So, bad news first: my existential expose of an expedition to the cooing Canadian winter to find myself through threesomes that thrill and the tender, forgiving touch of a woman’s love has been delayed because I am not well, at all, and I’d feel disingenuous talking about how I “found myself abroad” while I’m shopping for a psychiatric bed.
The good news is: I accidentally seduced your wife, who’s destined to master pinball wizardry and bring an unbridled joy harmonious to the galaxy. Probably.
It was, unquestionably, unintentional. You ever see on the films and on the televisions when a straight-seeming/identifying woman first experiences attraction to another woman? I do not look like that woman at all. I’m fat, femme, and very visibly trans. Maybe she saw my freshly shaved head and army jacket and assumed I had the gate code for the Patchouli Palace. We trans women aren’t even allowed to bathe in the moat.
Truth be told, I think, or rather I know, I’m the sideshow. The aperitif. The main course, her true love, is pinball. She’s still just getting to know it. She’s twice shy about using the l word.
She’s elated by the subtle, sublime complexity of the game, the culture of cargo cult clergy that surround it. She appreciates what she would describe as a sort of zen (if she weren’t narrated by me, who, for all my faults, knows better) among the regulars, the curators and the pleasure seekers. She doesn’t know a thing about “real” baseball, let alone fantasy baseball, but at the Pacific Pinball Museum she overheard the two women on staff giddily fretting about fantasy baseball misfortunes and the compassionate cinematography in Silly Little Game, and for some reason that makes her happy.
Perhaps it’s the lack of shame and apology she finds so exhorting in her new pastime. And hey, I’m not trying to paint you as the bad guy here, but let’s call David Spade a Spade here: there was a lot of that in her life prior. Sorry to her mother, for not growing up to be a professor. Sorry to you, for not being able to climax from straight missionary and wanting, needing some things you were unfamiliar with. Sorry to the student loan provider for not being able to meet the payments in an economy that demands a four-year degree to be a secretary but pays you at a minimum wage from fifteen years ago.
You probably thought I’d compare her pay to some other sort of low-paying job so as to suggest I think that fast food workers deserve less financial security or respect.
(OOC: The videos below are, obviously, not mine. Someday soon, though, I’ll have my own videos to accompany my posts. The kids are into vines these days, yeah?)
Design: Ted Zale
Art: Dave Christensen
Mfg: Bally, 1971
Fireball is like watching someone have their first beer or run for their lives from their first protest. It’s fun to watch first-timers fluster and flail with the erratic heaves of the ball. She’s a natural, though, or rather will be. You’re probably watching Scandal together right now, stoked that soon your Thursday nights will be filled with cooking classes. We have become so conditioned to the forfeiture of free time that, if and when our lifestyles allow us distance or space from work or school, we search for new lines to wait in, new clocks to watch listlessly.
I can’t complain (though sometimes I still do): this is where we met. Every week your wife asks me where I get my apron/s and every week I remind her that they’re handmade. On the inside of the pocket my pink cupcake one, the woman who made it for me stitched her name and a reminder that she (once) loved me. I haven’t spoken to her in almost three years. I am not easy to love. When she starts coming home later and changes the passkey to her phone, you may think the same about yourself. But really, you seem like a nice enough guy to me.
It’s easy to mistake the ability to join the flippers closer together (making it impossible for the ball to pass through them) as a mercy, a concession to the player. But this machine, like all machines, is built to trick you, to price you out piecemeal.
In my over-educated indulgences of imagination I like to envision all fledgling pinball designers handed a copy of Death of a Salesman with the line “Never fight fair with a stranger. You’ll never get out of the jungle that way” underlined in red.
AS IF I CARE WHAT NIGHT OF THE WEEK SCANDAL…ACTUA–
2. Spanish Eyes
Design: Norm Clarke
Art: Christian Marche
Mfg: Williams, 1972
“The style feels very feminine,” she says, narrowly saving her second ball.
“I feel that way about most machines, actually. The smoothness, the excitability, the care it takes to move the machine without tilting. I don’t know, I guess I get a more feminine feel from all that.”
“Really? You don’t see them all as huge phalluses hitting their testicles or I guess maybe their seeds into gaping wombs?”
“I don’t see phalluses as inherently male. I have a phallus. Two, if you count ones that attach.”
“You huffed a bit when I said ‘feminine’.”
