I wonder how many members of the younger generation in my family have actually played pinball. I mean one of those actual stand-up, boxy machines with all the constantly breaking moveable parts, not some digital version thereof. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one, but they loomed very large in my childhood.
Thinking about pinball machines makes me feel 13 again. When my mother would give me a quarter or two, I felt like I’d won the lottery, and I’d race down the street to the game room to play. For a little while I got to escape my unhappy, stressful, dysfunctional life and go somewhere where I was, well, pretty darned good. I can understand why kids get caught up in video games.
I’d always do my best to choose a less sexist machine, one that wasn’t covered in images of scantily clad women. This wasn’t always easy, but I’d do my best. I was a feminist even then.
I could milk hours of entertainment out of a single quarter. I’d keep that ball in play, jiggling the machine just enough to manipulate its trajectory, but not so much to make the machine tilt. When the machine tilted, you’d sometimes have to get the manager to get it working again, and he’d sigh heavily before waddling out to do so. But that was greatly preferable to his reaction when you accidentally bounced the metal ball and it hit the glass and caused a hairline crack. (There’s no sound quite like it. CRACK. Pink, pink, pink…)
If you spent any amount of time at a game room, you’d develop a love/hate relationship with the manager. If he was in a good mood and the place wasn’t too crowded, he’d give you a quarter to play again when the machine malfunctioned. If he was in a bad mood, it was your tough luck. Sometimes he’d just give me a quarter for the heck of it. One look at my ragged tennis shoes and I’m sure he got a sense of how poor we were.
Sometimes I’d keep a single ball in play for so long that I’d desperately need to pee. That wasn’t a problem if a trusted friend was around. All you’d have to do is expertly balance the ball on the flipper, and then have your friend hold the flipper steady until you came back from the bathroom. But if no friend was in sight, you had a choice to make: biology or victory. It was very hard to pass up the opportunity to beat a rival’s high score.
If I was having a particularly bad game day and I ran out of quarters, I’d make the rounds of the neighborhood payphones to see if I could find any spare change. (And if the younger generation hasn’t played pinball, they’ve probably never robbed a payphone either.) This gambit was often more successful than you’d expect.
And speaking of biology, I have to say that even though I was extremely shy and a social pariah, I was at my most sexually powerful when playing pinball. (And if you think 13-year-olds don’t think along those lines, you’re woefully out of touch.) I’d stand there, my long thick hair flowing down my back, my cute little butt (I miss it!) poured into my skin tight jeans, wiggling as I manipulated this machine that was bigger than I was. It was a mating dance with a bing bong click soundtrack. It felt like all eyes were on me, but I would never know for sure, as I had to concentrate on the game.
I wouldn’t want to be 13 again unless I could spend the whole time playing pinball. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing.