Observations from a Stool - # 7

“ Silver bells are a ringin’, ringing all around my house, oh yeah, ding-dong, oh yeah.”

Last Thursday, after a seemingly longer and certainly more intense day than average at my “square job” I decided that I was due for some relax/alone time. Sort of reward since a salary as a carrot doesn’t seem to "cut it" for me anymore. Wanted some serious down time before beginning another long weekend filled with less routine like work, but work being the key word nonetheless. So I shed my work clothes (for now) and got into more comfortably suited weekend clothes. After parking the car on a side street just off the Main I head up some industrial stairs to my favorite place these days, the North Star Machine à Piastres pinball parlour. Don’t get me wrong, as a patron I don’t go there for the pinballs. In fact, after I check the staff’s log book for problems I try not to look at the silly machines, let alone play them unless I am taunted by a stranger. Pinball fixation is for losers, we should all know that by now. Instead, I watch people, that is what I do when I want to relax, gives me a sense of how diverse so many of our lives are. I am very self-centered you know, and I tend to think that every one thinks like me. So I watch people as a sort of therapy in order to remind me of how wrong I am in making any assumptions as far as other complex beings are concerned. Some are predictable, some are not and those are the ones I am interested in the most.

The bar was comfortably busy and the next day was officially a day off so time to chill. People were smiling, playing and drinking, an exhilarating mix indeed. Then she came in. Accompanied by a tall man and a tall woman, they sat down at the bar and ordered cocktails and got their free token to start them up. And so, I began the observations siting comfortably at that stool I like so much. From that juxtaposition, and with the right set of eyes, you can see the actual relationships between people as they settle in. You can also see if it is a clients` first visit to the North Star or if they are regulars just by the way they react when they walk up the stairs and how they approach the machines, either cautiously or confidently. These three clients were first timers, and the young woman who accompanied the tall couple was particularly excited and animated, especially after she dropped her complimentary token into Xenon`s slot. A lot happened before the moment when she started playing, and via those moments, I began to realize that she was not an ordinary human being and not at all predictable and that she would make a great subject for this blog entry.

Once her tall male friend figured out the token/credit thing he became fascinated with the baseball machine (a 1963 Williams "Major League") and the tall woman who came in with them remained by his side watching him analyze the game and how it is suppose to be played before dropping his token. I couldn’t help myself, I grabbed my drink approached the couple and causally watched him take his first swings at the wild balls coming out from underneath the play field flap. I thought that maybe I could offer a few pointers if the energies between us permitted. We got along well, and after a few base hits he said that he knew where he was going to spend the tokens he bought that night. He was booked on the baseball and his tall lady friend seemed to have fallen for the Black Hole next to him. They would remain there for the majority of the evening, not like their shorter friend.

I went back to my stool and began watching their dark haired animated friend in her colourful summer dress which beautifully outlined her slender yet shapely figure as she kicked back her sandal laced left foot almost all the way back up to her buttocks at the same time as she flipped nervously & erratically at Pinbot. It was beautiful and disturbing all at once, and for a moment I wanted to be a robot. She had never played a real pinball before by the looks of it. Her style was unique and her moves showed a certain authority over the machine. It was clear that she was never going to be an ordinary and casually relaxed player even if she decided to pursue this pinball playfulness.

(NOTE :I will finish this story later, an old university buddy just sat down at the bar next to me and I don`t want to be rude by looking and touching my stupid phone.)

Later.

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I finally found some time to finish this story, and by the same token found a title.

HEY 19 !

It wasn`t just the fact that she was young, attractive and wildly expressive that captivated my attention from the observation stool, - or was it ? I definitely preferred to believe that it was the exactingly yet awkward moves she so wildly displayed while interacting with the pinball machines I maintain. It must have also been her pure and unchecked weirdness that made me single her out from the crowd that night. Her every move indicated that she had no idea of what she was suppose to be doing, yet she looked as if every action was calculated. I couldn`t quite put my finger on it. In fact, It was so completely contradictory & captivating. She had a great capacity to adapt I would say.

