Over the holidays I spent a lot of time on one of my favorite pursuits: pinball. We don’t actually own a pinball machine but a few years ago for Christmas my wife and I gave each other a Nintendo Wii, thinking it would encourage us to exercise more, and I promptly picked up Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection and ever since have spent a lot of time exercising my thumbs. And I don’t want to be a shill but the game really is great and faithfully recreates several real pinball machines, such as Space Shuttle which I used to play in an arcade at a time when the real space shuttle was preparing for its first launch and I feel really old now, but that’s another story.
Among other classic Williams pinball machines it has my all-time favorite: Funhouse.
A large part of the challenge of pinball is the sensory overload and Funhouse delivers that in spades. Lights, sounds, and movements all vie for the player’s attention and then there’s Rudy, the talking doll head in the upper right-hand corner who, from one game to the next, keeps up a running real-time commentary on the game.
It’s distracting, annoying, and hilarious.
As with so many things, though, it’s not just the game itself that appeals to me but memories associated with it. There’s a bar a block away from where I work that used to have Funhouse and a couple of other pinball machines and I’d go down there on my lunch break and play.
Most of the time Funhouse was unavailable so I’d play the machine next to it–The Who’s Tommy, another favorite, made by Bally, but that’s another table.
Funhouse was unavailable because there were always the same three guys playing it. They were so proficient I’m pretty sure they put in one quarter and then took turns racking up free games. It was kind of fun watching them not only because they were so skilled but because they were such an odd group: one had a beard, one had long hair pulled back in a ponytail, two of them wore glasses, two were fairly tall, one was shorter than me. The short one always wore the same beat-up leather jacket.
One day I went in and the short one was the only one there. We nodded at each other in casual recognition and then I just blurted out what I’d been calling them in my head.
“So…where are the other Lone Gunmen?”
He just shrugged and said, “They’re in class.”
And with that we each turned back to our games.