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xmag.com : September 2003: Old Skool

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 beat.
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.
The goods: Ye Olde Medieval Madness by Williams Electronic 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? I bet!
The 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!
Object 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!)
Specs: 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.
The 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 that bar?
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.






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