Meanwhile, her two older and taller companions focused attentively on the baseball machine, cautiously studying the game play while she moved wildly across the line up feeding the coin slots in a most nervous way. She would then push the coin return, the coin windows and the flipper buttons repeatedly for good measure. When she finally managed to find and press the credit button, the machine “kicked in”. Then she would pause, stand perfectly still for a moment, look at the backbox in a cockamamie way smiling while bobbing her head up and down and then tilting her face sideways as if that was her way of acknowledging the change in the machine`s disposition. She was communicating with “the herd” of pinball machines that I have come to shepherd as an occupation of late. Then she yanked at the plunger several times while twisting her lower body until she managed to finally put the ball into play. Her whole positioning vis à vis the machines got more intense and wild as the scoring mounted and I couldn`t help but feel that I should do something. It was looking as if this scenario would be turning critical very soon. The flipping she did looked borderline nonsensical and almost insane as I convinced myself to just continue to sit still, observe and hold on to my stool as sanctuary.

At one point she got onto Monday Night Football and began flipping relentlessly at the fast moving ball. During multi-ball she suddenly began to press the credit button repeatedly between flips, almost as a stylistic move and kept doing it even though the machine was not reacting to this oddball move. She continued “playing” in this fashion until the game over light came on as it always does a spit second before the machine goes dead. I was now totally convinced that she had never played pinball before. This was her first time, and it happened at the North Star which made me feel kinda special to be able to provide such a playground for this very special animated being. I continued to observe and decided that it was best that I keep my distance and not try to teach her anything about playing pinball. It was too wild and beautiful to watch and I didn`t want to ruin or interrupt this spectacle. So I patiently waited until the next game over light came on to see what she would do next. And every time the machine went still, she looked at it sideways, up and down and did a little youthful twirl before finally walking back up to the bar to sip her cocktail. I continued to watch her discreetly (or so I thought) from a distance. Maybe she would eventually acknowledge the lengthy gaze I was unconsciously throwing her way. I couldn`t take my eyes off her and it was indeed because she so young and reeling and relentlessly wild. I tried to figure what was possibly making her act this way. Was it drugs, a mental handicap, the Capersville cocktail or just pure lack of knowledge of how to play pinball. It didn`t matter one bit. It was a beautiful behaviour which I had not seen in a long time and that is what really fascinated me. She was someone who didn`t behave like everyone else and so I imagined that she would probably never say a commonplace thing either and imagined that she would be as interesting as she actions. But that was just my imagination, running away with me.

She finally nervously sat down at the bar once she stopped interacting with "the herd" and stared at the D.Gottlieb & Co. sign and started to look around the place smiling and grinning to herself when our eyes accidentally “locked” for a moment. I must have looked like a moose caught in the headlights because she immediately made her way towards me and asked if I liked the vibe of this place. I almost spat my drink out through my nose.

“I like it just fine,”, I answered after I stopped laughing, “how about you ?”

“Oh, it`s awesome.” she exclaimed and sat down at the speakeasy stool next to me and sipped her cocktail through the stir sticks as she looked up towards the mirror ball and made a grimace.

“Your friends over there seem to be enjoying themselves.” I said.

“Oh sure, they always have fun together.”

Pause.

Then suddenly, she looked over my way and said, - “What do you mean enjoying themselves ?” she asked indigently, “They brought me here you know.”

“Well yes, and I am thankful for that.” I blurted out without hesitation.

She shot me an awkward stare, and then again those annoying words came out.

“What do you mean ?”

“Nothing besides what I just said.”

Clearly she wasn`t on the same confident and playful wavelength that I was on.

"You`re strange you know that ?"

"Oh I know," I replied, "never quite understood what I am suppose to be doing here."

"What do you mean ?"

“Never mind,” I said in an affirmative way.

“What about you, where did you learn to play pinball ? You looked like you were having a blast over there.”

“It`s OK, but those machines all look the same.”

Pause.

“Were you watching me play ? `Cause if you were, that`s weird”, she uttered while looking distractedly elsewhere but still somehow smiling coyly while leaning over her drink.

“You are indeed a wild card,” I said, “and that is remarkable to see. Hell, just to watch you play I mean.”

I then waited for her to go ballistic.

“What do you mean ?” came out again.

Shit. OK I thought, let`s take this to the logical end.

