Special When Lit
by Michele Christopher
I have no idea where today's idea came from. We were thinking of something like games or pinball or something. Sometimes we get off track at FTTW. Sometimes we get really off at FTTW. Sometimes we are so fucking off we can split the Red Sea and free the Jews from slavery. Lucky you! This is the day Moses points down and says "Run! Run! Today's post is coming like the Romans in chariots! Run!" I think I watch too much TV.
But where to go? I can't get all biblical on you and give you some quote cause the last one I remember is Turtle 13:6. "He who is named turtle shall swim in the lake of Michele." Maybe I read that wrong though. I think it's in there. On that page. No. Not the one we rolled a joint with. That one. Right there. Doesn't it say that? Fuck. A whole book with nothing in it about making love to Michele? Hm. I'll write my own. Anton LeVay did it. So can I.
Oh yeah. Sometimes at FTTW we get off track. Way off. We don't decide what the other writes. We just think of an idea and write for about an hour. Sometimes the idea is hard. Sometimes just a thought. Sometimes one of us goes one way and sometimes the other tracks off somewhere else. It's kinda the fun part of this site. When we go off on a different angle. So far off we don't really remember the point of the story. "Who was what in there where now?" is a pretty common theme here. Some stories more than others. If you find a theme here, please post in the comments, cause we sure as fuck don't know where this started.
And hey, before the stories get started here, just a reminder to nominate your favorite 80's punk album.
South Shore Nevada. Is that two words? Southshore?
Anyways, since I've given you way too many questions already for this story I'll move on.
If you haven't already figured it out by now, this story will probably be about gambling. Other Nevada stories I keep to myself cause it kinda bugs the Michele. But this one I'll tell!
I was my birthday and for some god forsaken reason I was on the road with four sorority chicks cruising up to Nevada. They had no idea I had a bullet in my pocket and was constently knocking back speed. If you don't know what a bullet is, it is a small container that holds dope. It looks like a bullet. When it is turned upside down, a small amount is put into the head. The you just shove it up your nose and inhale. God, that sounds gay. I was also armed with a bottle of Afrin loaded down in about 50 bucks worth of dope. You want to see jesus? Knock a shot of that back in your nose. I fucking couldn't tell you if it was day or night. But, sorority girls dude. Sorority girls!
As the story goes on you will learn to find out why I hate them. Or maybe not. I really don't know where these stories go when I start them.
Getting to be about nine at night we get out of the car. The girls go in and I follow. I'm bored. This sucks. See i'm not the gambling type. I don't really like it. You can't really say "Yeah, I'm really good at craps!" or "Yeah, I'm really good at roulette!" Doesn't happen. When you gamble all there are just different degrees of "I lost my ass there tonight." Sure, they console you with free drinks, but fuck man, a five dollar bar tab waved cause you lost two hundred bucks at the table is like the fat kid in the teeter totter.
Fun to look at, but with no purpose. Cause you always know it will never go anywhere. The more chocolate the fat kid eats, the more you lose. That's my analogy for gambling. Fat kids and chocolate. I'm tired. Gimmie a break.
So the girls in all their fruity goodness run in to lose their student loans in under six hours. Meh. At least I bought a few cool guns with my student loans. Fuck. It's still snowing. I don't wanna go in there. Liquor store. This could work. I bought a pint of vodka and went out behind the casino. A bench was there and I sat on it. I guess it was for the waiters to come out to on a smoke break. So I sat down and just looked at the stars. I stared up and I stared down. The constellations were so perfect. The sky so clear. The air so fresh. The ti.....
"Hey dude. You got a smoke?"
Well, fuck dude. Way to end my zen moment. A waiter was out next to me knocking me around for a cirgarette. Fuck. Yeah I have one. What's up? Not much. You want a pull? Is that vodka? Yeah. I'll take a pull.
"A pull?" Are you a carney? Are you gonna call me a rube next and tell me about the jesus key while we split lines of dope while pointing out other people tattoos are so lame compared to ours?
In all truth that's what we did. We sat in the back doing drugs, drinking cheap vodka, eating steak sandwichs and making fun of of people.
While it snowed.
I could barely walk as I went thru the kitchen with him to find the girls. He could barely walk as he moved to the cold plate area. We both looked at each other and had a knowing glance. This night would be over soon. Not my fault he wanted to drink on some bench in the snow. At least I could go home. Wherever that was tonight.
