Ring Those Bells

It’s February 2023, and I’m standing in the back of Barcade St. Marks, quietly working my way through a two-credit game of The Addams Family pinball. Like many who grew up in the golden age of solid state pinball, it’s an old favorite.

To my right is a Data East Star Wars machine, circa 1992. It goes unoccupied until I start Ball 2, at which point I hear:

“How does THIS work?!”

It is clear whoever has approached the table is wholly unfamiliar with the concept of pinball.

Their date approaches, and tries – in a way that tries to assert knowledge while clearly not holding any – to explain.

“Oh, these buttons, on the side? They move the flippers!”

They collectively take another 30 seconds to realize they need to put coins in. By divine intervention, they find the start button.

Nothing happens. I try to focus on the game at hand, but alas.

“What do I do?!”
“Pull that back!”

Perhaps worth noting here: Star Wars does not feature a traditional plunger, but instead a somewhat unique shifter handle with a launch button on the side. This, while unusual, is noted by the display flashing a picture of it with a giant arrow and “PRESS TO SHOOT” flashing on the display every few seconds.

The couple does not notice this. They just keep tugging on the handle in frustration.

At a break in my game, I do my most gentle and smooth lean-and-point.

“There’s a button.”

“OHHHHHH. Thank you!”

Their game begins, and it admittedly goes better than someone who has never even perceived the concept of pinball before could hope to do. The ball is staying in play and not just draining immediately.

And then it is not long before a friend of the couple slides up, and the following words are spoken:

“This is just like that song, Pinball Wizard!”
“Yeah, I think it’s based on the song!”

It was at this moment – with the implication either being the Star Wars pinball table, or the very concept of pinball itself, was inspired by The Who – that my soul left my body and I departed this mortal coil, leaving two free credits on the machine I was playing.

Happened Narrated

The White Cypress Bar

I find my way through Troy’s maze of alleyways and come in through the side door. To call the space small would be gross exaggeration; just four place settings fit around the tiny L-shaped bar.

With just a few other guests around, the bartender is cleaning up. I squeeze my way to the end, past a wall covered in cloth squares, past the main door, planting myself on a stool and giving my weary feet some rest.

He clearly has a routine, as though he’s cycled through this eternally: up come the plants, then the shot glasses, then the menus, then the trays. Perhaps I’m too late? He wipes down the bar with a damp cloth from end to end.

A fresh shot glass is pulled from underneath the bar. But rather than fill it, he places it on its side and gives it a spin. Through the windows we can still see the bustle of people passing by – perhaps to the larger, louder bar down the block – as we wait quietly for the glass to settle.

The bottom of the glass points my way. The bartender catches my glance, and beckons me to the center of the bar. We lean in as he takes out a napkin.

“When you reach the end, there are only two things that matter,” he whispers as his red pen flutters over the napkin. “The things that you regret. And the things that you are thankful for.”

He unfolds and refolds the napkin, creating two squares. He points to the one to my left.

“Something you regret.”

He holds his hands over the napkin as shelter as I take the pen and write. He folds the napkin over my writing, then points to the other side.

“Something you’re thankful for.”

Again, I scribble under his cupped hands. I return the pen as he folds the napkin back into a small square and smiles.

“We will take good care of this for you.”

I nod. He raises a bottle.

“One for the road?”

“Please.” It is the only word I’ve spoken in a while.

He pours the clear liquid into a measure, and the measure into the shot glass. I raise the glass in a silent toast, lower my mask, and down the…sake? Grappa? Pisco? Whatever it is lingers on my tongue for minutes.

He rounds the bar with my napkin in hand, approaches the wall covered in cloth squares, and pins it to an open spot.

There is nothing more to be said. The guests filter out; the bartender continues about his business; and after a moment, I take my leave – this time through the front door.

Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City is playing at Woolwich Arsenal in London for the foreseeable future.



The Private Psychedelic Stack

Among my limited office decorations is a complete CD-ROM boxed version of Hypercard 2.4. People spotting it have one of two reactions: “OH MY GOD, HYPERCARD!” or “What’s Hypercard?”

Triggered by the latter response today, I went on a brief Wikipedia dive and discovered that Hypercard was – in part – inspired by an acid trip:

It occurred to me the weak link for the Blue Marble team is wisdom. Humanity has achieved sufficient technological power to change the course of life and the entire global ecosystem, but we seem to lack the perspective to choose wisely between alternative futures. But I was young, without much life experience or wisdom myself.

Bill Atkinson