I went on about something having to do with the importance of being playful and explained that the way she played pinball looked to me as if it was her way to justify the subconscious knowledge that being human always will be a useless passion, especially near the end of one`s life. I knew that I would lose her after that one, but I didn`t care because I had figured her out by then and realized that nothing I would ever say which made any sense to me was ever going to make sense to her. So I wisely stopped talking and put out the old tired line, - “So tell me about yourself.”

Problem was that she couldn`t. Maybe she didn`t have a self of her own making, but I did my damdest to look interested in whatever she had to say. But she just ended up talking about current events, pop music and such while I almost lost my mind, still secretly hoping that something she would say would make me want to jump affirmatively and connect with her, but it did not happen. To me, her youthfully affected mind was beyond any therapy I knew about and I realized that nothing I could say in an honest way would ever captivate what little attention span she could muster. That was fine and very much to be expected. In any case, any more time spent with an energy as vividly wild as hers and I would have been the one who would start pushing credit windows while the ball was in play. She would have made minced meat out of me if we had spent any more time together. She definitely had the power of youth and all the acute distractions and forward movement that usually accompanies that condition.

The power of youth is undeniable, and I do remember it well. But I knew that I had to simply stop talking at that point. I really felt that I had to let her go on about whatever she wanted to talk about no matter how much it bored me. I had to make room for her in what I always thought was my here and now, it is not. These are her times at best. I definitely had nothing more to say, and I am more and more at peace with all I have said and done and written in the past and all I have attempted to express, way back then, and even also in this here and now. Now it was time to be quiet. So at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I tired to put something "out there".

And I understand more and more deeply that these are not my times anymore, the major and ruling economic demographic who control most of the resources may well be the boomers, but what they don`t have is the irreplaceable drive of the upcoming generations. That energetic life force that fades after middle age, or at least changes into something else, may not be adequate for life to move forward. Youthful energy is without a doubt what it takes to move this whole gig forward no matter how wild and erratic is may seem to the 50 up crowd. Hence, Boomers are better left in good hands with Allstate.

It is also better that the pinball machines take the brunt of a youthful energy like hers I thought as she babbled on about some show she saw the night before and what she “thought” was awesome on instagram/facebook/twitter concerning the North Star. After all, I was confident that the herd is sage and stable despite the youthful energy she displayed. An old bunch of commercial machines meant to operate in a public environment decades ago are still solid enough to be subjected to energies like hers, I must be doing something right. I have done what I wanted to do and have done it well by the looks of it. And in the end, even if I am only at the tail ass end of the boomer generation, I am not a conservative machine and will probably never be one, hell, I no longer am even suppose to be out in public, especially in this context. But wait, the demographic at the North Star is very wide and that is part of its success and charm and what has saved me in a way from fading away earlier. Being able to cater to people in their 20`s right up to those in their 60`s is a very special thing we accomplished here with Montreal`s first ever pinball bar, and that is what I have invested many resources in for the past couple of years. I am proud of having achieved this life goal and having played several important roles in Montreal pinball history, hence giving my life some more meaning, and hell, that is the best I could have worked and hoped for.

She talked for a good while longer and I listened. It is all good I said to myself as the above thoughts went through my head. This is how it should wind down. And so I thought of the Steely Dan song “Hey Nineteen” when I took a last look at her while she babbled on. Nevertheless, I continued to watch her talk and I still couldn`t help but secretly wish for a very brief moment that she could “take me along when she slides on down”. But that has all been said and done previously, with another youthful and energetic woman who coincidentally looked very much like her, but way before the one sitting next to me was even born. Life can really throw you some curves ball reminders occasionally. Damn !

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It was definitely time to leave the bar and it`s late night schedual. So I decided to slide down the stair rail instead and onto the Main in order to meld myself back into the flow of the street freaks, where I felt at home again.

Walking home I was thinking that I really do not want to give up on anyone, but I think I have to now, too much information has accumulated on my hard drive and there is too much non-sense surrounding pinball lately. Passions have turned to bad emotions in many cases, all the while pinball is suppose to be fun. The noise, the inane sales babble, the nerds, the assholes and the geeks who are daily cheapening the actual playful experience of the silverball are for the most part a nasty bunch. That is so far from what the North Star is about in my mindset and I will fight hard to keep things light and keep my friends close by when things get rough. Maintenance is all I can muster now. So it is time to let go of what lies here waiting to be retold along with what is no longer relevant and useful. I must make room for what I have decided is my main gig going forward, and that is connecting with people who have something new to say. Those who can openly question themselves and who never take for granted that life must be first and foremost about love, art, work and humour, - not always in that order, pick any order you like as long as you live them all. I seek to be with those who are not petty or jealous and obvious, and I want to be around those those who work hard to avoid saying a commonplace thing and refuse to allow themselves to be bored in these amazing mind boggling times.