I walked into the Casino wasted as hell. Lights. Cameras. Action. I could barely breathe. High altitude. Vodka. Meth. All running in me at once. The girls. I had to find the girls. Grabbing a few drinks at the tables and playing the entire eight dollars I had, I moved on. I needed to go back to wherever the fuck we were at. I was done. Look at the clock. 12:30. Hell, I still have an hour or so to buy more beer. Everything is cool. Let's keep walking.
I wandered outside and was hit by a snowball. This is the part of the story where you get to hear why I hate sorority girls. Pummeled by snowballs like something straight out of a "Calvin and Hobbes" comic. I was hit in the head and in the arm. One of the girls climbed on the top of some statue and was hitting me from above. What can you do? I just took it and asked where we were sleeping. See, they were "fun" drunk. I was "almost dead drunk". So I took the abuse and we went home. Well, back to the hotel. We all woke up in the morning and needed some food. Me, freezing and shaking, them just hungover. We needed to eat.
We went back to the same place. I didn't see the guy who drank with me the night before, but I saw someone who looked just like him. Stumbling. Shaking. Sweaty.
Think about that next time you order food from a buffet in Tahoe.
The people making it are probably tweaked out and drunk.
They think Jesus is making your food.
Jesus doesn't like well done food.
He likes seared.
And try the shrimp.
Pinball Palace was a small, almost hidden place, tucked between the Jerry Lewis Movie theater and a specialty bra shop. From the outside, it looked forbidden and dangerous, two things that combined to point a beckoning finger at me.
Gina opened the door and I followed, knowing that this was exactly the kind of place my parents warned me about. Which made it exactly the kind of place I wanted to be.
As soon as we stepped inside my brain went into sensory overload. The smell hit me first; cigarettes, pot and teenage sweat all mingled together. That sounds nasty but it’s really a powerful, enticing aroma to a 13 year old who was already dabbling in the dark side of suburbia.
The noises. The clacking of pool balls as someone yelled “break!” Dings and whistles coming from the mess of pinball machines that lined the walls. Bikers cursing. Quarters jangling in the pockets of Levis. Fists banging on plexiglass as a machine tilted. And David Essex's “Rock On” on the jukebox. The combination of those sounds and the smells was intoxicating. Overwhelming at first, but so intoxicating.
This was my first time in the Palace and, I have to say, the sensory overload, plus the bikers looking like they were about to start a brawl with some potheads, made me a little nervous. So instead of digging for some quarters and trying out a game, which is what I wanted to do so badly, I kind of just hung back while Gina made her deal with guy at the change counter. When she was done, we went behind the movie theater, smoked a joint, and then snuck in the back door of the theater. They were showing Shampoo. We watched Warren Beatty, naked on the floor and humping the daylights out of the poor girl underneath him and all I remember is a person was watching them through a window and said something like "Now that's what I call fucking!" Gina sat gaping at the screen, taking in every word, every movement, probably taking notes in her head, and all I could think about was going back to Pinball Palace. The sounds played in my head. Pinball machines. Quarters. Rock On. That place was beckoning me like the sea calls to a sailor. Or something like that.
I went back with Gina the next Saturday. This time, I brought quarters. While Gina flirted with her dealer, I made the walk toward the machine in the far corner, toward the thing that haunted my dreams the entire week. It loomed there like a god calling me into its temple. Or maybe it was like a monster luring me to its lair. I stopped. Stood in front of it. Sucked in my breath and admired the beauty that was the Bally Wizard. Pinball Wizard. Tommy. Ann Margaret with her legs spread on the backglass. Tommy.
I hesitated for a split second, then put the quarter in, knowing full well that I would become addicted to the flashing lights and turning numbers. The quarter dropped. I hit the reset button. The silver ball popped into place and I slowly pulled back the lever, feeling the resistance of the coiled spring. I let go. The tip of the lever and the metal ball connected and as that ball went around the curve on its journey towards the playing field, it took with it my grades, my social life, my allowance. From the first loud ding when the ball rang up my first score, I was obsessed.
My fingers worked the flippers as deftly as Gina’s fingers worked rolling joints. I moved back and forth, swinging my hips and nudging the machine a little to the left, a little to the right, careful not to piss it off enough to make it tilt. My eyes darted between the ball and the scoreboard and my heart skipped a beat as I saw the paper taped to the top of the glass with the high scores for the week listed. My name would be up there one day. Yes, it would. A girl’s gotta have goals in life. Some of my friends wanted to discover a cure for cancer or find life on Mars. I just wanted my name written in magic marker on top of that piece of paper. I’m pretty simple like that. You want a higher education? Rip it up. I just wanted a high score.
