By Tom "Zapping
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
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.