We were confident that our champ would prevail.Then something happened that we didn’t even know was possible.
Before there were AAA video games, before Game Box, before Atari, before PAC Man, before… there was pinball.
Those beautiful loud, bright swallowers of dollars, quarters (do you go back far enough to remember nickels?)were found in every arcade and most every pizza, hamburger joint and corner drug stores. Find a group of teens hanging out and chances are, you’d find a pinball machine.
Some of the rich kid’s parents even sprung for the $150 to buy a pinball machine — now the cost is closer to$6000+.
Many a teenage pleasing parent acquired one in for the household recreation room. That is if they were hard of hearing enough to tolerate the noise generated by the infernal thing. Or maybe their mansion was large enough to isolate the machine in another sound dimension.
These rumpus room pinball games, of course, were activated for free; no benefit charging your own teenage kids the lunch money you gave them for their own school lunch.
Back in the less sophisticated early 1950s, teens seemed inexplicably attracted to pinball machines just as kids now are to AAA video and, of course, any of the $6000+ copies of the old machines.
I’ve always maintained; why buy a used original pinball machine for $150 when you can get a copy for $6000?
The hang out that qualified for us was Philip’s by the Elberon Train Station. In the morning, commuters would pick up their daily paper for the hour train ride from Elberon to New York City. Our dads reversed the process in the afternoon arriving back in Elberon on the 5:10 out of New York.
This gave us guys, if we hustled straight from school; 4:00 in the afternoon until almost 6:00 to hang out.
The diehards of us would loiter at Phillip’s until our dads returned from work to chase us home from where we shouldn’t be in the first place.
Hanging at Phillip’s, understandably, was frowned upon by most parents because time spent there made it impossibe to spend more productive time elsewhere.
Uhhhhh — maybe an after school activity?
Like: the Latin, French or Spanish Club; the debate team, the chess club, math club —endless choices.
Us kids thought — jeepers-creepers, we’ve been learning all day, shouldn’t we be allowed to waste a couple of hours playing pinball and eating strings of red licorice at Pill’s?
Our cooled out reference to possible illicit distributor of Milltown tablets craved by addicted parents of someone else— Phillip’s shortened to Pill’s!
Made the place all the more exciting..
Our parents in turn , continuously admonished each of us not to spend time with someone else’s slacker kid.
Both theories were complete bullshit but everyone stuck to them until we all grew up; parents and kids alike.
Into this equation strode Dax, a new guy in Long Branch High School. He’d moved to the Jersey Shore from Long Island, New York. He was far more sophisticated than the guys I ran with. We accepted him as part of our group (gang) because he always seemed more knowing than any of us; probably tougher too.
And he had done it with his girl friend in Long Island.
Whatever, none of us felt the need to test him because he had the rare ability to pass a teenage evaluation without even undergoing one.
When Dax bragged to us he was the equivalent of the Pinball Wizzard in his old high school and would be in ours; the line was drawn.
Bank-A-Ball (Gottlieb, 1950) was the game we all played every afternoon at Pill’s. No matter how good Dax told us he was, he could never beat down our reigning champ, Ira Fishbach.
Ira wasn’t much in the academic/athletic department but, boy, could he play Bank-A-Ball. Maybe he was deficient in the former because he devoted so much time to the latter.
He was our acknowledged #1; consistently achieving the highest score of any of us by 100s of points. Time after time he prove his superiority on the machine that had a picture of 2 beautiful women in low cut formal dresses over which the balls rolled into the scoring holes.
Pill’s machine: Ira’s home field.
Dax didn’t stand a chance — we all thought.
He may be cool; years beyond us in worldly matters but he’s biting off more than he can chew if he thinks, for a minute, that he can outscore Fishface in Bank-A-Ball.
The afternoon of the inevitable challenge came. The gang went over to Pill’s after school as we had done all winter.
Dax, wasn’t YET accepted 100% but then again, that’s partially what made him respected by the rest of the us. Always remaining a liitle aloof.
He was Rebel Without A Cause-ish.
Dax was already standing at the Bank-A-Ball machine, obviously practicing before the championship challenge.
That was perfectly Ok. He’d need it, if he expected to keep up with Ira.
Dax made the unusual request to play his game first.
That was odd, I thought; wouldn’t one choose to go last so you’d know the score you’d have to beat?
We all looked at it as Dax having the confidence of not bothering about little nuances such as the order of competition.
DAX put his quarter in the slot and activated Bank-A-Ball!
The steel balls rolled around the beautifully designed and illustrated Pinball machine; lights blazing, bells ringing up the points registering on the scoreboard.
A superoir score in Bank-A-Ball was1500 to 2000.
Dax already had 3005. He was only on his 4th ball out of 5.
Fishface’s best score in his whole life was 2314 after playing the full 5 balls.
Were we that far behind New York in EVERYTHING?
Dax finished the game scoring 4045; an unheard-of score.
As he pulled away from the 300 pound machine, I heard a thump.
He called his brother, who was old enough to drive, and asked his bro to drive over to Pill’s and pick him up.
We all saw Dax limp over to his brother’s car as he pulled up to drive him home.
Dax missed a few days of school. Turns out that he wore his sneakers to school the day of the pinball competition.
He meant to wear his motorcycle boots.
He had to get over to Pill’s before Ira and the gang because he planned on hoisting the lower legs of the machine on his toes to level out the grade of the game without tilting it, which would shut it off. This , naturally, would slow down the speed of the balls’ descent and make them easier to control.
He was able to do this but didn’t want us to know..
Anything to get the edge.
The machine remained on his toes for at least a good 5 minutes.
It bruised his toes in the process; sneakers providing little protection for the ass end of the 300 pound pinball machine.
As strange as it may seem, this only added to the charisma of Dax.
What gamesmanship we all thought!