My high school and college life was, in retrospect, so focused about pinball. In high school my semi-hetero former lifemate Tom and I would go to Golf 'n' Stuff (later Castles and Coasters) solely to take part in their impressive display of well over 30 pinball machines. And my love of pinball games shone bright in college especially. It was there that I would regularly spend a great deal of my parent's hard earned cash in flippers and balls. God. That sounds much worse than it actually was.
Here are my top four favorite pinball machines of all time ...
This is my absolute favorite pinball machine of all time. This is the closest there has ever been and probably ever WILL be to an Ed Wood pinball machine, not to knock the creativity and ingenious creation that is this sweet ass pinball machine. The twist is that, surprise, the whole game has hardly anything to do with the movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon. What it's really about is a trip to the drive-in to see some crappy movie with your friends. There's actual cool fifties music playing. There's a snack bar and there's even bonus points for sneaking your friends in. You spell K-I-S-S to kiss your date and you spell F-I-L-M to start the movie. But, as anyone who'se spent as much time at a drive-in as I have knows, the movie is always secondary to having a fun ass time and that's what this game is all about. The coolest part is in the middle of the game there's an ominous black "lagoon" and at certain points in the game a 3D holographic image of the creature will rise from the lagoon to get you ...
At Arizona State University, a college so slack that I would wake up at noon to go to bowling class, then head over to the music department for Beatles class, there was a decent arcade on the lower level of the student union. There was a dark room against the wall (that was never properly lit - why was that?) that had all the classic games of the late nineties ... The Addams Family, The Simpsons, Twilight Zone, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Star Trek: The Next Generation. And they had this. I loved this game. I would regularly miss class just to be with this game. Hell, I'd even kiss it sometimes when no one was looking. Five, ten, twenty dollars, all on a day of playing. I'm totally serious. The amount of money I spent on this game is criminal. But I couldn't help it. I had to. Don't you see that? As the founder of The Church of Ed Wood I felt it was my mission to forgo as much of my collegiate life as was necessary to master this pinball machine. And master it I did. See, Pepe? I did accomplish something with my seven years of ASU.
The Who's Tommy is the first album ever to be classified as a rock opera. Green Day needs to kneel down and lick Pete Townshend's big toe. It's the sad and ominously psychedelic story of a ten year old boy who witnesses his father kill his wife's lover and due to this trauma he becomes mute, deaf, and blind, only to get raped, tortured by his cousin, accidentally become the world's greatest pinball player, become miraculously healed and then use his pinball skills to become a charismatic cult leader. Okay, so it doesn't sound all that inviting. But it went from a rock album into a play into a major(ly bizarre) motion picture and then into a major broadway play which this pinball machine is based on.
Now I would love to sit here and tell you that I've been a major fan of The Who all my life ever since I was a kid and that I was a huge fan of Tommy when this pinball machine rolled into town in the mid nineties. But I'm not going to lie to you. I was a sophomore in high school when the arcade outside of the AMC Gateway Village 10 got this bright yellow pinball machine that glowed and screamed and played the song Pinball Wizard way too loud every couple of minutes. And I had never heard of Tommy before. Never. Would you believe I first heard of The Who's Tommy through the pinball game? How pathetic is that? That's like saying you first heard of Rambo by playing the shitty NES game that nobody ever beat. So I played the pinball game, bought the record, bought the cassette, rented the movie, scratched my head, and became a huge Tommy fan, which I still am over 14 years later, all because of this pinball game.
The coolest and most frustrating part of the game comes during your multiball. A black blinder comes up to cover your flippers so you CAN'T SEE WHAT YOU'RE DOING just like deaf, dumb and blind Tommy. The small while card of rules on the lower left hand side of the game said that when the blinders came on that you had to "play by sense of smell." I hadn't heard of Tommy before and had no recollection of the song Pinball Wizard so I would literally smell the game trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing. Tommy the pinball game. Fucking awesome.
