my friend stephen walked past. i had forgotten that he worked in the east bay. he was on his way back to san francisco. he showed us the record he had bought at mod lang; it was a peel session of some band i can't remember.

and there, out of the corner of my eye i spotted jeff in my peripheral vision.

he was descending the stairs to the lower level where a train would probably take him somewhere north.. or south. i really don't know. but our eyes met for a moment, and there was recognition. i doubt he even remembered my name. his hair was shorter and so was mine. he stepped down two stairs and before i could think, i lifted my hand and pointed at him, tipping my head slightly. he nodded back, and then turned and descended the rest of the stairs.

after stephen had gone and we rejoined the queue for the turnstile set to exit into the dark berkeley streets, lindsay tapped me on the shoulder. "who was that guy?"

"that was jeff labeaf," i said.


Friday, January 19, 2001


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