Pinball has always been a
guilty pleasure of mine, ranking up there with circle-jerk
sessions and girls victimized by sex crimes.
Gottlieb Pinball Machines released a pinball game
based on the proto reality TV series Rescue 911
in May of 1994. I fondly remember one of these
beauties making its way into the game room of the
Round Table Pizza where I worked in the Dimond Center
shopping mall. It wound up replacing the old 1991
Williams-made Addam's Family machine I'd come to know
so well and had frankly grown enormously tired of.
It didn't take long for me to get back into the swing
of things and I quickly found myself spending my lunch
breaks pumping quarters into this bleeping behemoth,
losing myself in the drone of wailing sirens and forgetting,
if only momentarily, how much my life sucked. I was
an 18-year-old high school dropout, stuck going nowhere
fast in shit-hole Anchorage, Alaska. No girlfriend,
a depressed loner, and washing dishes for a living.
But no matter how bad things seemed to be, it was
never anything that 30 minutes and a pocket full of
change couldn't take care of.
To this day I'm haunted by the time I wandered into
work on my day off, tripping on three hits of some
potentially lethal LSD I'd gotten from a friend down
in Berkley, California. I cautiously made my way into
the darkness of the game room, the only illumination
coming off the blinking neon screens of all the different
games, casting ominous shadows and giving the faces
of young teenaged boys and girls a cold lifeless look--techno-zombies
stuck manning consoles under the control of the ghosts
in the machines. I found myself standing before that
blinking monstrosity of glass and steel, slipping
off into a world of my own design, but confident in
my ability to show this beautifully crafted work of
art exactly who its master was.
I pumped two quarters into the coin slot, pausing
only to take a deep breath and steady myself before
pushing the blinking yellow button, slowly pulling
back the hammer to send the first of my three balls
into battle. Thus began a two hour descent into mind-numbing
acid-tweaked pinball hell.
The first game didn't go well at all. I went through
all three balls faster than it would take me to shoot
a load into the mouth of a drunken high school girl.
As luck would have it, I won a free credit on a match
at the end of play. I felt the zing of an addict,
who while lying in the gutter glimpses a heaven-sent
bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. The game was back on.
Knock after knock, replay after replay, the score
climbed higher and higher as the credits continued
to stack up, all the result of a single free game
won off a mere fifty cents! After two hours I finally
snapped, handed the machine off to the nearest person
standing in the small crowd that had converged and
ran out of the mall as fast as I could, howling mad
gibberish into the sunlit evening sky. In Alaska even
Mother Nature does her best to drive you nuts. Looking
back, I like to think that somewhere and somehow that
machine still holds a high-score even God couldn't
I'm far from the first to be hooked on this junk.
Along with alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, domestic
violence and crime, pinball gained vast popularity
in the early 1930s during America's Great Depression.
When they weren't standing in breadlines, giving hummers,
picking pockets, shanking rich men in dark alleys
or bashing each other's brains out, America's out-of-work
working class families loved nothing more than the
cheap entertainment offered by the penny arcades to
chase away the blues of poverty.
The earliest pinball machines were rather crude compared
to today's machines. Back then pinball was basically
a game of luck. The ball was shot to the top of the
playing field and then bounced down through a series
of obstacles to land in one of many wholes lining
the bottom, each worth different numbers of points--rather
like Plinko on The Price Is Right. But all
that changed after World War II during the Golden
Age of Pinball, when in 1947 the flipper was introduced,
adding a whole new level of player interaction.
But enough history. Using the fine latex-covered finger
of investigative journalism, I've gone deep into the
rectum of Portland's underground pinball scene to
get the local poopy scoop. Over the next few months
I'll do my best to undress P-Town's hottest p-ball
spots. And to really rock your balls I'll start off
nice and slow, giving you a slight taste and see if
you don't come running back for more. Let the games
begin you naughty boys and girls.
goods: Ye Olde Medieval Madness by Williams
Games, Inc. (1997) at Conan's Pub on 39th and SE Hawthorne.
Conan's is a nice laid-back neighborhood bar just
down the street from Hawthorne's "Bermuda Triangle."
It's a huge space with an enormous stage--perfect
for all the metal shows you'll catch thanks to Geoff
from Nightpiper Productions. The fact that it's an
old Masonic Temple adds mystique--just imagine what
bored rich white men did to each other in the dark,
wearing those aprons of theirs. Modes of recognition?
run-down: Medieval Madness is a joyous return
to the Dark-Ages of feudal Lords and the Knights who
served them, with fortified castles, fearsome fire-breathing
dragons and the tasty damsels we all love to eat!
of the game: "Defeat the King and all
his men to stop the madness and restore order to this
great land." (Seriously folks, it's right there on
the front of the game!)
This machine has your standard 2-flippers. It's
the usual 50 cents for 3 balls with the first replay
at 15,000,000 points.
sweet lowdown: As far as being a pinball wizard
is concerned, I'm not quite the protagonist of a Who
rock-opera. First game racked up 4,799,680, which
is almost a third of the way to a replay but remember
the saying about horseshoes and hand grenades? The
second game totaled a measly 868,850. Hang your head
in shame young lad.
The best thing about Conan's besides Medieval Madness
is a certain gorgeous young bartender who's more than
a sight for sore eyes (you know who you are). Unfortunately
this young lady will soon be fleeing the coop for
the City of Lost Angels, which will only make Portland's
eyes that much sorer. I think this sexy angel should
stay here in Rose City where she's damn well appreciated
and guaranteed to put a tingle in the trousers of
men and women alike. That flowing brown hair of yours
and those hips swinging in time to the natural rhythms
of the universe.... how's a guy to concentrate on
pinball with the likes of you sauntering around behind
Suddenly the face of the damsel in distress changes
shape on the playing field. It's her. And she's being
ravaged by a gang of sweaty hairy Frenchmen and all
I see are silver balls flying and the beeps and blips
turn into the sounds of creaking bedsprings and I
can feel the hot breath of the dragon across the back
of my neck and oh god there's a fire much hotter building
in the furnace below and enough of this shit! I need
to wrest myself from this machine and
go home and take a cold shower. Women
and pinball are dangerous vices, but given a choice,
take the machine. The machine will not eviscerate
you. The machine will not lie. It will not leave a
bulge in your pants unsatisfied and it most likely
won't move away to L.A. In the end, the machine always
wins, but the ride is always fun.