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Special thanks to the Avalon Arcade for recently introducing me to a chivalrous young bard who honored us with a juggling demonstration and 824 free winning tickets.

1. The need for laughs: this is the root of of the bard complex and goes deep into their formative years when their talents went unrecognized as a child. Somewhere around 10 years old, they realized the best way to get attention was to perform outlandish acts of poetry, magic and cleverness. Various renaissance festivals and school plays reinforced this over the years.

2. Unnecessary Talent: Not every bard is a juggler, minstrel, stilt-walking magician or loud poet. But many of them are. Others express themselves through freestyle rap, playing obscure instruments or by performing absurd acts of physical comedy.

3. Long hair: this is a necessity for every bard. Unless the culture they live in does not permit it – every bard should have long hair. There is nothing romantic or frivolous about short hair, and those defining characteristics give the bard their charm. Long hair is also particularly good for various trans-gender character transformations.

4.  All the world is a stage: the bard is funny, endearing, often hilarious. But they don’t know when to stop. Like a train wreck of tragic comedy they will continue juggling the torches until they’ve burned the whole place down.  They don’t just want your laughter; they crave your tears.

5. They are indispensable: despite their frivolity, bards make excellent friends. They will entertain you when you are down; reading you sappy poetry and quoting the ancients. They will outwit your enemies with one cunning remark. They will charm their way into all sorts of unusual places. And at the end of your epic journey, after the last battle has been won and you are on the brink of claiming your treasure: a bard will always, always know the magic password.

Addendum: Some bards are not happy. They no longer have the will to live or perform. They live in disguise as retail specialists and hipster baristas or, god forbid, corporate artists. They see the world as a gray and cruel place. They are sad sad clowns who need nurturing from someone  like you. Just remember: bards are not usually motivated by normal things like food, booze and money. They embody the journey of The Fool and seek the realm of magic only. So brush up on your Aleister Crowley and bring it to them. Help a sad clown today.

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.