“At my last job, we had an all hands company meeting where the CEO revealed the ‘brand identity’ of our product. He said that the product and company’s personality was ‘not too feminine, but not too masculine’ and that we had a sense of humor, but we didn’t tell ‘jokey-jokes.’ For a couple weeks after, we would fake write each other up for telling ‘jokey-jokes’ in the office.”
“Do you make a habit of biting the hand that feeds you?”
“Think I should dye my hair the purple that girl on the backglass has?”
“Maybe. I definitely want that dress, though.”
“I always thought the bumper at the bottom that sends your ball back up was like, meant to signify the tight community depicted in the art, like, it’s a game, but everyone wants to help you keep playing, I don’t know.”
3. Addams Family
Design: Larry DeMar, Pat Lawlor
Art: John Youssi
Mfg: Midway, 1992
“Yeah, you like that machine. So does everyone. It’s the best-selling machine of all time.” He’s a serious player, a self-proclaimed semi-pro, judging by the way he imposes with his mousiness, as if to suggest that the slightest tilt in his day’s plans will set him off and our children’s children would all rue the day. She shrinks, trying to inch away from her previous words.
I lean over and gingerly, under cover of his fumbling for his smart phone, tap Indiana Jones’ start button, twice for good measure. A new game begins before Leon The Professional can get an Instagram of his new high score. His brow arches and immediately deflates: I work here.
He shuffles over to Phantom of the Opera.
“That was maybe a little bit for me, but that was mostly for you,” she says, not looking up from the machine. But isn’t all of this, really?
I first played Addams Family, which was my favorite machine in real life for a real long time, in my hometown of Phoenix, which I had always assumed was the necropolis realized. Until I visited Toronto. The smothering snow that seemed to appear from nowhere reminded me of my 2011 (still real life) vicodin overdose. I dreamt I was dragged, naked, along the frozen floor of a winterscape. It felt like miles, but anywhere that snowy probably goes by the metric system, so it’s easier to just say it felt like for hours.
I thought I had died. And then I woke up, peered at my vomit-caked face with yellowed eyes, saw that we had no running water for a shower, and wished I had.
This is not to say that I found Toronto unpleasant. It’s actually the most beautiful city I’ve ever been in. I miss it already.
She may come, in time, to dismiss Addams Family as a pedestrian pursuit, as will be her right as Sorceress Supreme of All Pinball. Until she blossoms into that destroyer of worlds, I continue my tutelage. Don’t follow the ball. Let the ball follow you. Don’t hit both flippers at once, that creates a bigger gap than if you just hit one of them. Spit is not lube. Wearing gloves is a good idea even if you’re “fluid-bonded” because your nails are fucking filthy. Ask for what you want.
She will obliterate me at the next tourney and I will weep. She will place her hand on me and say she’s sorry I didn’t make it to the finals and I will say, “it’s okay, I had a ball with you” and then that’s when we will probably break up, though we were never officially dating to begin with.
4. Roller Disco
Design: Ed Krynski
Art: Gordon Morrison
Mfg: Gottlieb, 1980
“This would be your favorite!” She shakes her head, laughing. To the uninitiated, my inclination for the previous incarnation, the polka dot shirt dresses and loitering at Musee Meccanique, might come across as desperately adhering to an outdated definition of what “woman” looks and acts like. But in truth ,I just like old things. I can’t wait to be old. I want to be grey-haired at 45, playing bass-and-drum punk in venues gentrified twice over and then abandoned. I want to own two ovens so I can bake twice as many cakes and get twice as many people over at my house to do any chores that might fuck up my manicure. Soon, soon.
The two sets of flippers makes me think of couple skate (though they are clearly intended to accommodate the sheer width of the playfield). Roller skating, admittedly, got less interesting the better I got at it. Most are too frightened by my experience as a top/domme to top me, and so happy accidents like tripping over yourself roller skating are the most reliable way for me to get the sort of bruises and cuts you want to show off to your friends and Planned Parenthood nurses.
If I never get to design or build pinball machines, I’d at least like the opportunity to write the music for them. Rock music has embedded an inferiority complex in and around bass, and we get gunshy about straying from our designated genres of activity. A moment of silence for all the students of Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius mixed out of their shitty dime store Death Cab bands’ records. I fucking love disco. And house. And techno. I remain unconvinced that Death From Above 1979‘s breakup wasn’t engineered by a clandestine cadre of guitar players set on sabotaging our efforts at melodic independence.
