towers are still there people,’ he’s shouting, ‘Look
east, please, the towers are still standing!’
I’m ducking into a mess of people. These street-crazies always
seem to single me out. He’s a block ahead, wandering through
traffic, yelling, staring at something just past the horizon. He is
black with a dingy, blue sweater and greasy, grey sweatpants on.
‘In Autumn time,’ he looks around, ‘they still there! Come on people!’
consider turning left and going around the block, skirting him. But
I’m caught in the liquid, city-flow of bodies. They propel me
near him. I look down at the stained sidewalk, start counting the black
bubble-gum spots, the pigeon-shit newspapers. My eyes keep darting up
at him. His bellows are closer now. I turtle into my suit.
‘Please, people they still there,’ he shouts, ‘Still standing proud this Autumn.’
eyes find him again and he’s looking at me. Red, worn eyes,
druggy eyes; I know the huge pupils, that half-crazed incinerating look
of confusion and immediacy, staring back at me. I look down and push
forward, knocking people aside, hearing mumbled groans from those that
take time to care.
‘Sir, Sir, have you seen the towers?’ He rises in
intensity, ‘they still there people! Look east! Look east! Sir
me, why always me? I’m the sickly one, straggling behind. My eyes
find the sidewalk again. If I just keep walking I’ll get back to
my apartment and not get hassled into something.
‘Sir, Sir ... the towers, have you seen them?’
I can smell he’s
on me. That dumpster juice smell of sweat and rotten bones is on me. I
look up. He’s there. I go to move around him, but he blocks me in.
‘Sir, have you seen them?’
‘Seen what? I, I have to get home ...’
‘East! Sir, the towers are still standing!’
‘Look, OK, alright, whatever it is, I don’t want any.’
Pieces of his dry, shredded lips fall off as he speaks. His lips are
white, eyes bloodshot and his breath smells like rot. He is missing too
many teeth. He punches his lips out at me; his mouth is a black oval
emptiness inside red gums. I reach out to push him aside. He is taller
than me, I’m six foot two.
still doesn’t move, doesn’t act like I touched him. I wipe
my hand off on my suit pants and try to rush past him. While looking
over my shoulder, he sidesteps and blocks my path again.
‘Hey buddy, what the hell?’
People swirl around us.
He keeps looking past me, ‘Look east! Look east!’
smell, his filth, his presence overwhelms me and I turn, dart into the
first open doors I see. It’s a bar. I look behind me. The
street-crazy is standing outside in the sunlight, squinting in at me. A
rainbow of cars shines behind him. Two security guards sniff out his
poverty and step into the doorway, blocking his entrance. I see him
turn back against the stream of people and sway onward, yelling out his
insanity. I step away.
is a group of older men standing up at the bar, heads turned to a
gigantic plasma screen television, watching a tennis match. They
drunkenly roll their eyes back and forth following the little yellow
ball. Its glow illuminates. The occasional mutter goes through them. I
walk up to the bar. A beer would do me good.
‘Please; I’m 35.’
‘I have to see it sir, even if you look 85.’
frown and paw my wallet out of my suit pants. Its leather is smooth and
warm in my hands. I slip the hard plastic out and hand it to the
teenager pulling drinks.
He hands it back to me, ‘What’ll it be?’
‘Mac and Jacks please’
‘Glass or Pitcher?’
opens a small fridge and pulls out a glass milky with frost. I turn
back around, take in the room. There are rows of tables that stretch
behind me. Each one is black, surrounded by chairs and people. They
flow back through the room to a door with flashing lights, the faint
sound of bells, whistles and other odd noises coming through it. A
lighted sign above it reads ‘Calypsos Island.’ It is
decorated with fluorescent lights of all colors slowly zapping off and
on in a mimic of explosion.
‘Ahem, sir ... your beer.’
twist back towards the bar. The shaven-headed youth is staring back at
me with ice-blue eyes, holding the deep-amber beer up to my face. I
grab it and set it down. I thumb my wallet back out and hand him a
‘What’s through that door by the way?’
‘No shit? Can I bring my beer back there?’
‘Sure, if you want. Just don’t take your eyes off it.’
‘Yeah, no problem.’
He slides the receipt towards me. His hands are pudgy with baby fat.
‘Could I get your signature on this please?’
‘Thanks,’ I mumble and give him a fifty cent tip.
beer numbs my hand as I walk back towards the door. The sounds grow
bigger as I approach, more distinct. I can hear rifle-fire, shouts and
explosions, grunts, that familiar movie-punch sound of a stick whacking
a side of meat. I can hear the rustling of change, frantic
thwap-twap-twap button pushing, thumps and thuds...
