I’m the kind of creature who would play air-hockey and buck-hunt every day of the week, if possible. Yes, I also like killing zombies, but what I really want to do is get my hands on a convertible and cruise through the arctic tundras and tunnels of Moscow. I even like the claw game because I often win and get to watch the tickets roll out, like a big long tongue wagging as the machine gets pet by its’ master. Yes, playing games at the arcade lights up my brain’s reward centers like a pinball machine. And the Avalon Arcade has got to be the best and last bastion of nickel arcades around.  

My plan consisted of buying a bag of nickels and burning through them as fast as possible. I didn’t know this was my plan, but my destiny unfolded quickly as I found myself pumping 20+ nickels into the Skeeball game. Skeeball is one of those worthless games that we can’t stop playing. It’s a cultural relic and thus cannot be passed over, but the quality is inconsistent and it doesn’t even pack a punch as far as tickets. After playing far too many games of this, I looked for the “shoot the clown with a cannon ball” game which is always nearby – however it was nowhere to be found. It’s a shame, I like me a clown with a cannon to the face.

Instead I found a mini bowling game that made an uninspiring visual first impression. However the game was redeemed as I quickly mastered it and then repeated ad infinitum until I had about 150 tickets. All around me there were 11 year olds swarming in herds, enjoying their one night of weekly independence. Meanwhile the ticket wads were coming out of my pockets like stuffing and this suddenly made me nervous as I suspected the hooligans were out to lift my stash. Yes, you read that right. I was worried the tweens were going to steal my tickets. Instead of fighting this irrational fear, I casually drifted into the next room.

There I burned through the usual games- drove some cars, added some coins to the ‘nickel mountain’ that never quite gets pushed off the cliff, and shot some hammerhead sharks with underwater artillery.

Following this, I played a game of air hockey with a friend. This is where it got interesting. I happen to be fairly good at air hockey. It’s a fast moving game that requires total concentration. A high speed cat and mouse chase to see who can get the cheese. When I play it, I go deep into my reptillian brain and engage in the tactics that I believe are fundamental to my survival.  As I saw my opponent – calm, controlling the puck with certitude, sometimes slowly – I saw myself in comparison. Frenetic, sloppy, warp-speed and brutal. “That’s my style” I thought to myself, “Sloppy and brutal. Total disorientation and chaos which leads to the weakening of my opponent. Then when they get dizzy enough, I slam them so hard they go unconscious…That’s my style”. Under the neon lights, this style seemed suddenly so obtuse, the certain harbinger of my general personal demise.  Even though I’m proud to say that in life I’ll always take fight over flight, the darwinian implications of my battle tactics did not escape me. As I was pondering this, my opponent scored on me again. And again. And again.

As I drifted away from the air-hockey game my brain was buzzing, still hot and smoldering in the iron forge of reward circuit stimulation. I found my way back to the bowling game where I mindlessly knocked down spares to watch the tickets zip out from the slot for awhile. It was a comfort to me that reward could be this simple, after the disheartening reality of my animal nature during air hockey.

Approaching the ticket counter ready to cash-in, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even looked at the prizes. Perhaps next time it would be prudent to look at the end-goal and work towards it, you know have a strategy. Because now, with the better part of the night waning, the inflatable baseball bats and sneaker keychains didn’t look so appealing. I came out with 340 tickets; just 40 away from the mini alarm clock. But I settled for a black light, a “cool ” pen and 20 tootsie rolls. I got a skull keychain too (with diamond eyes!) just to remind me of the ideals of human evolution. I couldn’t tell you why, but it all seemed worth it.

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