I was born (legally) blind and required corrective surgery at three years old just so I could walk through doors and navigate stairs. It kinda upsets me to hear “Pinball Wizard.” I have never seen Tommy and refuse to until I see proof that Pete Townshend has ever actually fucking played pinball. The volume of machines which, in addition to bombarding you with visual stimuli to offset your coordination but REQUIRE THE ABILITY TO READ PRINT is magnanimous. Every pinball machine has its own unique set of win conditions, which are printed, not in Braille, but in type, at the bottom left of the machine. It’s important to note that Tommy is actually deafblind, so having someone read those instructions out to him wouldn’t be of any use, and if you try to communicate instructions to a deafblind person in the middle of operating machinery using sign language, you’re an asshole.
I am stereoblind with monocoular vision (I can only see out of one eye at a time), and games like Roller Disco are so fucking hard for me. To suggest that deafblind people are somehow protected(!) and insulated(!) from distraction just is fucking gross.
She wouldn’t watch Tommy with me, even if I wanted to. Megashark vs. Giant Octopus was my freebie, and I had to go fuck it up by suggesting we watch Ghost Shark the week after, so now she vets any film I want to watch together, which in practicality translates to an immediate “no” on anything I suggest. If I wanna double feature Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, I have to make it seem like her idea. Women.
5. Black Knight
Design: Steve Ritchie
Art: Tony Ramunni
Mfg: Williams, 1980
“You are free to identify how you want, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to ID as a lesbian to assure me I’m not a fling. I accept and respect your history of dating men.”
“Yeah, but I feel like ‘queer woman’ as a term has been hijacked by mostly otherwise straight women who exclusively date men. Also, I see you as a woman. I don’t want you to think that you’re this grey area of gender for me that I can safely dabble in.”
“Well, I appreciate that.”
She’s pretty rad. I can see why you’d fortnightly burn an effigy of me and swear your vengeance over a soggy crusted frozen pizza. You probably don’t, though. If you did, you should let your pizza thaw a bit before you bake it to get a crisper crust. Ice crystals still trapped in the dough melt and stay in the dough rather than evaporate. I mean, ideally, nothing with dough should ever be put in the freezer, because when water forms into ice it punctures the dough, like a death by a thousand paper cuts, which is why dough that is frozen is not quite as…doughy(?) as it should be. I don’t know. I’m just a kitchen apprentice. I’m not allowed to know things yet.
This machine feeds off your fear. You’re gonna shoot the ball up and wait for it to come down to the bottom flippers, because you’ve psyched yourself out and are on the defensive. It never occurs to you to bring the fight to the ball at the top. You’ve already lost. This machine will introduce you to a whole new spectrum of pain. Like a rainbow.
It’s the first solid state game to incorporate a multi-level playfield. This fact is just one of a million daggers she and I will psychically brandish and unfurl upon one another as she battles me for the right to be acknowledged as the student who’s surpassed the teacher.
Ha ha, I will think, I was in a band called Solid State! Your quaint knowledge is not quite enough to defeat me yet, my apprentisssssss.
But I know the folly is and will be mine. She wants to win, or at the very least be good at something beyond the confines of “good daughter/wife/daughter/mother”. It could have gone any which way. Kite flying. MMA. A plethora of pleasures lied in the shadows, free from the pressures of loved ones to oh come on, you know this means a lot to me and it would be great if you could at least give it a try for me. Pinball is, with hope, but one of many magics with which she learns to cast her own profane and sacred circles.
To conclude our Sith metaphor: through multiball her chains are broken, pinball shall set her free.
Also, she will learn that dating trans women requires a lot of negotiating and processing that she, dating cisgender men, is not really used to, at all, and will probably pursue relationships with people who don’t mind what you call their genitalia and don’t have a complex about being unseen and don’t care if you won’t hold their hand in public.
I don’t blame her. You gotta do you. When someone I love takes the path of willful privileged indifference, they fail themselves by a much wider margin than by which they fail me.
I’ll get my comeuppance, for a lack of a better word, at the pinball expo where I present her with my first original game, cobbled together from spare parts.
I will place a quarter in her warm, soft hand, guide it to the coin slot and whisper, “now you get to put it in my hole.”
Whoop whoop whoop whoop.