“My First Video Game”

Writing about the arcade at Mohegan Sun reminded me of the first encounter I had with a video game. Pong was placed in the lobby of our local movie theater, and for a quarter you could play against the machine. The picture on the right shows the screen with the little dot representing the ping pong ball. The aim was to outscore your robot opponent by hitting the “ball” over the net when it came at you.

While very primitive by today’s standards, this was a groundbreaking experience in 1972. I never could have imagined the games that would follow. I happily dropped quarters in the machine trying to outplay the devious opponent who kept happily shooting the “ball” past me.

Having had such a good time with these first game posts, I will be relating other fun and games in the days ahead. All G-rated, of course. They should be a welcome antidote to the gray gloomy days of January here in New England.

“Buried Treasure”

We had friends whose father worked for the county library which for some strange reason owned a house on the Oregon coast. Pictured here are the four of us and the two of them standing on the front porch with the Pacific Ocean in the background. The home was in Neahkhanie, a small, virtually undeveloped(in the 1950’s) beach town. But it had one important claim to fame–a rumored buried pirate treasure. In the center of town there was a welcome sign with a reproduction of the writing seen on the rock on the right.

Needless to say, the six of us were certain that we would be able to decipher the code and find the buried treasure. Armed with no more than a shovel and diehard optimism, we argued about where to dig and how deep to dig. But our enthusiasm quickly died and we simply dug and played in the surf. Only up to our knees to be obedient to our mothers. We were unsupervised but trusted to “never turn your back on the ocean” and to “never climb on logs that are on the edge of the surf.”

We would return after a morning of treasure hunting, wading and running to devour sandwiches. We feasted on tuna salad and our friends’ mother’s specialty, chopped olive with mayonnaise. Never had any food tasted so wonderful. Then, duly fortified, we took off for an afternoon at the beach.

“Arcade Fun”

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Just before Christmas, I went to Mohegan Sun, one of two large casinos in southern Connecticut, with my daughter and grandchildren. Mohegan has a children’s arcade, pictured above, which we all love. The games are loud, bright and challenging, rewarding points for achievements. As at many arcades, the points can be traded in for kid coveted prizes.

My grandson’s skill lies in the claw machines where one maneuvers a mechanism around a bin of prizes, drops it to “claw” a prize and then brings the prize over to the chute for retrieval. I have never been able to even latch onto any object in the pile, while he routinely picks up things. He brags that he is “king of the claw,” and I have to agree.

I have been a fan of arcades all my life. My first one was in the Oregon coastal town of Seaside. Rain routinely falls on the coast, and to burn off some of our excess energy, my mother would drop my brother and me off at the arcade. There we happily played SkeeBall, racking up points to trade for candy. The Seaside arcade housed lots of old machines, including some not very risque “peep shows,” where for a penny a picture of a woman in a bathing suit was revealed for a quick look. We found these hilarious.

Our favorite spot was next door to the arcade, the table entertainment Fascination.

fascination This game put us in competition with other players in a game involving rolling balls into a bingo grid trying to get a full row lit before any other player accomplished the task. We rarely won, but we enjoyed the thrill of almost winning nearly as much. Anyway, here the prizes appealed more to adults, so we were not too disappointed.

Many people told us we were wasting our money. Even today many accuse casinos of being exploitative. I felt then and now that I was free to “waste” my money any way I chose. And I still choose the flashing lights and loud buzzers on a rainy day.

“One of Those Days”

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I was at the gym nursing the tendonitis in my right elbow, trying to lift one leg and the alternate arm in the air while I lay on my back when “Somebody to Love” by the Jefferson Airplane came on the stereo system. I was catapulted back in time to 1967 in San Francisco wearing a tunic designed to be a shirt as if it were a dress. Marijuana smoke was everywhere in Haight Ashbury where my then boy friend was spending the summer. I was there for a brief visit before heading back to college. Everyone was young. Everyone was lithe.

I remarked on the time to my workout partner when my trainer quipped, “that’s the old people’s radio station playing.” Agh. My worst nightmares had come to pass. I clearly remember hearing music from the 1940’s in the grocery store and fearing that by the time I was “old” my music would be played in the nursing home. Having it play at the gym, surrounded by “Silver Sneakers”(people over 65)  members was just as startling. Here I was remembering the precise way I moved through San Francisco humming that song and yet here I was trying to just get one leg and one arm into the air at the same time.

I actually don’t miss being 20. I was what my grandchildren would call “a hot mess” at the time, consumed with love problems. But I do wish sometimes that I could take my wisdom and experience back to that 20 year old body if only for a day. I certainly wouldn’t take it for granted!

“Dancing the Night Away”

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My grandson dances hip hop and is in an all boys troupe at his studio. We had the pleasure of attending his winter recital which featured dancers ages 5-21 doing a variety of awe inspiring moves. I was raised with very traditional notions of Christmas dance recitals. They all involved ballet dancers in tights and tutus dancing to music from the “Nutcracker Suite.” The dances were formal, quiet and meticulously choreographed to showcase individual talent backed by carefully matched corps dancers.

Instead, hip hop gives an outlet for creative invention, incredible gymnastic feats, each  dancer to shine, and unbridled energy. If you ever have a kid with an ADHD diagnosis, be assured that a hip hop dance team would be an excellent fit. While our grandson doesn’t have that label, he is very physical and very coordinated, so this type of dance is ideal.

When my daughter was in high school, she took African dance classes, backed by a drummer from Ghana.  I was struck with how many moves in hip hop echo the dances she practiced then. In particular there is a fluidity in pelvis movement that seemed the same. I am pretty ignorant about the influences on hip hop moves, but the connection seemed clear as I watched.

Once again I am grateful for all the new experiences my grandchildren introduce into my life. I was wide awake after that performance. I certainly never risked falling asleep, a hazard I remember from those ballet recitals!

 

“A First Christmas”

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I sewed a great deal in my twenties, making clothes for myself and my daughter, but that was the extent of my crafting ability. Shortly after I became a single parent, and struggling financially, I found a kit to make a Santa using something called latch hook. While I had never even heard of this technique, the kit was inexpensive and I wanted some decoration for our first Christmas alone.

Latch hook turns out to be quite easy, just using a metal hook, mesh canvas and many short pre-cut pieces of yarn that are looped through the mesh. This canvas even had color coding, leaving no doubt which loop went where. The directions on the box were easy to follow, and I created the wall hanging pictured above. I went on to do more latch hook projects, mainly pillows, until I left the craft for more challenging embroidery and counted cross-stitch.

Each year, as I hang this Santa in its place on the inside of our back door, I think back 41 years to that Christmas. I had needed to create a life from scratch. With $20 I scrounged the second hand store near by for ornaments. My daughter had her picture taken with Santa at day care and mounted in a gift frame for me. We didn’t have much, but we were safe and warm. It was a Merry Christmas in the end after all.