Tales of Breakups at Splitsville, South Miami's New Bowling Alley

Anything involving preying mantises and Madonna can't be boring.

Melissa, a blonde in her late forties who looks like she's been bitch-slapped by the sun, kneels in a pair of tight Swarovski crystal-studded jeans on a shiny dance floor. As a neon green disco light slices across her nipped (then tucked, Botoxed, and chemically peeled) face, she seductively tugs a skinny striped scarf from around her neck.

With a quick pelvic thrust, she lifts the knitted neckwear above her head and swirls it like a naughty cowgirl hoping to lasso a young DJ who seems deeply engrossed in the act of avoiding eye contact. Her lust doesn't go unnoticed. A man with white hair sporting an equally age-inappropriate ensemble that includes an Ed Hardy tee, swoops her up and attempts to swing dance to Britney Spear's "Womanizer."

It doesn't work. She turns her back and walks away.

"Breaking up is hard to do," Neil Sedaka sang in that sickeningly syrupy 1962 pop oldie. Or maybe it's easy. But it's why I've come to this swanky, upscale bowling alley, Splitsville (5701 Sunset Dr., Ste. 350), to find out. Lanes here go for $60 to $95 per hour. Cutesy Americanized sushi with names like the Bubba Roll (shocker — it has shrimp) is the norm. And a multigenerational mix of Top 40 favorites, from Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to No Doubt's "Ex-Girlfriend," make it easy to pry a saga of heartbreak from any champagne (or DanActive)-sipping patron.

"Most of my break-up stories are sad," Melissa begins in a voice scruffed-up by Virginia Slims. "A few months ago, I dumped a guy during a blind date. He was cute and took me to a nice place, but he kept on talking about a business trip he just took to China and how all the condoms there were too small for him." She rolls her eyes, which are ruled with smudged liner, and adds that the Chinaman had a penchant for puncturing his Johnson. "Not only is it pierced; it's been pierced three times!"

No wonder, I think, the female preying mantis bites the head off of her mate right after hot, steamy insect intercourse. Next, as the first few chords of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" sound, I hone in on two women chitchatting at a high bar table backed by one of the many giant bowling-pin columns that dot this megamerriment multiplex.

Cheri — a 55-year-old Trinidadian with a honey-hued complexion, dangling amber earrings, and a leopard-print sleeveless turtleneck — is clearly affected by the song. She's quick to relay her marrying-divorcing-remarrying history. "My first husband was a jerk. After 13 years, he cheated on me. When I found out, I wanted to do something drastic to get his attention. Although I had kicked him out of our apartment the day before, we decided to go to a party together on New Year's Eve, and when we got there, I told him he could have any ho that he could find, because by this time, I had already met another man, who was also at the party.

"That night, I talked [the other] guy into moving in with me. Three days later, my husband tried to come back home and found that I had changed all the locks. He knocked on the door, and my new boyfriend answered and let him know that our marriage was over. Then I married that guy for three years and then left his ass."

Why?

"He wouldn't let me out of the house or have friends or drive or wear shorts!" she says, her hazel eyes popping from their sockets. "He once tried to hit me, so I put his ass in jail. But nowadays I'm like ... yeah!" She proceeds to do the cabbage patch and then sips on a glass of water while joyfully flipping though a menu.

I guess for Cheri, the movie never ends.

It goes on and on and on and on.

In serious need of a steroid-laced dose of testosterone, I move on to two men, both appearing to be in their forties, who are finishing up a game on one of several clusters of lanes.

"I don't have a break-up story," says Adam, a gap-toothed guy whose cell phone, which is glued to his ear, seems to keep dropping calls from his wife. "But I have a story about how I saved my marriage."

This sounds refreshing.

"Basically, I found out she was a lesbian...." All of a sudden his wife is on the line. "Hi! What, hon?" After a short conversation about nothing, he hangs up. "I don't think she's going to like me sharing this, but ... we were all drinking at Don Carter's in Kendall, playing pool, and I don't know what happened, but one thing led to another and she was all over Mike's wife."

Mike, a silver fox and unfortunately Adam's friend, smiles nervously and nods toward the door. He's eager to get out of here.

Adam continues: "So now we have this arrangement where we bowl and our wives get together. It's kind of cool and it's kind of hot. I'm not sure what initiated it, but I'm thinking it was all the balls."

Mike successfully drags Adam away. I spot from the corner of my eye a short thirtysomething with an ample belly scoping me out. I approach him. He introduces himself as Bob and then rehashes the last time he was dumped. "I was living with my girlfriend, and I came home one evening and found all of her stuff, and her kids' stuff, gone," he says with a puppy-dog plea for sympathy. "Ends up she was embezzling money and got caught, so she immediately moved her family back to Cuba. I guess she figured her kids would have a better future there than here."

I feel for Bob. But I should have known, as Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" plays overhead, there was one more jagged little pill to swallow.

Meet Fernando, a tall and handsome Cuban-American who "accidentally" dated a prostitute. "I was 17 and she was 28, but I told her I was 20 and she told me she was 23. I met her at a gas station one night. She was wearing nothing but a teddy and a Members Only jacket."

Uh-huh.

"We exchanged numbers and I'd invite her over when my mom wasn't home. A few weeks later, my neighbor came up to me one night after she left and told me she was a hooker and he'd been with her. At first I was seeing red, but then he told me she also had a big, mean pimp, and then I got scared. I mean, I was only 19."

"I thought you said 17," I say.

"Oh yeah, 17," he responds, flashing a smile as his cheeks become flushed. "Anyway, I stopped calling her, and she started getting mad. She'd call my house all the time, yell at my mom, until one night she showed up at 2 a.m., blasted music from her car, and started yelling my name. Thankfully my neighbor got rid of her."

All right, I've had enough. Now I totally understand why Cher asked to turn back time ... why Pantera felt compelled to pen the lyrics "I'd kill myself for you, I'd kill you for myself" ... even why Guy Ritchie went from feeling like a virgin to publicly admitting that making love with Madonna "was like cuddling a piece of gristle."

That or I just can't take any more pop music.

On my way to the door, I run into Cheri again and ask her if she has found husband number three tonight.

"It's hard to date at my age," she laments. "All the young boys think I'm a sugar mama, but I ain't got no money. I can't help them out...."

So she's not Madonna.

"And all the men my age are so boring. All they want to do is stay at home with their remote controls, pop a Viagra, and kill you all night long."

Cheri, meet the preying mantis. Preying mantis, meet your new mentor, Cheri.

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