An hour later, Gina had to drag me out of the Palace. Even when my quarters ran out, I wanted to stay. I wanted to watch the masters play, the guys who turned over the numbers over. The guys who could smoke and drink and play at the same time.
Going with Gina on her Saturday deals wasn’t enough anymore. I started walking to the Palace after school. If Gina wouldn't go there was always someone else willing to hang out and watch me play pinball with me instead of going home. I’d bribe them with a couple of cigarettes and the promise that there were older, hot guys/girls there. We would throw a few quarters into the jukebox (three plays for twenty five cents) and play the same tunes over and over. Black Betty. Trampled Underfoot. Slip Kid. Have A Cigar.
Sometimes I would ask my mother for a ride to the library and when she pulled away after dropping me off, I would duck out the door and run across Front Street, straight to Pinball Palace. I mean, mom never wondered why I went to the library so much because, despite what you may think you know about me, I was really a bookish kinda kid. I liked to read. I didn’t really like lying to my mom, though. Catholic guilt. It wears you down. So I rationalized my lying by, well, justifying it. See, I wasn't out on the streets doing drugs - no respectable 13 year old considered pot a real drug - and I wasn't out getting pregnant like Mrs. Winslow's daughter. I was just playing pinball. Besides, I kept a copy of The Chocolate War tucked into the back of my jeans. Sometimes I read while waiting for the Bally Wizard to free up. So I wasn’t totally lying. Right? That Catholic guilt. It’s still there.
My trips to the Palace got less frequent as the weather got cold. No one wanted to walk that far, not even for a bribe of a cigarette, a few quarters and a slice from Pizza King. Once in a while we’d get a ride to the movie theater and slip inside the Palace instead. Each time I walked through those doors was like the first. The smell, the sounds, the adrenaline rush as I stared down the Wizard. Ann Margaret with her legs spread.
They closed Pinball Palace before the warm weather came back. Neighbors were complaining. Community action groups were picketing. Churches were praying for the souls of the kids caught up in the glare of those flashing lights. They claimed Pinball Palace was a haven for dirty, unkempt teenagers who cursed and drank and smoked. It was stealing the life and soul of the community's young adults. Well, yea. Not to mention my allowance. But hey, it was my choice. I kinda liked having my soul eaten away by the Bally Wizard and Grand Slam and Atlantis.
And then, it was gone. I cried, I mourned, I laid in bed at night, my fingers twitching to imaginary flippers, the game playing out in my mind. We had to find another place. I was an addict looking for a fix. I needed it. I craved it. I played entire games of Grand Slam in my head, complete with tilts and free balls and high scores.
That summer, my parents decided I needed an “attitude adjustment” and pulled me out of the "terrible" public school system. Catholic high school would surely lead me on the path to a righteous life. I would make new friends. Better friends. Friends that didn’t reek of bong water and hang out in pinball places. Friends who wore skirts and ties and gave their quarters to the collection basket instead of jukeboxes and games.
So the new school year starts, I make some friends and mom and dad are happy. I’m staying after school to study and umm...attend chapel.
Not quite. See, the 7-11 across the street from school held a deep, dark secret in its back corner. A Bally Wizard pinball machine. My new friends, who hated ties and skirts and hoarded their quarters like gold, would watch me play for hours each day, taking bets on whether I would break the high score or not. I had a following. I was the Pinball Wizard. 7-11 wasn't quite the same as Pinball Palace, but Kevin had his portable cassette player and we listened to Thin Lizzy and Wish You Were Here while I worked the flippers. Every day. Bell rings. Class dismissed. Walk across street. Smoke joint. Drop quarters. Special when lit!
Pinball eventually gave way to other video games. Asteroids. Galaga. Space Invaders. Arcades started popping up everywhere. My pinball skills were ancient history. Nobody cared about the high score taped the Bally Wizard. There were aliens to fight. Spaceships to pilot.
I’ll never regret all those hours and quarters spent feeding my pinball frenzy. Learning the exact angles of each machine, getting a rush when my name went up on the high score chart. Those were good times. My mother told me that I was wasting away my life playing those games, that I would never get anything useful out of it. Hah. What does she know? If it wasn't for those quick reflexes and the incredible hand-eye coordination I developed at Pinball Palace, I wouldn’t know the joy of kicking my kid’s ass at Street Fighter. -M