There are two principle factors I know of that can prevent new ideas and accomplishments from emerging, - laziness and/or fear. Neither can be present when creativity needs to manifest itself in you. And I have also learned in the past few years that those who always lie do not believe in themselves, and usually these same people who lie often will also blame the world for their shortcomings. One must always pick one`s battles and projects in direct relation to the capacity of how well we know ourselves, but hell, we all know that by now don`t we ?


“And I did not know her name, and I did not know her name. But I sure like the way that she laughed and called me honey.”

Verse from the song “Silver Train” taken from the 1973 Goats Head Soup album by the Rolling Stones which was played in its entirety at the Pow Wow of the Scribes Monday July 4th, 2016 at the North Star Machines a Piastres. A historical Pow Wow in a historical location.

And as Porky Pig would say, “That`s all folks”.


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It was a pike back then, now it is on to sailfish I reckon.

Observation date : 2016-06-30

 

 

Observations from a Stool - # 6

"If I had been into the middle ages man, I would had gone chasing after that grail or whatever it was that got them all hung up. So don`t come on cocky like you got all this figured out. This is a nervous little decade we are playing with here."

Richard Farina. (roughly quoted from memory) from his counterculture book -
"Been down so long looks like up to me"


My pinball buddy Dwight calls what happens after middle age “the back 9”. I call it the "plight of the back 9”, and since I don’t play golf like many people I know, I would categorize the back 9 as the time of day when the sun starts going down at the end of a beautiful autumn day. Ideally, that is what it should be, a cooling down period where things slow down gracefully as we head for the clubhouse while the sun sets. However, I am getting a different signal of late when I look at my 40 year old & up friends of late. I get the sense that for many of them “the back 9” sucks big time and is rather disparaging and that there is no comfy clubhouse on the horizon that will ever make the back 9 worth their efforts. The comfy clubhouse was gradualy dismantled in the night and sold to greedy  sharefolders while my 40 year old friends laboured for a future that was promised but that may never come. Regardless, they  continue to work, wait, rest and work some more and take the hits in hopes that they will see the clubhouse and that it will not be moved away from their reach in the later phases of life. Fawk !

Pinball is a way for many of us men to connect to the front 9 and hang out there for a while with our friends forgetting that we will ever need to leave. There can be no other psychological reason for hanging onto this silly marble game fixation that we all seem to share around here. Unless ofcourse you are into the economics of this pinball boom, which like all things will surely end in the years to come along with the demographics that supports it. I am not concerned about the money hungry screw heads that see pinball machines as a way of getting their “fuck you” money off those who just want to relive the front 9 because they can’t stand the fact that they are actually on the back 9 and that it sucks balls for them as such. Each man for himself really blows, and we often feel alone in our pain, but we are not. It is often more widespread that we are led to believe.

I can not speak for what women feel about the back 9 because I am not a female of the species, but I imagine that there are similarities in coming to terms with the day beginning to wind down. In many cases it leads to bitterness, impatience and anger at the useless passion that being alive too long seem to bring on when acceptance is not part of one`s abilities.

Enough already, I just want to say that I am feeling empathy for a lot of my friends lately because I am also feeling “le mal de vivire” on several occasions. A sense that most of the excitement of achieving goals has been met and now it is just a question of maintenance, much like the machines at the North Star.
 

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All down the line....we`ll be watchin` out for trouble. Big Dave looking after
"the herd" at the North Star Machines à Piastres (3908 St.Laurent Blvd.)


And add to this ageing parents and raising children and/or teens and we have a double duty scenario at hand for many of us on the back 9, and in a way I can only hope and work towards just playing out the back 9 with others who share the same mindset and hopefully finish the course gracefully in a peaceful and quiet way, but again, I don’t play golf goddamn it, so I may get to the finish line screaming and swinging like some lunatic if I keep talking about what has been taken away (read: as stolen) from the generation which came after the boomers.

