, November 2021

Smokes ‘N Things was a block from the elementary school. They were the first place in town to get the new Donkey Kong Junior. They always got the new arcade games first. The boys usually hung out there after school until the high school kids showed up.

It was early Saturday afternoon, sunny and hot. Angus locked his bike at the school rack and walked over. He liked the sweet smell of the different tobaccos in the store—Captain Black pipe tobacco, King Edward cigars, Camel cigarettes—though he didn’t like the smells when they were lit.

No one was at the game machines, the other being Jungle King. He approached the counter holding one of the dollar bills he’d just stolen from his mother’s wallet.

“Let me guess,” said the man behind the counter, “four quarters.”

“Yes, please,” Angus said, offering the wrinkled bill.

He played four games of Donkey Kong Jr. and was able to clear the third board with the last quarter, but he was a long way from cracking the top five high scores and entering his initials.

Afterwards, he rode across town to the bagel store, which had Dig Dug. No one ever beat his top five high scores in Dig Dug. He used one of the dollars to buy a salted bagel with cream cheese and played two games, but was unable to improve any of his high scores. They also had Ms. Pac Man and he played a game, but only made it to the banana board.

Lou’s Famous Pizzeria had Donkey Kong and Frogger. He owned all the high scores on Donkey Kong, but he’d been bumped out of the top five on Frogger. He bought a slice and played two games of Frogger, capturing the third and fifth spots, then a game of Donkey Kong, improving his third-best score.

The Royal Lanes bowling alley was next to the train station. They had about a dozen arcade games, including the auto-racing game Turbo, and some really old ones like Asteroids and Space Invaders, and pinball machines that only a few of the high school kids and adults played. The alley was open 24 hours and built deep underground with a frighteningly slow elevator that they would sometimes find dead bodies inside of. Someone had knocked him out of the top spot in Turbo, and he had to use three quarters to get it back.

7-Eleven had Zaxxon. He’d cracked the top five high scores a couple of times, but had difficulty with the game’s three-dimensional axonometric projection and sometimes crashed the ship into the fortress walls. He played one game, then bought a piña colada Slurpee and headed up the street.

Bill’s Tavern had a glass tabletop Pac-Man game. Bill would let the kids come in and play during the day when it was just the old men sitting at the bar. Sometimes he would give them a free Shirley Temple or a “Bill Special”, a mixture of all the sodas on the fountain gun and a “secret ingredient” from an unlabeled green medicine bottle that made it taste like cough syrup. The other tabletop game they had was Centipede, which he didn’t care for, so he played one game of Pac-Man and made it to the fourth key board, but there was no chance of topping the high score on this machine—1,479,540.

The shadows were long, but there was time for one more stop before going home to dinner. Three blocks from his house there was a private bar with no sign out front and a strip poker video game inside. He pushed the buzzer and waited until the bartender opened the door and gave him the usual “Hey, it’s the Video Kid!” and let him in. Last time, there were two men on the dance floor kissing, and sometimes there were men dressed like ladies. He folded quickly on his first two quarters, but got hot on his third and continued the game with his last, stripping his opponent down to his pixelated bowtie and G-string, only to lose to a straight flush. ▪