In back of the record store where people re-buy their youths through song, old technology and a disturbingly large collection of ’80s kids toys replicas, there is a door.
The door is metal of some kind, steel I want to say, and painted the green-brown that signifies security and cheap paint. It’s locked by a numerical keypad on the polished chrome handle.
“I didn’t buy anything,” I whispered.
“I’ll let you in,” Krystle whispered back.
Eddie just nodded.
Shifting the messenger bag now full of records, Krystle took out her receipt. There was a six-digit number printed on the back. She punched it into the keypad and turned the handle. The door opened.
In the mid 1980s, the Dailings were top of the line in terms of neighborhood tech. We had a Commodore 64 with “Carmen Sandiego,” we had a VHS and we had an Atari. Flash forward to the early 1990s, when the Andersons had pulled ahead in the Space (Invaders) race.
The family that once bet hard on Betamax and Texas Instruments took the lead and never let go. Three letters moved all the neighborhood kids from my house to their house every afternoon: NES.
I was fine with that. Two of the neighborhood kids smelled pretty bad.
But my development never caught up. While my peers and their deft, Mario-trained fingertips advanced in skill with each new system Nintendo and Sega unveiled, I stayed a button-masher, secretly somewhat bored by kicks, punches and jumping on mushrooms, longing for the moment video games would end so I could run back to my room and read books about Narnia.
To this day, I have never done a Mortal Kombat fatality that wasn’t by accident.
And now I was in a speakeasy video arcade behind a steel door in the back of a record shop.
And all the games were free.
The next hour was a blur of Pac-Men, that Berzerk game where the happy face killed a guy (look it up) and a selection of pinball classics celebrating everything from Doctor Who to 1800s fire brigades. For the next hour, I was a Jedi Knight shooting down wireframe AT-ATs; I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a Nibbler, a Crossbow hunter.
I tried to save Gilligan and crew by slapping silver balls, dodged the 8-bit eggs and hot dogs preventing me from making enormous hamburgers.
And I tried hardest to spell Dolly Parton’s name.
This last one was an earlier pinball design, one where success meant more than hitting the ball into one of the 18,000 buzzers, blippers, bleepers and other prizes, categories and subgames that made later pinball the devourer of quarters and woe of the epileptic.
In the Dolly Parton game, there were three things you could do. You could hit these musical notes for a prize I never got close to, you could spell DOLLY by hitting each of the letters once and you could spell PARTON by hitting the ball into the same indentation six times.
Under a George Pérez-style drawing of three enormous glowing orbs (one of which was Dolly’s bouffant), I tried and tried. DOL PA. D PAR. DOLLY P.
DOLL PARTON was one close call. DOLLY PARTO was another. But I was going to make it, damn it, or I was going to stay at that machine until death we DO PART.
Eventually, I tired. I saved a few people from an 1800s pinball fire and I made sure a few cowboys got past ghosts with my trusty crossbow. I made a few hamburgers.
When I was out in the record store part, I had seen a Ray Charles LP and a seven-inch Polkaholics that captured my fancy. And I have been thinking about one of those Crosley Cruiser turntables that look like old briefcases.
But the music, while nice, wouldn’t be the reason to buy.
No, those records would just be a ticket past that keypad-locked door where I could go back and prove to the world and the Andersons that despite my Nintendo-light, Narnia-heavy youth that my brain was alert and my fingertips fluid enough to after all this time finally spell DOLLY PARTON.