Pinball Wizard

He’d told her so many times she was tired of hearing how, when he was a kid, he used to be an ace at pinball. He told her too many times how he used to hustle the other kids by racking up bonus games from a single quarter and selling a dozen of his accumulated games to the kids behind him wanting to play. He told her about the bowling alley that had all the pinball machines and sold three-two beer for fifty cents a cup to anybody over 12-years-old. But all that was over 50 years ago.

When a pinball bar opened downtown, she asked if he wanted to go. He went through all the shit about being a pinball wizard 50-some years ago and three-two beer for fifty cents a cup and selling his accumulation of games to the kids behind him. She asked him again if he wanted to check out the pinball bar downtown. He said he didn’t like driving much anymore. She said she’d take him if he wanted to go, so he agreed.

They got there on a Thursday afternoon. Pinball Garage had about 30 newer machines. The new machines weren’t anything like the old ones. The new ones had digital screens and digital numbers, unlike the old machines with rotary counters. The new games had video screens and music instead of just bells and lights and flippers and bumpers.

He went up to the bar. There were a lot of beers on tap but he couldn’t tell what most them were by their handles. He asked what the cheapest beer was. The guy behind the bar said Budweiser and Bud Light at $3 a glass were the cheapest that day, but only $2 on Tuesdays. He told the guy behind the bar when he was a kid it was mostly Hudepohl and Bürger and Schoenling on tap. The old man passed on the beer, telling the guy how, when he was a kid, three-two beer was only fifty cents a cup. He passed on the beer, saying he was just gonna play pinball. He told the guy behind the bar how he’d been a real pinball wizard about 55 years ago and how he used to win a bunch of bonus games off a single quarter, then sell all those games to the kids behind him waiting to play.

The guy behind the bar asked the old man if he needed tokens. The old man said he had quarters. The guy behind the bar said he’d need tokens, so the old man got $10 worth of tokens.

He took his cup of tokens to the Batman machine. She followed him. He put in his 4 tokens and played very poorly. He tried several more times and still played poorly. He switched machines over to Twilight Zone. She followed him. He always liked Twilight Zone as a kid so he thought it might bring him better luck. He dumped more tokens in and still played poorly. He told her it was time to go.

On the ride home he complained that the new machines were nothing like the old machines. He said the new games had too many bells and whistles. He said they were too high-tech. He complained how a game used to be a quarter but now it was a dollar. And he complained how a beer was at least $3 instead of fifty cents.

She said maybe his reflexes weren’t what they used to be. She said he wasn’t as young as he used to be. She said maybe that’s why he didn’t play so well. She said maybe he needed practice. She said he could go back to practice. She said he could even go back on Tuesdays when a beer was only $2.

He insisted the reason he didn’t play well had to be the machines. He said it was for sure the machines. He said there was no way he was gonna go back and get ripped off again at $1 per game.

At his home, she stopped at the curb to drop him off. On the way out he began to tell her how, when he was a kid, he was a real pinball wizard. Then he started to tell her about three-two beer when she stopped him and told him she already knew. He thanked her for taking him to the pinball bar. He closed the car door and crept up his sidewalk.

She pulled away from the curb. It was the last time she took him anywhere.

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