Saturday, October 3 2020
looking back on our bowling alley table
Let me take you back to a time in early late 2015. To escape a tyrannical land lord and a terrible bed bug infestation, Marissa and I broke our rental lease, leaving most of our furniture and personal belongings in the apartment dumpster before bravely moving into our new house on the East side. It was our home, but it took a while for it to feel like it belonged to us. Most of that winter, I felt like a squatter. The rooms of our house were empty. The old wooden floors moaned in pain when we walked on them. The chilling winter air slithered through the thin, imperfect windows. We had our TV, some blankets, and our single whicker and foam papasan chair that looked like it belonged in a freshman college dorm.
We hunkered down, weathering through the harsh winter in our empty, cavernous house, surviving on beer, cheese, and takeout food. Over time I grew to like our house. The smell no longer felt foreign to me. We grew to like how cold and cozy it was at night. We reorganized a few of our rooms, setting out plastic tables and metal chairs to serve as a temporary "office" and "dining room". Slowly, steadily, we made our house feel like it was ours.
Well, any semblance of acclimation went right out the window when in December, we found out we were having a baby. Marissa was pregnant. It wasn't our idea to have a baby. We would have liked to wait until we were more settled in. Looking around at our empty house with dirty windows, sawdust and boot prints on the floor, exposed wires hanging out of the wall, we suddenly felt like we were living in a baby proofing nightmare. We felt squeezed - so much to do, and so little time.
The spring came, and our nesting instincts took over. Almost every day, Marissa was hard at work with a saw, a hammer, or a bucket of paint. She started to frequent a little reclaimed wood and antiques seller in our neighborhood. She eventually invited me along.
"Antiques?" I said. "I don't know if I want to go to that."
"No, you should see this place," said Marissa. "It's not what you'd think at all."
She was right about that. The store was run out of what looked like a renovated barn. It was teaming with tough, beared, burly looking dudes driving fork lifts and hauling pallets.
"So I like this place, because the guys look really tough," laughed Marissa. "But they're all also really crafy. Reclaimed wood is really in on Pinterest, and these guys know their stuff."
That morning, we brought an old wood door and some metal from the recesses of our new, scary basement. Marissa was hoping to exchange these for some raw materials to make a new desk for our bedroom.
"I was hoping to attach some unpolished steel legs to a desk," said Marissa to one of the shop workers. As he listened to Marissa, he fidgeted with his beanie and rubbed his beard.
"I would go hairpin legs," he said. "They support a lot more weight. And if you're making a table, let me show you this."
Flinging a tarp to the floor, he led us over to a giant slab of wood.
"We just got this in this weekend, it's from an old bowling alley," he said. "They've been around since the seventies, but they had to close this year."
He directed our attention to a little emblem of a bowling pin and the little arrows ettched into the wood to help the bowler aim. Suddenly, I was able to visualize everything else around it. In my head I imagined the clattering of pins, the stench of stale cigarette smoke, and murmer of a rowdy weekend crowd.
Marissa's eyes lit up. "We'll take it!" she exclaimed. "Oh this is awesome."
"Now I have to warn you," he said. "It's a lot heavier than it looks. Bowling alley wood is basically just filled with metal rivets to help it absorb the shock of bowling balls."
The table was truly the heaviest thing I have ever lifted. We were only able to fit it in our car with all the seats folded down, and the trunk wasn't even closed. But for the sake of excitement, we were willing to overlook the glaring challenges ahead of us in just getting it in our house, let alone up the stairs to our bedroom.
"This is going to be so cool," said Marissa. "I can't wait to see what it's going to look like."
"We can put our computers next to each other," I said. "Maybe you can even paint something in the middle, or we can run cables through it."
We only managed to get the massive block of wood through our front door and into the living room before we decided we needed a better plan. The wood was just too heavy and unweildly, and neither of us wanted to brave our steep, treacherous staircase that led into the narrow upstairs hallway. We left the table propped up against the wall. For fear that it would tip over and crush our dog Ollie, Marissa stacked boxes and metal chairs at the base of the table.
The next week at work, while going for a walk around the building with my friend Jon, I started explaining our predicament.
"It's just too heavy," I said. "I honestly had no idea how we're going to get it upstairs."
"You know, I have straps in my car," said Jon. "You know like what movers use? Could I come by and give it a try?"
"You're kidding me, Jon," I said incredulously. "You're not volunteering to help me move this thing, are you?"
"No I'm serious," said Jon. "I'll swing by after work today, and we'll get it done."
Jon politely knocked on our door and entered the house, already assembling the metal buckles at each end of his harness. He handed me the other end.
"So this is it?" he said, standing back to admire our table. "This is... wow, this is like a whole bowling alley." He scanned his eyes over to our stairs. "And we're walking up there?"
Jon slipped the fabric straps underneath the table. We carefully lifted it with our legs and shuffled over to the stairs. Together, with Marissa spotting for us, we began the dangerous ascent. Without Jon's clever moving equipment, it would have been impossible. But even with his help, it was incredibly difficult. The heavy wooden table scraped and thudded on each step. The table pinned my leg against the wall, and I adjusted. The table pinned Jon's arm on the opposite wall, and he adjusted. We pressed on, one painful step after another up the old, creaky steps of our house.
"I'm there," said Jon, his head wedged between the table and our door frame."
"Go slow," I said, concerned for where his head was wedged. "I don't want to decapitate you."
We made our way into the room, gently lowering the table to the ground. Marissa raised her arms in triumph.
"Oh my god, I can't believe we did that," I exclaimed. Jon doubled over to catch his breath.
"So if you ever move again," he said, still gasping for air. "I strongly urge you to consider turning this into... I don't know... two stylish coffee tables. Or maybe a few small end tables."
Marissa would finish assemling the legs of the table throughout the week, and by the weekend we were finally ready to set up our things. Crawling under the table to plug in our desktop computers, I noticed the long, menacing screws hanging below.
"Hey," I said. "Are those... you know... baby proof?"
"What," said Marissa, lowering herself under the table to look. "Oh... those. Yeah, I still have to cut those."
Our bowling alley desk may not have been the most practical fixture we've ever owned, but it was special to us. It didn't remind us of our old place with our terrible land lord, and it also wasn't just another piece of trash stashed away in the basement of our scary new house. The table was brand new, and it was ours.
Sometimes I think of Jon, and putting myself in his shoes, I wonder if I would volunteer to help a coworker move a 500 pound hunk of warped, splinter ridden bowling alley wood to his upstairs bedroom in the middle of the week. I think about the beads of sweat rolling off his face, how he didn't make a sound when his arm was crushed up against our wall, and his steadfast patience through it all.
"That was probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for us," recounts Marissa. "And we didn't even know it at the time."