March 24, 2012
This past week, my older brother and his family (wife and three daughters), braved the mind-numbing hours between Northwest Arkansas and Middle Alabama. No small feat— the daughters representing those bastion ages of patience and bladder size: 7, 5, and 1.
We had good times around the house mostly. On Tuesday, we went to Treetop Family Adventure—a mini-golf, arcade, go-cart, laser-tag, inordinately-salty-stale-outsized-pretzel-with- a-side-of-viscous-orange-dipping-stuff sort of place.
Indulge me a moment for a commentary on the modern day “arcade” situation. First . . . a bit of time-travel. When I was a kid and early teen, the arcade room, eleven times out of ten, was a seedy, smoldering-tobacco, adolescent-angst, jukebox-blare sort of place. One entered with trepidation and thrill.
One pounded a fistful of quarters saved from allowances and swiped from parental chests-of-drawers into the token machine. One cased the joint for coveted games—triangles shooting mouse turds at descending heptagons, Silversteinian missing-piece pie-shapes eating mouse turds whilst chased by serrated gumdrops, vaguely-amphibian rectangle-dodgers, etcetera. One admired the perm-mullet-twenty-somethings who slapped pinball flippers in full fury and feared for one’s immortal soul at such proximate profanities. One spent hours playing games and still went home with a pocket half-full of tokens to be used next time or discovered years later in one’s underwear drawer—hidden from siblings, forgotten by one.
Back to the future. Nowadays, to use the curmudgeon vernacular, the arcade room is a festival of strobing lights and a cacophony of synthetic sounds. The photosensitive seizure-prone are not a targeted demographic, you’ll find, and if nostalgia has you hankering for some Zeppelin or Floyd, keep your cigarette lit and get back in your car. At best you’ll hear The Black-Eyed Peas in the concessions ward featuring Fergie who once sang “Sweet Child o’ Mine”—a live vocal performance only rivaled in unlistenability by those of W. Axl Rose himself. [re: concessions in the olden days. BYO Funyuns.]
It used to be that the arcade experience was an athletic event, a contact sport. If you didn’t come home with symptoms of carpal tunnel or whiplash or tennis elbow, you hadn’t been to the arcade. You came home with a chafed face from Duck Hunt shotguns. You came home with pinched palms from Centipede roller balls. You came with war stories: the bully who shoved you off of the Pole Position seat, the cheater who threw actual elbows to secure his ill-gained triumph at Kung Fu Master, the exotic red-headed girl who loved you at Galaga and then left you to lean on the arm of a perm-mullet pinball guy.
And don’t even get me started on the Silicon Valley, prize-ticket inflation effect. Fine, I’ll get started. Used to be, when I was coming up, you had to play thirty-four rounds of Skee-Ball to get about eleven of those red, perforated tickets which you could redeem for a tiny plastic frog that minimally hopped when you mashed an unnatural flap at the frog’s rump. Or, if you were more diligent and patient, you could sweat it out on the Hoop Shoots for another hour and seventy-eleven minutes, tear off your thirty-one and three-quarters tickets (the last one invariably sticks in the slot and rips and you may or may not get full credit at the prize counter), and redeem them for a netted-sack of marbles to clack in your sibling’s face as he or she putters about floor with his or her ridiculous plastic frog.
Back to the future, nowadays the kids push one of two buttons and then the other of the two after a mindless, random interval and wait (impatiently, mind you) for their machines to vomit anywhere from ten to sixty-seven hundred yards of prize tickets which they will redeem (after their epileptic fits subside) for candy, noisemakers, and noisemakers made of candy.
My distaste for present day gaming aside, it was very nice spending time with my darling nieces. A benefit of being handicapped, by the by, is that my astronomical mini-golf handicap is less frustrating. Whereas in reasonable health I am fully capable of slinging my putter over the fence and kicking my ball into the creek, in my hobbled state I am perfectly content with my quintuple bogeys as long as I can stay on my feet.
Which brings me, desultorily, to today’s intended topic: neurology for kids. Someone should write a book. I have a niece and a nephew in Mobile for whom my zombified gait has been explained away as a hurt leg. For them, this is a shame but worlds better than if I was just too lazy to play freeze tag--which would be an avuncular faux pas. (After witnessing a seizure, my oldest niece came to me later and asked, “So you have a hurt leg that sometimes makes your body shake?” Seriously, someone should write a book. I smiled and said, “Yes.”)
This week I had two nieces who wondered why Uncle Jonathan wore a brace on his leg and walked with a cane when they went to Treetop Family Adventure. Um . . . because . . . you see . . . I have this hurt leg . . . and er der duh . . . yeah.
Tell kids you have a brain tumor and they imagine themselves dressed up as you for Halloween. Tell them you have a neurological impediment to your motor functions and they imagine you’re a jerk for using words too big for them. Tell them you have a hurt leg and at worst they’ll examine the area for boo boos and look at you skeptically before resuming their game of freeze tag.
The good thing, the great thing rather, is that kids know you will be just fine. You’re big, you’re strong, you’re an Uncle, by golly, and best of all, you’re silly . . . just so silly.