I’m sitting in the No Name Bar, heels clipped to the bar stool rung. Watching the Detectives fills the high corners of the room; there’s such pleasing reverb in these old buildings. No Name is the only campus bar that has Tempest, and the drinks are cheap. Best part, it is summer 1980 and the students are gone. Parking is easy for a couple of months, and the door in the center of the flat black storefront—no sign—is propped open wide to the late sun. In the summer, you will be served a tall vodka and tonic in a real glass.
When I play video games, I struggle with the tension. I stress out and have come to accept that I will never get past level five in any one of them. Still, sometimes I level up through a few galaxies at warp speed or manage a good run on a quarter in Ms.PacMan. I can hang in with Tetris for a bit, too. I like the patterns. There is a small comfort in the orderly way the blocks fall and cancel each other out. Inevitably, my hands cramp, and I find myself hunching over the buttons and joystick, clenching my teeth.
I was an undergrad the year Pong arrived. One of the guys grabbed me from behind, “Come on, I gotta show you something,” and guided me to the back room of the Ferris Wheel to a brown cabinet about the size of a mailbox. There was a screen like an old black and white t.v. but this one was neon green against an army green background. It made blipping noises, as we approached. Two large black buttons on the console held the power to bounce the cursor back to the other side of the screen, sometimes careening off the top or bottom, Blip … Blip …Blip. We dug deep into our pockets to line up quarters to mark our turns. I was mesmerized. But I always blew through my games quickly; that damned little cursor always got the best of me. Eventually I found more entertainment watching someone with quick reflexes run the game for a half hour while I sipped my warm draft beer.
In the back corner of No Name, thuds from the foosball table mix with Pump It Up. The group of young men who had been hunched over the sides of the table passed around another pitcher of beer between games. I tried foosball a couple of times. My wrists do not flick that way and I realized I have a fairly slow reaction time under pressure. It is like someone hits pause for a half a second, and I miss an opportunity. It is like this with a lot of things in my life.
Bumper pool is much more my speed. If only Geometry class had been held in a pool hall. I would have aced that course. If Chemistry had been a baking class, I would have taken it. But Bumper Pool is so much more confined than the standard game. I can see the moves better. The little stanchions guard the center of the table like soldiers, and I am the queen of bank shots.
The July breeze picks up as the sun lowers behind the hospital complex. I order another cocktail, extra lime. My quarter is up for Tempest and I am ready for a quick trip through the universe.