‘My button was stuck, no fair! Someone spilled a soda on this, or something.’
over, Game over, screams, buzzers and car-crash noises are followed by:
Insert three credits to continue playing...
walk through the doors into a seizure of lights. To my left, there is a
row of ten glossy, plastic jeeps stationary in front of a giant
pull-down movie screen that shows a battle in a jungle clearing. Kids
in each jeep are steering frantically, swaying and leaning with each
imagined shove of inertia. To my right, a clique of middle-schoolers
are swarmed around two skinny kids dancing on a raised pad. Their
individual movements are completely in sync with each other. A
scoreboard above them flies into the millions. The onlookers clap and
cheer; their multicolored hair and chains swing and bounce. I walk on.
around me, the noise and lights continue. On some screens superhero
characters fight against a background of flashing lights and
apocalyptic scenes, on other screens hundred-thousand dollar sports
cars dive forward, crashing and twisting into lumps of metal to the
muttered obscenities of fifteen year-olds. There are kids holding pink
and blue toy shotguns. The shotguns are chained to a machine called
American Zombies. The kids are shooting frantically, laughing, and
reloading their weapons in the nick of time.
haven’t been in an arcade for years; they were much different
when I was young. I remember playing Pac-man, Space Invaders and,
before that, Pong. Simple 2-D characters and square balls, two colors,
maybe three was all that would flicker on the round screens; simple
sounds were all that came out of the tiny speakers. I sip my bitter,
fruity beer and remember the whipped-cream filled, strawberry milk
shakes I would drink back then. I paid for it all in nickels.
At the back of the room, the arcade machines give way to a row of
smooth, inclined skeet ball tracks on the left and a row of miniature,
netted basketball hoops to the right. I walk up to the basketball
hoops, a little excited. Now here is something I can get into. I look
at the price, fifty cents.
‘Jesus,’ I mutter and jab my hand into my pocket, mouse
around for quarters. I used to play in high school, used to be pretty
I find the fifty cents and feed it to the machine. There is a
loud clunk and the machine shutters as a row of balls comes rolling
down at me. Lights flicker to life, red, white and blue. The
basketballs are much smaller than real basketballs. I can palm one of
these easy; I couldn’t palm a real basketball. Despite my height,
my hands are small and bony. A timer on the machine starts to count
down the seconds. I throw the first ball: it’s too high. Second
ball: it’s too low. Third ball: it’s to the left. Slowly, I
get used to the weight of the balls. Then I hit one ... swish ... and
the machine makes an excited cheering noise. I land a second, a third.
Thirty seconds left, I turn into a free throw machine, sinking one
after another. It’s easy.
memory: high school, thirty seconds left in a game and the crowd is
alive with excitement and noise. We are down by two and I have the
ball. I’m turning left, spinning right, leaving my guard behind
me. My feet are lithe and I float across the hardwood, dancing the ball
off each board. I come to the three point line, soar into the air. I
can see the flashes of cameras; I can hear the cheers, the gasps. I see
members of the other team running up to meet me, but they are too late.
I’m floating high. The ball leaves my little hand with a flick of
machine is a storm of lights and electronic buzzes and cheers. Time is
almost out. I am gunning the net with these little balls, dipping down
for one after the other. The clock reaches zero and a hole opens up
beneath the net, sucking all the balls I shoot down into the machine.
Time’s up. The machine flashes my score. It’s 58. Not bad,
I think, and the whole thing goes dim and quiet. I feel a little sweaty
and flushed. I really went at that thing. I pick up my beer and take a
long, deep swig, and then I turn to leave.
Blocking my way is a group of kids. There are seven of them, all look
on the verge of puberty, standing around me in an arch. The kid in the
middle, a short, skinny Mexican wearing jeans that would be too big for
me, a large puffy jacket and a huge necklace, steps forward. His face
is young, but he has a little black mustache peeping out from under his
‘Not bad ol’ man,’ he says nodding at me.
rest of the kids are standing back staring at me, heads cocked
sideways. They are all dressed similar, except one older, larger girl
that is dressed all in black. Black hooded jacket, black jeans with
unnecessary zippers crisscrossing them from her waist down to her
glossy, black boots; her hair is dyed black; her lips are painted
black; her eye shadow is black. She is staring at me with a deadpan,
pale face. She looks like she doesn’t belong amongst the living.
‘Thanks,’ I mutter and start to move away, beer in hand.
‘Hey old man, you wanna play?’
‘Do I what?’
‘Wanna have a little free throw competition, is what I mean, man?’
‘Uh, no, no, I should be getting home,’ I say and pull back
my sleeve to look at my watch, insinuate my feigned urgency,
‘need to get dinner and all that.’
‘Shit, I thought so, you’re just a chicken shit old man
wandering around confused and lost in here.’
‘Whoa, little man, I’ll have you know that in my day, when
I was your age, I used to be quite the basketball player,’ I say
and stand up a little straighter, staring him down.
‘Prove it old man.’
