Pocketful of Quarters

Hah! Kevin invited me back for a second straight night! Either he likes me or he likes that some of you don’t like me. Either way, here I am and I left my punk rock records home. Tonight, we talk joysticks.

My co-writer/better half (T) and I (M) take turns talking about our favorite arcade games. Is this something you can get behind? Is there a political base one needs to be affiliated with to hate arcade games? I can’t keep up with this stuff. All I know is, these posts contain foul language and references to drugs. Proceed at your own risk. Just saying. And if drug references and punk rock are your thing, then you can come over and visit us at Faster Than the World. Yea, that’s a plug.

Something you may not know about me – I’m a hardcore gamer. I cut my teeth on pinball machines back in the 70’s and I’m still going strong today with about six different consoles in my house plus a working C64 that I use to play games like Last Ninja and California Games. pong.jpgSo when Turtle and I were talking and the subject of video games came up and he said ‘let’s write about arcade game tonight’ I jumped at the chance. And then he started bombarding me with links to Pong. Yea, I get it. I’m old. Thanks. But let me tell you, dude. Pong ruled. You may think it was just a simple game where you hit a white dot back and forth against two lines that were supposed to be people, but there was a lot more involved. It was social commentary. It was all about the futility of life, the dawning awareness you get at 3am when you realize that this is all there is, just a back and forth, back and forth, never ending game of throw and catch. Well, hell. I had to find some way to make that game interesting. I tried to turn it into a game about the Cold War, but no matter how hard I squinted, I couldn’t make Player 1 look like Kruschev.

I lived in arcades for more years than I care to mention. I can’t imagine how many quarters I dropped into those machines. I kinda miss those days. The thrill of stuffing a paycheck’s worth of quarters into a slot. Spending almost entire days controlling joysticks and trackballs, mashing buttons and shooting insects and riding ostriches. I played every game out there, from Death Race to Galaxian to Tron and Dragon’s Lair and Ghosts and Goblins and Tempest and Defender and, well, you get the point.

There’s one game that sticks out in my mind from those days.. This was around the time I was graduating high school and you would think I’d start behaving more like a grown up and less like a kid jacked up on speed and quarters who spent her school lunch hour in the local pizza place pressing buttons and jonesing for a high score. But no. The lure of the games was just too much. berz.jpgNothing could pull me away from that pizza place, or the 7-11 or the arcade. And especially not the local bar (whose name escapes me) where a game called Berzerk sat in a dusty corner, begging for my quarters.

“Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” I can still hear that loud and clear in my head as if I was still standing there, beer balanced on a barstool pulled up next to the machine, quarters laid out in a row as if to say to anyone else “This is my place. I’m not leaving. Don’t even think that you are going to get anywhere near this game tonight. Cause I am on fire and fucking Evil Otto is going to die a brutal death this evening.”

Except Evil Otto could not be destroyed. I knew this, knew this was how the game worked and there was nothing I could do about it, but that did not stop me, especially when I was drunk, from thinking that one more quarter, one more game, would let me somehow find some deep, dark secret hidden deep within the code that would let me destroy Otto. I was at war with this evil overlord. He haunted my sleep. He kept me awake even when the bedspins would die down. Do you know what Evil Otto looked like? He looked like this: otto.jpg Evil fucking Otto was a bouncing smiley face. Oh, don’t let that smile deceive you. You could feel the evil oozing from Otto. You knew he was bad despite the happy grin.

This game was frustrating to say the least. You couldn’t touch anything. Not a wall, not a robot and especially not Evil Otto. You just had to maneuver your humanoid around and hope that all the robots would kill each other off and you could escape into an opening in the wall before Otto bounced into you.

“Chicken! Fight like a robot!” What? Is this game mocking me? “Fuck you!” I would yell back at the machine every time that voice called me a chicken. If I was drinking vodka, I might kick the game or threaten the disembodied voice with bodily harm to both it and its mother. If I was drinking rum, I would just feel hurt and cry. “I am not a chicken! I am not a chicken!” Someone would come over and hand me a shot of something fiery and I’d throw it back, take a deep breath and challenge Evil Otto to come get me, motherfucker. berzarc.jpgWhen I would actually kill all the robots and escape through an opening, the voice would say “The humanoid must not escape!” Dude, that’s kinda scary. I mean, especially if I had been smoking pot and was all paranoid about Evil Otto killing me in my sleep to begin with. Now this voice is yelling out that I must not escape? I would rather it call me a chicken. That’s freaking creepy.

You think I’m a wuss for being afraid of a stupid bouncing smiley face? Check this out:

Berzerk was the first video game known to have been involved in the death of a player. In January 1981, 19-year-old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack soon after posting a score of 16,660 on Berzerk. In October of the following year, Peter Burkowski made the Berzerk top-ten list twice in fifteen minutes, just a few seconds before also dying of a heart attack at the age of only 18

See, dude? Otto was indeed evil. He still shows up in my dreams once in while. “Intruder alert!” -M

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t play alot of video games. I play pool. That’s one thing that’s different from the Michele and I. Michele rips those fuckers up, but I never did. Video games were just an excuse to drink beer. Something to do when some god damn kid on your pool table couldn’t sink the 9-ball. ” C’mon dude. Knock this fucker in. People are waiting. C’mon dude. This isn’t fucking rocket science. C’mon dude.”

