I was playing pinball at Go Go’s Arcade for the first time in six months, and noticed they had a new juke box. One of those fake vintage Wurlitzers, fresh off the truck by the looks of it, but it played vinyl 45’s. I liked the one they had before, that played CDs. It had an eight-hundred album catalogue and it cost a quarter a song. Feed it five bucks and you were set for an hour. When I lost– that’s what I love about pinball, you don’t win, you just last– I gave this new deal the once over. I guessed it had a six-hundred song count, and when I flipped through the index, it was mostly guitar rock you could hear on 106.9 anytime, Frampton, Pink Floyd and the like. Songs cost 75 cents a pop. No Motown or country, and none of my stuff.
I started spending afternoons in Go Go’s when I quit drinking a few years ago. I own a brownstone that’s my recording studio three blocks over on Hargett Street, and some afternoons I get tired of foot dangling in my office. It’s nice to go somewhere that’s cool and dark as a bar, but doesn’t serve whiskey over ice. Navy blue walls, cheap carpet, a few weak pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling, good air hockey and pool tables. Kids are at school and won’t show up until after four. I do miss whiskey, though.
The last time I’d been there they had all new games, fighting , racing, and skeeing, but half of those had been replaced. An old Ms. Pac Man table game, the kind with the horizontal screen you sit down to play and set your drink on, the first Donkey Kong, Rampage, and Asteroids; I’d played all those in the seventies and eighties. I did like their new animatronic gypsy fortune teller, though. She was in a four-sided case, three-sides glass, and her body ended at the waist. When I put in a dollar her hands waggled mechanically over her crystal ball and out rolled a strip of paper tape with good news on it. It said whatever move I made next was the right one.
I put three of my last five quarters into the Wurlitzer, picked out a song by The Flying Burrito Brothers– closest thing to country it had– and walked over to the kid sitting on a stool behind the prize counter. He was twenty-six maybe, about my son Josh’s age, listening to a white I pod strapped on his arm and reading a yellowed library copy of Kim. He looked sour, dark crew-cut and a goatee, piercings in his nose and lower lip.
“What’s with all the new-old stuff, bud?” I asked.
He brightened up like a man being offered a bribe and yanked his ear phones out “That’s the new direction management’s taking the place. We’re going for sort of a penny arcade feel, have some of the old classics. Figure it’ll bring in new business. People who want to play the old stuff. All this new RPG shit is just computer animation gone nuts. It has no character.” That seemed a stupid idea to me. “You must really think it’s cool. Bet you played all these games when they were top of the line, huh?”
“Yeah. They were more fun the soup cans and string I was used to. But why the new juke box?”
He smiled. Braces. “That was my idea. I talked Mr. Kot– that’s the new owner’s name, Mr. Kot– into that. He and I picked out all the records ourselves. Cool, huh?”
“It has a tenth of the songs the old one did.”
“Yeah, but it’s all vinyl! Vinyl has a much warmer tone than that digital shit.”
“I’ve heard that, but not from anyone who’s worked with both.”
The kid sneered at me. “I worked in the music section at Barnes & Noble, dude. I know the difference.”
I used to carry a stress relief ball in my pocket, and I would reach in and squeeze when someone was galling my nerves. But since I’ve been sober, not as much gets to me. This did. “Son, don’t preach to me about analogue recording having a better sound. I was there when the sausage was made.”
The sneer went away. “You’re in the business?” he asked.
“Work at a studio just up the road, and I’ve recorded on every mixer made since 1962. Analogue was what we had then, digital’s what we got now, and you can do more with it.”
He crossed his arms. “What’s your label called?” He didn’t believe me.
“Broke Toe Records.”
Now he believed me, and I didn’t care anymore. “No shit? I got one of your t-shirts. It’s blue. How high are you on the totem pole over there.”
“I’m just middle management,” I said. This was a lie
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