I'm not that big of a Lord of the Rings fan. I don't attach myself too well to films that have such a major dependency to a computer. Make fun of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space all you want but at least the flying saucers in that film were real and made with human hands and not a point and click mouse and a lifeless computer screen. The more realistic movies get, the less humanistic movies become. The first film was okay I guess but when I want to be taken to an epic fantasy world I'll just reread Hogfather and play the Legend of Zelda. But despite my personal feelings for this film series, I will always hold a major soft spot in my heart for this pinball machine.
I played this game on my wife and I's first date in 2003. We drove to Old Sac and shopped and talked and hung out by the river. Then we walked to the downtown plaza. I think we were going to see a movie but instead we decided to go up to the ticket taker and ask if we could just go inside and play their video games. He let us in and I spent a few dollars so that Natasha could kick my ass in pinball. And wow, did she ever kick my ass. And there was something special about that, about me and this cute young angry chick playing pinball together on our first date. Now we're married and we have two kids. We don't have a special song but this is our pinball machine and it will always be the key to a very sweet memory of my wife.
I only saw this pinball machine once on the night I almost passed out on the floor of a Las Vegas casino on the strip from too many free beers from my imaginary best friend whose name I don't remember. But that was such an amazing night that ended with ten free dollars of playing this pinball game at three in the morning. Although many memories of that night are hazy at best, it is this pinball machine that I will always remember.
We went to a massive strip club called The Olympic Gardens in Vegas for my brother's bachelor party. Once inside my brother and all his friends quickly formed their own group that separated themselves from me. I thought I'd hang out with my cousin Tony but Tony, being rich and from California, quickly got lost in a haze of lap dances and VIP champagne rooms. I was left alone. But this fat drunk fourtysomething guy took pity on me and befriended me. He asked me my name and where I was from and told me to stand next to him and wait. I waited there for a few minutes and when a sexy dancer walked by he put his arm around her, told her that I was his best friend Steve from Arizona and that tomorrow I was getting married. The woman caressed my face, bit my ear, and proceeded to grind hard on me and give me a free lap dance. She also game be a free beer coupon. This scene repeated about fifteen times that night, each time a different sexy woman, a different lap dance, and a different free beer.
I estimate that by the time I somehow jumped into a taxi with my brother and his friends that I had somewhere between 12-16 beers. And I was newly 21, too, so my tolerance wasn't anywhere near what it is now. I know this is a funny story but I probably could have died. I don't remember getting in a taxi and I don't remember my brother helping me out of the taxi, dropping me off alone in front of my hotel. The thing is, I had only ever gone into my hotel thru the back. I had no idea where I was, where I should go, where my room was, and I was seriously in danger of passing out on the floor of a major Las Vegas casino. I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent well over an hour drunkenly stumbling around the casino floor.
I somehow made it into their shitty little arcade with only ten games. It wasn't anything to write home about. They hid it somewhere in the farthest corner of the casino. It was three am. And they had this strange ass Rocky and Bullwinkle pinball game that I had never seen before and I would never see again. And somehow, perhaps it was Ed Wood looking down at me, the game had ten dollars of credits in it.
I played every goddamn credit until there wasn't any more. Then I walked out and easily found my hotel room. The next day, and I'm being completely serious, I could not find the arcade. I'm not saying that it magically disappeared like brigadoon. I'm just saying I couldn't find it while I was sober. I never saw this pinball machine again but every time I see an arcade, which sadly is happening at fewer and fewer increments, I hope I see this pinball machine again.
I played this at the Guinness Book of World's Records museum at the Fisherman's Warf in San Francisco. I don't know if it's still there. My parents went to some resturaunt and drank like crazy while I went alone to the wax museum, the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and the Guiness, all by myself as my parents drank. True story.
Do you want to know when this was, how old I was? Let's just say that at the ticket counter for the wax museum there was a sign that said "Yes, we STILL have OJ!" And they did. He was next to John Glenn in the American Heroes wing.
Phew! So there you go. That's my epic pinball post. Hope you liked it. I actually hope it succeeded in getting you excited about playing pinball.
SO WHO'S UP TO GOING HERE WITH ME? I'M TOTALLY SERIOUS! I'll take you to the Olympic Gardens. Maybe my best friend is still there.