Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Panties Half Off
I even had a friend working at the mall; it was Gordon, a gamer buddy, AV Club Alumni, and class of 1986 alumni. He had landed his dream job at the local arcade.
Now for those of my readers who still have their lives ahead of them I should mention that video arcades of the 1980's were very different from the video arcades of today. The games were only a quarter each but for that quarter you had the thrill of pitting your poorly defined graphics blob against a host of other poorly defined graphics blobs that were out to kill it. It was an era when Mario was just a supporting player for Donkey Kong, an era when martial arts combats were as bloodless as they were blocky and movie tie in games were even worse than they are now.
Colonie Center's arcade was called 'Arthur's Castle' and it was obvious to everyone that the owners had intended to base their designs upon on the mythology of Camelot. However a tragic miscommunication had resulted in all the relevant signage being of actor Dudley Moore.
Since I had eaten my lunch during my fifteen minute break I decided to play a few rounds of Sinistar to pass the time. Before I could do that however I needed change for a five so I made my way to the uniformed man vigilantly leaning on the Skee-ball prize counter.
“Hey Gordon.” I said.
He turned to give me a grin and a wave. As always he was wearing two coin belts in bandoleer fashion, he always did this with belts because he considered Chewbacca his personal savior. “Al!” he gave my hand a rough shaking. “How go things with the panty patrol?”
“How go things with the change rangers?” I handed him a five, he handed me a handful of tokens.
He made a sweeping gesture with his arm, knocking an unwary 13 year old headfirst into a Galaxian machine. “This is my domain. I have the keys to all the machines and get unlimited replays. My whole life has been leading up to this!”
“I'm happy for you.”
“Then why don't you look happy?”
“I just wish some of my dreams would come true,” I stared at my sneakers, “I can't get published. My love life is a disaster... I just feel like I'm spinning my wheels.”
A group of kids ran up to Gordon with reams of Skee-ball tickets, he kept talking as he handed out one cheap looking prize after another. “Are you still hung up on that girl? What's her name?”
“It’s been four years hasn’t it, she must be some girl.”
But Lilly was more than just some girl to me, she was my dream girl and those dreams sometimes involved jacuzzis filled with strawberry Jell-O.
“What happened anyway?” Gordon asked, “You guys were going out for a while back in the 11th grade weren’t you?”
“It didn’t quite work out,” my hand tightened around the plastic tokens. Didn’t quite work out was an understatement; I had pursued her all through 9th and 10th, won her at the beginning of my junior year only to lose her just in time for the prom. She was my first real girlfriend, my first slow dance and my first kiss; of course she was also my first real heartbreak. “I still can’t believe she went to the prom with Orville.”
“Well you’ve got to admit he sure has a certain something,” Gordon said.
“Something all right.”
“You know she's not with Orville anymore.”
“She's with that Jessie dude.”
Gordon said, “I hear they're like living together now.”
“Wha-what?” I suddenly felt dizzy. I slumped against a nearby Pac Man game.
“I think you need to move on,” he patted my shoulder.
“Well who was that girl that kept trying to hug you on the last day of school?”
“Joanna?” I rolled my eyes, “Don't even think about it. That girl is just annoying.”
“She's kinda cute.”
I snorted dismissively “She's fat.”
Gordon gave me a disbelieving look, “You're fat.”
One of the kids came back to the counter with their Skee-ball prize, it had already fallen apart. Gordon laughed mockingly at his request to replace it. Realizing that my lunch break was almost over I turned my attention to Sinistar.
The boxes continued to pile up I kept working as hard and as fast as I could but every time Maddie got the chance she distracted me from my goals. She had me cleaning toilets, shelving dresses and replacing florescent bulbs, when she wasn't doing that she was complaining to Beverly about how slow I was. Soon we were rounding into the last week of April but I was still checking in dresses from the third week of March.
When I brought these problems up to Beverly she said that she understood but there wasn't much she could do about it because she and Maddie weren't on speaking terms.
Somehow my mother and stepfather had gotten my sister to move back home. I remember getting home from work and welcoming her back, we sat there drinking sodas and talking about her plans. I promised her that once my car was fixed I would help by driving her too and from GED classes, assuming that were what she wanted to do. She asked me how I was doing and I unburdened myself about everything I was feeling I even told her about that recurring nightmare I kept having about going to a porno theater with Captain Picard.
The next morning we discovered she had run away again, no one really knew why but I vowed never to bring up the Captain Picard thing again.
Oh damn. Sorry.
Anyway, things kept getting worse. My cousin George was in the hospital. His car had gotten wrecked but I couldn't say it was an accident. You see he and his pals liked to drive through the black neighborhoods and shout racial epithets. They thought it was pretty darn funny, at least until the day the car's battery failed. It took two hours for the paramedics to unimpale him from the gearshift.
And most awful of all one dreary evening I fell asleep on the bus ride home and when I awoke to find the lunch box holding my Walkman, books and mix tapes had been stolen. I was devastated.
I was even more devastated when I found the mix tapes sitting back in my seat the next day. Didn't anyone like my taste in music?
One night Maddie had me vacuuming and I was annoyed enough to be trying to do as much damage to the vacuum cleaner as I could.
WHAM! Into the wall.
WHAM! Into one of the displays.
WHAM into Maddie's bony ankle.
She howled with pain, I couldn't apologize fast enough. She shouted, “Do you want to have to pay for a new vacuum cleaner?”
“Well maybe from petty cash, there are some good prices over at Sears...”
“I said shut up!”
Her voice was getting louder again. The salesgirls were running for cover, “You're. Still. TALKING!”
I was about to apologize again, then caught myself.
She handed me a business card with an address on it, “The store has a shrinkage problem and policy states that each employee must take a lie detector test.”
“It's in your employee handbook.”
“There's an employee handbook?”