So I sit here at the North Star tonight watching people, and thank fate that I still find them interesting because otherwise I don’t think I would want to be around here. And as long as none of them talk to me tonight I think I will still find them interesting before leaving since they have let me just sit here and write and imagine anything I want while sipping a cocktail. I hope and sometimes pray that I always keep that sense of wonder about people when they walk by. It’s crazy, but how can you go through this period in history in North America without going crazy while knowing what we know. In fact, I think we are too stupid to know what we know, or else we would have this figured out and no one would need to be so overly greedy, angry and basically causing so much pain and suffering via carelessness.

Again, enough already. Pinball is great isn`t it ? A great way to forget that a new reality awaits and that no one knows what will happen except being aware of the inevitable outcome. What Kerouac called “the forlone rags of growing old” in most cases. It is happening to more and more of us in the what we so arrogantly have named the first world.

So in closing. (thank god) I await the visit of some good friends and family this upcoming month of July and want to spend quality time with them in this particular haven of a place on the Main, where time stops and people smile no matter what age group they are in. The demographic at the North Star varies nightly from the front nine all the way to the back 9 and I could not ask for more. This is my comfy clubhouse of late, and I await the ones who are still on the golf course to join me for a drink (the Death Save cocktail is actually wonderful and appropriate) in order to cool off in order to get back “out there” again with possibly renewed and positive gumption. What the hell else are we suppose to do when the alternative is to push up daisies.

"I must soon quit the scene...."
Benjamin Franklin in a letter to George Washington
March 5, 1780

 

Observation date : 2016-06-05

Observations from a Stool - # 5

Sitting still, waiting and pondering on the week that is ending. Last night will be one of those nights that will stay etched in my memory for a while yet, fairly certain of that. Felt like a new beginning stemming from old scenarios. Yesterday, I became connected to old stories and traditions that I heard about the Main.I was making history.

St.Laurent boulevard`s 10 day street sale is wrapping up tonight, and I am waiting here at the North Star for things to quiet down on the Main so I can drive the company van off the sidewalk where it has been parked for the past week and "serving" pinball out of it`s back doors to the hundreds of people passing by. It was a cool idea, and people`s expressions varied from nostalgic smiles of recognition to exclamations of glee and just really wanting to play again after so long. Many of them simply stopped dead in their tracks to play a game called pinball that was an integral part of their youth but that started slowly disappearing from the social consciousness about 20 years ago or so.

 

Many watched and/or told a story about growing up in and around the many arcades of Montreal and it`s surrounding suburbs. I answered questions, listened as best as I could and finally provided them with a new place to play by saying that there were more machines upstairs to help them live some of their personal memories more thoroughly. I felt like a pusher as I leaned into them and explained that through that particular doorway with the red North Star logo you could simply go up a flight of stairs in order to see, touch and play with 10 more machines which were sure to provide a certain special pleasure of a slightly historically illicit kind. Alot of them didn`t come back down for quite some time. In a strange way and via the role I was playing, I sort of felt a slight connection to the doorman at Chez Maurice`s cabaret back in the 1950`s.


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Photo(shop) credit - Kevin Ottogd


The feeling of being on the street in the hot summer night pedaling pinball was something I won`t soon forget. I am not really sure why. But I do know that the opening of the North Star over 6 months ago was pivotal to the history of pinball machines on the Main and in Montreal. I felt that we are bringing pinball back to the people of our city, and from where I stand, that is a good thing to do. I felt connected somehow to a long line of operators, hustlers and players and it felt right. I was in my element to some extent and i knew it in my gonads.

On the Main were thousands of people from all walks of life enjoying the open street, with all its smells, sights and sounds. And the sound of an old pinball machine fit in perfectly with what was going on around us. Add to this the constant flow of laughing, drinking, trotting along the Main and eating all sorts of foods from various ethnic vendors while music played in the streets elevated me to another time, this is what people do when they are themselves I thought, they become playful. Haven`t felt that alive in a while, real life flowing on the Main nerve of a city I will always call home no matter how messed up it will become.
 

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The calm of the summer morning on the Main just outside the North Star before the weekly
Saturday morning line up check.


More later, cause it is getting late and I got to take the company van home now so I can rest, dream and sleep until the next day.

 

Observation date : 2016-06-19