There was a time where I was the best. That’s not even an exaggeration. I sat front and center in the arcade and man, there were so many quarters coming my way, it was unbelievable. I was designed to last. And, rightfully so. For hours on end, day after day, kids of all ages would rush into the arcade, throw a quarter into my lower body and start mashing away at the buttons and joystick attached on the top of my body.
It wasn’t just the normal wear and tear that I had to deal with either. I was a pretty challenging arcade cabinet. And, I’ll admit, from time to time I used to mess with some kids. They’d start having a good game, started to get on a roll you know, and then you could hear it in their voice. They’d start to get cocky. That’s when I normally just ramp the difficulty up and put them back in their place. This wasn’t just a game for me. This was a way of life. But, circling back to what I was saying earlier, I used to mess with these kids. And then, those kids would get fed up. Maybe throw a kick or slam the top of the arcade table. But, I was built to last. Even with all the abuse I took, I still look pretty dang good to this day if I do say so myself.
But times, they are a changing. I soon wasn’t the hot new arcade cabinet that I was before. Kids simply got tired of Ms. Pac-Man. The worst day was when I was moved to the back. It seemed like a normal day. It was quiet. Maybe one or two people actually played me all day. The arcade winded down to a close and the front doors were finally locked. The workers came out with their usual cleaning supplies. But, there was something different today. One of the bigger guys wheeled out a hand truck from the back. That hand truck was the bane of every cabinets existence. We all hoped that none of us would ever have to see that day when we got moved to the back corner and were left in isolation. It was a prison sentence.
I nervously glanced over to some of the other cabinets but they all stared back at me. When the man with the truck started to wheel that cart my way, I knew my fate was decided. After the long roll across the arcade floor, he finally brought the cart to a rest behind me. I was scared. At this point, I couldn’t see anything he was doing. Suddenly the cold metal plate slid under my body and I felt myself get lifted up. I was powerless. He quickly set me back down.
It seemed like a mistake. Maybe he picked the wrong cabinet! For a moment, I had a glimmer of hope! Maybe I wouldn’t be moving to the back after all. But then, I heard the true nature of his mistake. The power cord that was still in the wall. He forgot to unplug me before moving me. This time, I could see the man moving in my peripheral. He traced my power cord to the outlet in the wall. Glanced backwards to double check that it was the right cord. Then, he gripped the cord and yanked. After that, everything went black.
The next time I opened my eyes, I was in the dreaded location. Exactly where I never wanted to be. I looked around for a moment and confirmed it. I was in the back corner of the shop. Alone. Secluded. I was now treated like a leper. I finally mustered up the courage to look at all my fellow cabinets. Some couldn’t look at me. Others had their screens dimmed. The shame would probably fade in a few days. But for right now, it was the single most embarrassing moment in my life.
The next day when the usuals came in, I fully realized the shame of what the corner isolation meant to an arcade cabinet like me. None of the customers looked at me. None! The same people that were fiddling with my controls yesterday while smiling and laughing and having a good time… They didn’t even look at me! It hurt so bad. My circuit boards ached. I ramped up my brightness and flashed all my lights as much as I could. I cranked up the volume. But, nothing worked. I couldn’t draw anybody’s eye. If anything, I was just being the annoying machine in the corner that wouldn’t shut up.
The long hours turned to days. The days turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months. And so on and so forth. I finally accepted my fate. I was a has-been. Maybe somebody every once in awhile would slide a quarter into me and play a quick game. For nostalgia’s sake. But, soon after that, after the owners realized I really wasn’t bringing any business anymore, I was finally moved to a back room. They took some pictures of me and for about a week I wondered why. I was confused and now I didn’t see anybody at all.
Then, the great day came. A man came in an old red pickup truck. The owners wheeled me out to the back of the shop and lifted me up into his truck. I went for a short ride and ended up outside of somebody’s home. After some planning and finally sliding a hand truck underneath my body again, I was wheeled down into the basement of this stranger’s home. At first, I’ll admit, I was scared. God knows what was going to happen to me down there. Then, I saw the others. A collection of Pac-Man machines. A sign at the entrance of the basement read “man cave.” I flashed my screen as bright as possible. I was welcomed into a new home.