Foreskin In A Vest

By Tom "Zapping Out" Waters
February 1, 2003

Over the summer, I left a job that wasn't quite glamorous, wasn't quite something to be proud of, but, nonetheless, a job I'll miss.  It was at a video game arcade.  As you'll find out in the rest of this piece, it had many perks and many downfalls.  It was simple, because I was, essentially, a maintenance man.  It was fun because I got to kick people out.  And it was difficult due to the fact that I had to scour a toilet bowl every Sunday.  Every maintenance job grants the employee serenity and patience simply from plugging along and working at their own pace.  But not every maintenance job was as kooky as this one.

My boss, Hal, we'll call him, was a tiny, short sighted bald dwarf who constantly scowled whether happy or sad.   He enjoyed droning on for hours on end about computer components ("snore......oh, yeah, NEATO!) his nagging daughter, his nagging wife, or the incessant angst wrought  by his guilt driven extended family.  After an epic battle, I gained the right to smoke out in the back hallway, for he abhorred smoking.  He liked to underscore the benefits of the company and overscore how he was taking it up the wazoo from the higher ups, all the time threatening (only to his employees) that he would leave the company soon and then they'd really be caught with their shorts down.  Hal's daughter, Emmet, was a melancholy histrionic teen  madly in love with moi.  I couldn't escape her various pinches and ogles when she was around, because you couldn't leave the store under any circumstances.  She was good to have around when my ego required a light varnish but annoying as hell the rest of the time.

Then there was Haagen-Haas.  Haagen-Haas was a close friend turned video game "lifer" who constructed his social life consisting of a sweet Sweethome High School gal.  Though he's no longer seeing this girl, I bring her up because I used to tease him by calling her "the vagina that ruled his life."  The only other master Haagen-Haas served was the Mortal Kombat series.  He would wear vests that made him look like Balki and steal all my cigarettes.  Now I steal his.

Let me take a moment to explain about the "Lifers".  They are catatonic zombies who shovel quarters daily into the same fighting game.  They are the reason that video arcades are still around.  So addicted to the latest, hottest title, they would go without sleep, food, and often personal hygiene emergency touch-ups. This species is a force to be reckoned with.

Davey was a "lifer" turned employee (all thanks to yours truly, don't worry about giving me any credit) who lived by the philosophical mores of Andrew Dice Clay, The Simpsons, and the late, great Sam "Ow, OWW!) Kinison.  He never ceased to amaze me with the amount of food he could put down at one sitting (Burger King has a warrant out for his '94 Chicken Tender incident).  He loved his nicotine, too.  I don't know if he had an oral fixation or truly loved tobacco, but if you could stick it in your mouth and smoke it, Davey has probably tried it.  From cigarettes to pipes to cigars to pouch chew to hand rolled to just shoveling tobacco into his mouth, Davey smoked it, and it was good.

Foreskin was another fine employee of Grief 'N' Games (actual employee name).  He was a rat-looking under achiever who would sigh exhaustedly after taking the paper clip off of the daily cash log.  Davey and I always used to joke that he was skating on thin ice if he expected to win the employee of the month award.

Often, during a shift, we would deliberately disobey the rule not to leave the store and hop over to Radio Shack to talk to Mark and watch Melrose Place on their 5000 TV screens.  Marcus was a balding, late twenties lounge lizard who couldn't resist the magnetic pull of his jockey-compass, if you catch my drift (which I'm sure you do).  When he wasn't going ga-ga at the jiggling female passers-by, he was busy dodging the one or two customers that still frequent Radio Shack.

Getting down to brass tacks, you had to wear a disgusting excuse for a vest so that customers could identify you.  It was a tacky, cardboardish, polyester hybrid with a butterfly collar large enough to operate a thruway system.  Red the shade that reminds one of lava lamps and bowling alleys topped off with only the cheapest, uncolor-coordinated white plastic zippers.  When asked by dense patrons if I worked there, I replied, (much the lippy wise ass) "No, I'm just trying to revive the 70's.  Feel the funk!  Abba rules, man! (just joshing, you don't honestly think I'd enjoy that disco dross, did you?)"  It was more fun than kicking them out.