‘Fine, fine, I’ll take you on,’ and I take a big swig
of beer, slipping off my overcoat. I hunch a little and clap my hands
together, then work my arms around in circles. Here we go.
rest of the kids just stand there watching us. He steps up to the
machine next to me and puts his fifty cents on the top. I spelunk down
into my pocket for more quarters. He looks over at me.
‘We count down from five, alright old man?’ He says as he
sheds his coat. Without the coat, he is much skinnier than I thought;
just a twig.
‘Yeah, sure kid.’
feel a little nervous. I don’t think I’ve had an audience
in some time. Behind me, I hear the black-dressed girl start to count
down. Her voice is light, cool and absent.
I work my hands open and closed, staring at the hoop.
I take a long, slow, deep breath...
hands fly out for the money in front of me and I force it into the
machine. It springs to life again. Lights flash, I hear the same clunk
as the balls start rolling toward my open hands. I don’t even
look over at skinny. I find a zone.
I’m on fire. I’m missing nothing and moving at a rate I
don’t think I’ve moved at for years. To others, I must
blur. My muscles are pistons, my blood petrol. I can feel my hair start
to dampen with sweat, can feel it on my back and thighs. I don’t
look at the clock, don’t stop. My eyes follow the balls toward my
hands then swing up to meet the net. I push myself, groan a little, and
feel old, rare muscles come out of slumber. I’m a hunter, a
warrior and I can’t be stopped.
the hole opens and starts to suck up the balls again, I am breathing
heavily. I throw the last ball ... swish ... and I stop. I look at my
score: it’s 117.
‘Hah, I more than doubled my last score,’ I say with a big grin and look over at the competition.
He’s just staring blankly at me. His score is 83. I hear his
friends mutter behind us and I clap my hands. I feel exhilarated,
excited, like my smiling head is about to rocket off toward the
ceiling, plow through it and head straight for space.
‘Wanna go again? Come on, I’ll take any of ya on.’
‘What the hell was that? You on speed or something?’ says the Mexican kid.
‘Am I on what? What the hell are you talking about?’
‘Drugs, man, meth or some shit. You’re sweatin’ like a damn doper.’
‘Oh, oh, I see, you can’t be beat by some old man fair and
square. I’m 35 you little punk and I’ve never done any ...
speed, or whatever you call it. I’m an investment banker.’
‘Shit, look at him get all worked up. His face is red.
That’s a fiend if I ever seen one, what do you think?’ He
nods at one of the others.
‘Hell yeah, he’s freakin’ out, look at the eyes,’ says one of the kids to my right.
flip around on the others, ‘My ass I’m on drugs you little
jerks. Who said that? I’ll take any of you on. Come on!’ I
raid my pocket for more change, take out a handful.
the change and show it to the kids, start dabbing it around with my
index finger, ‘See, see, I got enough for a game with each of you
little punks. Come on!’
stare at each of them. They are all looking at me grinning. My eyes
pass them, stopping on the girl dressed in black. Her eyes are black
rocks in little pale pools sunken into her face. Her eye shadow is all
around them, dark, black and empty. I sink into those eyes for a second
and forget what I’m about to say.
‘Man, screw this weird ass dope fiend,’ the Mexican kid
says as he motions to his entourage. They slither back into the arcade,
disappearing behind machines. Little assholes, little punks,
can’t take a fair fight. I shrug it off. I know I beat him fair
pick my beer back up, take the last swig and leave the empty glass on a
table, throw my overcoat across my arm and start to wander back out of
the arcade. I go back past the jeeps, the big, slouching machines, the
same noises; same kids all hunkered down in pleasure. I wonder if they
all feel as exhilarated as I do? Are they all lost in those little,
fiery pixels, smashing away in satisfaction on the buttons and levers?
I smile and walk on. I guess the arcade hasn’t changed much.
back out the door, out under the fireworks of the ‘Calypsos
Island’ sign. The bartender nods to me as I head back out towards
the city. It’s almost dark now. Why did I come in here in the
first place? My head gets a little chilly as I turn towards my studio
apartment. It overlooks the Sound. It’s expensive, but well worth
the view of the San Juans; the little green sea monsters littering the
aqua sky. I feel myself tense. From behind me, far back, but still too
close for me, I hear it again. A warning bellowed out into the night
sky, reminding me of something, something.
‘Look east! People, look east!’
glace over my shoulder. He’s there, that street-crazy. He is a
few blocks back, still yelling, still wandering, still there despite
the onset of darkness. A metro bus slides in front of him. Its windows
are dotted with faces, each one gazing downward with a frown, a black
expression. The side of the bus is covered in a billboard for a new
Hollywood blockbuster. It is made to look like a fallen tower, each
window is a light. It drives on through Seattle.
I put my overcoat back on and turn towards home, moving faster with each step.