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2004-11-04 - 2:52 p.m.

“Are you sure about this? You’re sure it’s real? Last time someone one promised me video games and drinks it just turned out he’s sent out his mail from Tom Wolfe’s house.”

I assured my friends in tow, that yes, it did exist. Only four blocks from my house, suddenly a warehouse grate was lifted, and there behind it were fifteen old-school arcade consoles beside twenty-two, count them, twenty-two taps of local beers.

Heaven in Ms. Pacman.

I’d rather avoid this retro thing that seems to obsess the populace at this point, and so far, I think I’ve managed rather well, sans my lapse into “Neo-Swing.” I still hold that all of my “You’re money, baby” references were ironical, though there is a throng out there ready and willing to smash such assurances underfoot.

Outrun is lovely, as is the original Gauntlet, but I’m not the kind of guy to polish the paneling on my old Atari. Retro gaming for me would be Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Simpson’s sidescroller. These I’d love to see beside a tipsy hipster, but still I appreciate the effort.

There have been many times I have heralded my dorkitry in the past, but none trumpets that announcement as loudly as my former position as Assistant Manager of an Arcade. My guess is they figured I’d been spending enough time there; I might as well be handing out tokens. Ever since I’ve been near enough to walk to that Eden of blinking lights, I’ve made a daily pilgrimage. Happy to duel with my friends, ramble about recent horrors at the box office, and occasionally lament the utter absence of any and all females.

It seems the male obsession once he passes from puberty to find a new socially acceptable clubhouse. Once we’ve climbed down the rope ladder for the last time, that abscess needs filling: be it the parking lot outside of Dunkin Doughnuts, the local Arcade, the local bar, or the atrium of Greenville Country Club, the male psyche requires some gathering point, usually centered around some testosterone laden competitive activity, for safety.

It was distressing then to see my home away from home turn on a dime. I take issue with the arcades of this great country, once the only safe house for virginity, being bombarded with what look like digital versions of boardwalk games, and huge rigs for Goth kids to bounce over to the tune of Japanese pop.

My friends and I watch in horror as our space shrunk more and more, being shoved into the tightest smallest corner of Aladdin’s castle, forced to listen to the strains of synthesized bubble gum over the stomps of sixteen inch boots. We were, invaded, conquered and displaced, relegated to each other’s apartments to play Magic and Playstation, while bitching about our broken dreams.

This and this alone, is why I stand in awe of these retro boxes. No light sensors or Vegas like trappings. No gigantic plastic guns, or ten-foot dance pads. A screen, a joystick, a couple buttons; simplicity reigns. Add to this a cold pint of Kirin Ichiban, and you have happy foamy memories sloshing back to mind, as I try my best to turn back the attacking insects in Centipede, my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. (I never notice this particular eccentricity, but many have taken great pleasure in pointing it out.)

I’m not sure this place will fill clubhouse status, as it is still trolled by those who see Dig-Dug as a cult item rather than a place-holder in their own childhood, but none the less, I do appreciate the effort, while waiting nervously for the owner to surmise:

“I wonder how much cash we would make if we brought in Dance Dance Revolution.”

Still, whiskey shots could make that game much more fun to watch, especially if the participants are forced to down one with each successive level.

Now that would make it a clubhouse.

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