Arcade Fire

by Amy Turn Sharp


I worked in an arcade for about a year in college. My boss turned our fine dining restaurant into a coffee shop/deli and he had us dismantle the old oak bar and turn it into an arcade. One week we were in black dress pants and bow ties serving gimlets to the academics and the next we were in jeans and tees hauling in the latest Street Fighter unit. He bought old school pinball and shooter games that we used blue soft rags on and windexed to a glossy glow. There were loud games and bright flashing games that I was certain would induce an unknown case of epilepsy in me. But my favorite was the old claw crane game. Shitty stuffed animals and Velcro wallets littered the interior of the plexi-glass case but everyone was hot for it. Those games are like the ultimate girls that no one really gets. People can't stop trying till it's not even healthy anymore. I would see money lost so quickly that it titillated me from my perch on the black vinyl chair. I sat behind the glass counter that was made to resemble a Chuck E. Cheese ticket redemption set up. Tiny crappy toys in plastic bins and candy all lined up in a row. No one cared about the tickets from the ancient skee ball game as people just wanted to look cool and lean into hard machines. It was safe to sway your hips and act tough behind the glare of "The WHO". Almost everyone's ass looks tighter when you bend over and stick it out.

You could be who ever you wanted to be as a gamer

No little kids ever hardly came in, it was all the cool kids, the freaks, the hipsters. (who had no idea they were to be called hipsters as they were just aloof and particular, dressed in head to toe shit from the thrift store) Even some old professors would come and challenge the young hoods. It was hopping on weekdays after school for the teens, They would practice mating rituals and act slutty while they ate skinny french fries and smoked joints on the concrete handicap back door ramp. I worked Tuesday nights and Sundays. Sunday was the best day ever. In a tiny college town it is like the silent time as the zombies were not yet walking the earth.  I went in at 10 am and not a soul hit the streets much until after lunch. Most everyone I knew was still drunk or sleeping underneath some bad mistake or moaning and moving up and down in the fierceness of being twenty years old.

When people did come in on Sundays it was slow and hazy. I would lock the long cabinet and walk across the street to The Union and order a shot of vodka. I would spin around on the barstool and practice weird and write poems about people. I would hit the newsstand where I had convinced the owner to let me read all of his magazines for free. I just took one and returned it 30 minutes later for a fresh one. I am not sure how I got him to let me do this but it was a finely tuned super power that I had that year. I would order Chinese food and stuff my face. I would smoke cigs in the street. I would go back to the arcade and stand up to young boys who beat on Gauntlet Legends and hiss at the kids out back. I called long distance on the telephone. I ate lemon heads.

My boss, my polio stricken boss, who walked with a limp that I grew to love like a habit (his limp was almost separate from his body and it strangely comforted me) would tell me to just call the number in the tiny white book in the cabinet if anything ever got crazy. The number was similar to the gmail feature nowadays that says "call phone". I had no idea where the number went and I never had to call it but I think about it sometimes. One time this drunk kid was throwing the wooden skee balls at his friend and I screamed at him and he saw my rage and he walked quickly into the night. I met him randomly that winter in a bar and we became friends. He said I was intense and I knew that it was OK to be called this by men as it kept them on their toes. We collided several times across the brick uneven streets those last few years we were students and I wonder about him sometimes. He had rage too. He may very know the origins of his rage by now. This was so long ago if you look at a calendar.

I think about how way before I had a cell phone or so many distractions that came after the mid 90's, that I was given 10 bucks an hour to sit on my ass and watch people. I was paid to tune and refine the art of watching. It was the best writing class I never took. Character sketch 101. And when I locked up the place at ten o'clock at night, it was dark and silent after I hit all of the buttons and ran to the door. Everything looked calm again and my body was back lit only by the red neon sign glare as I walked down the safe street of my history.