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Published January 28, 2011

Poverty sucks, so I went to the cheap theater.

Now, when I was a kid, this joint was called the dollar theater, because… y’know… all movies cost a dollar to see. But due to inflation it’s gone up to two or three bucks a ticket, which is a real tragedy because “dollar theater” has such a nice ring to it. Regardless of the increase in price, however, you get what you pay for. These are the movies that have been available to rent for months, and aren’t terribly high caliber stuff anyhow. Even when I was little and was perfectly content to watch the afternoon lineup of “Step By Step” and “Full House”, I could tell that most of the movies at the dollar theater sucked. Stuff like “Ernest Rapes The Milkman” or “The Pebble and the Penguin 2: Gacy’s Revenge”. But what did we have to complain about? We were kids, and alone in a movie theater that we could afford–it was a level of freedom we had not yet seen at that point in our adorable, rapeless lives. We were bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked, filled with excitement, mirth, and not even a teaspoon of undesired semen. I mean, none of us were catholic, so that put us at a disadvantage right there, but really–not even a case of having some dude in a trenchcoat expose himself to us. I mean, that’s got to be a break of some sort of statistic–I don’t know. But we weren’t really a good-looking bunch of kids, so that might explain it. But seriously–not even once.

…Anyways…

I was in poverty and bored–funny how the two go together. I went to the cheap theater to see Aaron Sorkin’s “Guys Who Speak With A Better Vocabulary Than You”. It just came out, and I hear there’s a lot of Oscar buzz around it, largely because the members of the Academy fear Aaron Sorkin, who is known to roam the streets of Los Angeles, wielding an Emmy like a club and muttering darkly about “Sports Night”. Hollywood executives warn their children that if they don’t eat all of their gefilte fish, Sorkin will creep into their room while they’re sleeping and edit their screenplays into small piles of dust, leaving the fledgling screenwriters so demoralized that they’ll settle for meager jobs in the upper echelons of the Smithsonian Institute or the Federal Reserve.

The movie wasn’t half bad.

But what really struck me was where I ended up next. Everyone was filing out and I followed them. Because it was Saturday night and a high school girl had made eyes at me? Hell no. Because it was Saturday night andseveral high school girls had made eyes at me. A door near the rear of the theater lobby was opened, and dozens of them filed through. I crept in the background, hoping that they were leading me to a poorly-lit alleyway where they experimented with their first tabs of LSD and group sex. What I found behind that door was so much better.

Arcades are getting harder and harder to find. But when you do happen upon one at my age, you are filled with various degrees of excitement, fear, and a little bit of horniness. The trepidation comes largely from the arrival of a few new faces. “Dance Dance Revolution” and “Guitar Hero” have squeezed their way between the old cabs of “Street Fighter 2? and even “Joust”. Even more frightening is the fact that it costs more than a quarter to play a stinking game of Ms. Pacman (which I will not play out of fear of getting beaten up by one of these surly teenagers). The most popular games in my old arcades were mostly concerned with beating the shit out of your opponent, whether with a gun, or more likely your oversized fist.

But nowadays, the most popular games are based on rhythm and matching colors and shapes to the tune of popular music. Think “R. Kelly goes to Kindergarten”. On second thought, don’t think that. Ever.

Happily, the new mixes fairly well with the old. All the same, visiting an arcade in your late twenties is like attending your high school reunion. You see a collection of old friends that you haven’t seen in a decade. Like the “X-Men” or “Star Wars Trilogy” arcade games, some of them are just as freaking cool as you remember them. And you remember having a huge crush on the wild and crazy antics of “Mortal Kombat” (who had C cups as early as 7th grade), but now that you see her again ten years later, you can’t help but wonder what the big deal was about. And then there’s those other games, like “Revolution X: Featuring Aerosmith!” where music was the fucking weapon!

No, seriously–you blasted bad guys with CDs.

And if you’re like me, the gauntlet of nostalgia and fear brings you to the pinball machines. Like the girl you dated for a year and half as an upperclassman, you greet each other with a bit of awkwardness, but a definite twinkle in your eye. You make small talk, casually graze her flippers, and before you know it, you’re grunting and banging away in the corner while everyone pretends not to notice. Yeah, that’s right girl–tilt for me, baby. But the pinball machine is a fickle bitch–the only game in the world where you can rack up 9 million points and still feel like a damn loser. And tattooed in red ink she still has the initials of all the guys who did a better job than you. And you’re a freak and a failure (but mostly you’re out of tokens), and in the shadow of the nearly-as-cheap-as-a-dollar theater, you know that you’ll be back tomorrow.

Tomorrow that bitch will feel the pain.

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