We spent Tuesday “down the shore” with my brother, his wife, and their two daughters. Ostensibly, the trip was about introducing my nieces to the ocean and having a little vacation-within-a-vacation. But there were vital issues of man’s relation to the infinite that needed to be settled. So we went to the boardwalk and found that Addams Family pinball machine.
As I wrote last month,
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and pinball.Ã¢â‚¬Â
My brother and I both love to play pinball–and this particular machine–but we play in very different ways. Like the brothers in MacleanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sublime story, our methods say something about how we each achieve grace in this world.
You can go back and reread that post to learn what I wrote about our two styles (mine: fast and loose; Boaz’s: controlled and precise) and what they allegedly say about our ways of apprehending the world.
What’s important is that we lied to our wives and said, “You get some lunch for the kids; we’ll be over at the arcade for a little while.” Other women could have been nervous that their husbands would be heading over to a bar, or ogling teenagers in bikinis. Of course, any woman who would consent to marry me or Boaz knows what she’s in for: the NBA playoffs and occasional stops at comic stores (me), the NCAA tournament and occasional trips to see Springsteen (Boaz), and pinball (both of us).
So we walked into the arcade, headed to the overheated retro-game room (“Flashbacks”) in back, where John Hughes movie-posters adorned the walls and ’80s music played over the speakers, and we played.
It’s been years since we played pinball together, and I’d like to tell you that it was a glorious reunion, a moment when two brothers could put aside their differences and experience the joy they shared in years past.
Unfortunately, we stunk up the joint.
We were flat-out terrible in our first game. I’m talking Special Olympics bad. We kept looking at each other with that “we’re just working the bad bounces out” look that pinball players have. Both our final scores were under 10 million; a free game was at 56 million. We were embarrassed.
After that first disastrous game, Boaz said, “It’ll be interesting to see which of our styles of play comes around first.”
(Now, I don’t want that to sound like we were trying to beat each other. In fact, we’ve never played against each other. Sure, we both had final scores up on the board, but we never played with any sense of rivalry. It was all about beating the machine, not each other. If anything, we would cheer each other on when one of us would get into a groove.)
We wouldn’t have to wait long for an answer. It was on the second ball of that next game that It All Clicked for me. I got on a run where I hit target after target, sequences falling in line like dominoes. About 140 million points later, I said, “I wish that top right flipper wouldn’t stick.”
Bo agreed that it was holding me back.
It turned out that that game was only a warmup. In the third game, as my brother put it in yesterday’s comments, “Gil absolutely demolished the machine; he managed to make a life-affirming activity absolutely banal.” It was like those rare occasions at basketball when the rim feels as wide as a hula-hoop. (Okay, “THAT rare occasion.” I didn’t have too many of them, to be honest.) Every shot fell, and every bounce that could have lost a ball went my way. Afterward, we joked that the machine was saving the bad bounces for him.
At one point, I had a play that lasted so long, Boaz could’ve left for pizza, strolled over to the “Shoot Bin Laden” paintball booth, and taken the ski-lift back before I was done. But he wouldn’t have missed this run for the world.
This room in the arcade was hot, as I said, and we were both sweating pretty badly (it’s genetic). Any time the ball was held by the machine–like when Thing’s hand comes out and picks the ball up during the Greed sequence–I would quickly pat my palms against my nylon shorts. That was about it for the individual flare. Generally, it was like that feedback loop I described last month: hands on the flippers, and the rest of the body just a scaffold. A pinball machine.
I knocked out every “mansion room” and posted a final score of 450 million: second best on the machine, and probably the highest score I ever got. Jane, Amy & the kids showed up while I was finishing that game. I left the free games on the machine. “Libation to the pinball gods,” I told Boaz.
He stayed to play one or two more games, to show his older daughter what that machine is like. We all enjoyed the first Addams Family movie, and this machine has plenty of great sound-clips from it.
Me? I headed out for some pizza; it was 3 o’clock or so, and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. (The lightheadedness of hunger probably helped me clean out my mind for that zen-ball run.) Jane walked out with me, shaking her head and sighing at the general goofiness of her husband and her brother-in-law.
I told her, “I’m sorry we took so long in there. If it’s any consolation, Bo’s never going to play pinball again.”
Postscript: Half an hour later, my wife flat-out destroyed me at Skee-Ball.
Postpostscript: When we got back to Boaz & Jane’s car, there was a parking ticket on it. I said, “I’ll pay that one. It’s my fault we were gone so long.”