What to do? You couldn’t go up to him doing an Arnold Swarzenegger impression and say “Game Over” and shove the ball in the hole. Well…yes…yes you could do that, but thats only when you were really tired of seeing the fucking ball hit the side so many fucking times it reminded you of Woodstock always trying to fly and Snoopy just getting pissed that the bird always hit the ground. No matter what. He always hit the ground. “What the fuck is wrong with you, bird? Can’t you fucking fly?” That kinda shit. So that was my only exposure to video games. Frustration and boredom from some fuck who couldn’t fly. Just not really giving a fuck but wasting time.
Well, there was one game. One that was the biggest I’d ever seen. One that was intimidation. Pure intimidation. When you looked at it , the game looked like a puzzle. Something weird with four sticks and a bunch of buttons and a bunch of players. Do you know what it ended up to be for me? A lot of quarters. A lot of god damn quarters.

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Yeah, you guys know the game. The game that once you started you just couldn’t stop. One that was incredibly frustrating, stupid and impossible. The maze game. Yeah, you know it. Don’t lie. Everyone has lost about 20 bucks at the minimum on it. This game needed its own Swiss bank account for the money I alone put in it.You know it.That huge one where you and three and your friends could waste a day playing.

This game was class cutting dope pure and simple. Fuck school. That pizza joint opens at 10. The hell with Math. I want to ba a fucking Elf! So off we went. And I’ll be the first to admit and can’t add two plus two but there are other reasons for that. But this game didn’t help me try to learn my ABC’s.

This game dragging you in and wouldn’t let you out. You couldn’t die on you friends, can you? You can’t let your friends down, can you? What the fuck, man? Your friends are in there fucking dying, man! Get fuck back in there and give them a fucking hand, man! The fuck is wrong with you? They are fucking dying, man! What the fuck is wrong with you? Get that fucking quarter into the machine before those god damn ghosts kill them, man! If they die cause you couldn’t get change for your dollar fast enough..their blood…look at your hands…that’s on it. So get those god damn quarters! Fast!

If this game didn’t start the Crips and Bloods, I don’t know what the fuck did. I keep looking for that game everytime I watch “Colors” thinking that if this is not in there, Dennis Hopper isn’t worth shit as a director. Cause man. This was a game that was all about gangs. You and me. We will get through this. Will fight and die for each other. Just don’t fucking shoot me and don’t fucking shoot the food or that god damn announcer is gonna tell us that “Shooting food is bad.” Yeah. Thanks fucking Einstein. I figured that one out years ago when I bought my first AK in the back of a Burger King parking lot. Told you guys. This game was pure gang.

This game was so gang that when I worked at a warehouse, it was referenced. Yeah, I worked at a warehouse. There was a hardcore Crip that worked there with me and we never got along. Nothing we said to each other was right. He yelled at me. I yelled at him. I was his boss, so I kinda could say a lot and he was a hardcore gangster and would say anything he wanted. Worked out nice. One person calling the other an “gangster asshole” while the other calling him a “whitebread motherfucker”. It worked out nice. Mutual hate.

Sounds like a speed metal song. “Mutual Hate”. Maybe it is already. Fuck if I know.

But, I digress.

We both had worked all day unloading pallates for some dumb ass company that sold small pieces of vacuum cleaners. Really. I’m fucking serious. Vacuum cleaner parts. Who in the fuck would repair a 60 dollar vacuum? Fuck dude. Throw it away, for christ’s sake. But I guess I was wrong. This place had shipments coming in everyday. All day. We worked hard doing all this and we didn’t like each other at all. Never talked. Well, barely talked. Giving each other evil scowls all day long, we had to unload a huge truck. We finished it. We did it. That was huge. That was alot of parts. Tired. Beat. Covered in sweat. I sat back on the wall. Lit a cigarette. He sat next to me. Breathing hard. Both like two wounded warriors who had been doing this too long. Both just giving up.

The roach coach came in. Signaled its horn.

At the same time, we both said “Elf needs food… badly.”

Both heads turned to face each other. Sweat dripping down our faces. Looking at each other. Staring each other down in the eyes for a few seconds.

Then we both just laughed.

I handed him a cigarette as we walked off to get shitty tacos.

And we were friends to the end.

Cause that’s the way it works.

You battle together. You eat shitty tacos together.

Kinda Zen if you think about it.

That was Gauntlet -T

Gratuitous plug!

"I Don't Understand the Necessity for Patriotism"
Strike one in the case against Cynthia McKinney


  1. ExVoto June 17, 2006
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  4. the turtle June 17, 2006
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