The beauty of the vending industry (as opposed to retail) is not having to display any air of kindness via customer service.  I got to tell cheeky 16 year olds and 40 year olds alike to piss off and loved every minute of it.  I really enjoyed kicking kids out with a whiff of attitude and sicking the mall security on them just to see the kid's tough front crumble into abject terror at the thought of mommy (their ride home, I'm sure) finding out that they were up to shenanigans.  Many a customer got kicked out due to the widely accepted "Fonzi approach" (kicking the hell out of a game after it swallows a quarter in the vain hopes that it will be returned).

During the week it was pretty slow, and some nights I'd close early because no one came in.  But every Friday night at 7:45, like clockwork, there'd be a bull stampede of juvenile delinquents.  The young punks who weren't drinking warm budget beers out in the woods or taking part in their first few rounds of the torpedo races would show up, slump and sneer in the acceptable expression of teenage angst and the dog-faced girls would sit on the floor to reserve their energy for the marathon gum-chewing conversations.  I use the stampede analogy because I would often "round up" the cheeky calves by the dozens to boot their asses out.  "You're outta here", "Seeya!", and "Get the hell outta here before I string your spine through the basketball shoot" were used and over-used on Friday nights.  

The games came and went as far as popularity.  You'd have Sac-Man, Mildly Abrasive Instinct, NBA Marmalade, Mortal Wombat, and that ever popular classic (you know the one) Bulging Muscle Head With An Arsenal Of Semi-Automatic Weapons Mowing Down Entire Enemy Military Bases In A Jungle Climate.  I was always enchanted with arcades as a child because you got to play the games brand new and they were always cutting edge.  Well, that rubbed off after about a week.  I tried to weigh out the pros and cons of the job and they seemed to even out.

The Pros: I got to work alone.  This was pleasant as opposed to other jobs because I didn't have a ball-busting, slave-driving boss breathing down my throat at all times.  I also got to constantly abuse the tyrannical "in charge" rush of dominating power.  It was a good outlet for testosterone provoked adrenal fluids.  With no one to watch me, I exerted the bare minimum of physical movement.  Coming into this with mixed emotions (neither pro nor con) I got to scarf down microwave popcorn, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, and Mighty Taco, but all in front of a big zoo window where customers would look in and stare at me like I was some baboon scratching my enflamed anus on a National Geographic special.  Abuse of phone call privileges was common on a slow night, and I'd find comfort in catching up on spare reading.  There was also a feeling satisfaction in shutting the power off on twenty or thirty involved customers purely for the hell of it, and because I could get away with it.

The Cons:  Many a time I would screw up something, but good, i.e.: breaking the vacuum cord prong off in the outlet, one of the joysticks popping off of the game and onto the floor, and missing the many "souvenir" munchkin basketballs that the skate punks would slink out of the door with.  At many times, when tough guys were rampant, families bobbed and weaved in droves, and old men would punch the pinball machines like an Ayatollah Pinata, I would lose the overall feeling of being in control.  As stated before, it sucked having to do the nasty and scrub hairs out of the toilet bowl.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I was required to go down to the kiddy rides in the mall and clean them.  How cool am I when two stone foxes (oozing out of their mini skirts and t-shirts so tight that they render breast reductions obsolete) and I'm mopping dried ice cream off the floor of a helicopter adorned with rolling eyes.

In the end, it didn't matter.  I was planning on leaving after taking a vacation and my boss (out of spite) informed me that I could stay on my vacation.  Luckily, I had another job at the time so I didn't have to worry about income.  But some sick part of me misses the complacent calm achieved when vacuuming after close, grabbing a morning bagel with my boss after doing the Friday collection of tokens.  It was a job that you wouldn't kill for, but wouldn't mind either. Cozy.  Working a sub-menial job was a caste-bender.

None of my friends expected me to take such low-expectation employment.  I learned as a result that if you work diligently, thoroughly, and with an ever-unsatisfied perfectionists ideals that pride will be the reward of any job well done.  



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