I was born in the year 1970, as the world cheered wildly. A few short years later Pong was introduced to the world. They cheered even wildlier for Pong. I don’t blame them, it was pretty exciting. Thus began my love affair with video games. It’s a love that has carried on through the ages. Through good and bad and indifference. A whole lot of indifference.
I used to go down the street from my house to the East Weymouth Bowl A Wey as a child. Don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore. It’s now a parking lot for the commuter train. That’s fun. But in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Saturday mornings were reserved for cartoons and bowling league. We were called The Lane Devils. We got cool satin jackets with our names on the sleeve at the end of the year. Yeah, it is pretty sweet. The Bowl A Wey was a fun place to hang around because they had arcade games. Not a huge array of games, but they always had 4 or 5 arcade games and a few pinball machines. Plus the stupid crane machine where you spent all your money trying to win a 25 cent stuffed animal or some such nonsense.
Donkey Kong, Defender, Asteroids,Track & Field. You know, the classics. I spent countless hours and quarters playing these machines. One of my best friends as a kid, Paul D., I met while playing Defender. Well, it wasn’t the first time we met, it was the first time we met without a fight happening. See, I lived in Hingham Mass and Pauly D lived in Weymouth Mass. Bigtime rivalry there, for the uninitiated readers. Every time kids from one side would see kids from the other side, it was on. Like the aforementioned Donkey Kong. And it was on constantly, because I lived literally three houses over the town line. We saw each other all the time. Kids are stupid like that. It shouldn’t matter where you lived, what your zip code or area code was. But it did then and still does today. Although area codes don’t really matter, what with all the cell phones out there. Well, unless you’re a rapper.
One day I was walking through Weymouth by myself, because not only was I an incredibly brave boy, but I also knew that the closest store that sold Pop Rocks was Burrell’s in Jackson Square, situated in East Weymouth Mass. Lil Bill loved him some Pop Rocks. Probably because they were good for your teeth. At least that’s what that fifth dentist, the one that doesn’t recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chew gum, told me.
As I was heading back to the sanctity of Home Base, I stopped in to the Bowl A Wey to take respite from the harsh summer sun, buy a bag of Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, and play some Defender. As I entered the building, I saw my enemy at the very machine I intended to put my hard-earned allowance money into. Not only was he at my machine, but he had a couple of dollars in quarters lined up ready to go. This hoodlum wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. I was taken aback by his brazen display of chutzpah, and I wasn’t even Jewish. I’m also still not, but I wasn’t then either. I should just say I’m not Jewish, but now I kind of feel like I’m being anti-semitic, and that’s not my intent. I’m just saying the word chutzpah fit the occasion, and it’s a Jewish word. Or hebrew. Yiddish? Am I being anti-semitic again? This post will not go over well at temple. Or is it synagouge?..Where were we?
Oh yes, Defender. I sidled up to the machine, with all the cool toughness my 12-year-old self had learned from Arthur Fonzarelli and Vinnie Barbarino. I remember saying something along the lines of “Aaayyyyy, what’s up, can I get next game?” You know what happened? This kid from the wrong side of the tracks looks me dead in the eyes and he says, “Want to play two player?” then proceeds to pay for my games of Defender for the next two hours courtesy of tip money from delivering The Patriot Ledger. This is a kid who I have a sworn vendetta against and as far as I know I am morally obligated to rain haymakers to his face, neck and chest if given the opportunity. Why would he do such a selfless thing when all we’d ever been is enemies?
Because it was just the two of us. No other kids to sway opinions and cast the proverbial first stone. Nobody else there to tell us we weren’t supposed to like each other. Just two youngsters playing a video game, no big deal.
But also a very big deal.