Between the ages of 18 and 21, I spent my evenings and weekends hanging out at a groovy place called Funtronics, where delightful arcade games, like pinball machines and foosball tables littered the linoleum floor, and the jukebox blared the latest pop rock of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Attached to the arcade was a record store that sold vinyl records and cassette tapes. Compact discs were making their way into the stores at the time, but the tape cassettes were still dominant, at least in Budget Tapes and Records, which was the name of the store. The man who owned both the arcade and record store later became my boss. I ended up working at his Budget Tapes and Records in the Parker, Colorado location. That position was simply the most laid back and fun job I’d ever done in my life, but sadly, reality hit a year and a half later that told me I couldn’t support myself working part time at that place.
Funtronics was a flashing light, noise-filled, stimulating wonderland. The foosball tables interested me immediately when I first visited the building and watched a couple of guys in faded jeans, t-shirts, and ball caps chewing on tobacco standing over the table, holding the bars of black and yellow men, snapping their wrists, sending the waxy, orange, little ball across the soccer field, ricocheting off the sides of the hard boards with clunks and hollow taps. These guys were austere in their engagement with the foosball. Their eyes never left the soccer table, and the lamps that dangled above them shed harsh yellow light that etched shadowed lines into the natural creases of their sober faces.
I decided I’d like to try it out. By the third game, I’d gotten a complete handle on how the game was played and how to shoot, block, and score. Having grown up a tomboy, I never feared playing against boys in sports. As a child, I was very competitive and loved to play soccer and arm wrestle with the boys. They accepted me when they saw I was able to play the games well, and that I could hold my own. My competitive nature did not diminish through adolescence and adulthood. At eighteen, nearly nineteen years old, having gone through puberty a few years back and feminized in the process, I still loved to play certain sports, and this foosball was quickly becoming a favorite pastime of mine.
So, I began playing the two guys, and one other guy was my team member. We ended up beating our opponents. Immediately the jokes started with my team member making fun of the two other men, while all three of them were admittedly both embarrassed and pleasantly surprised by my ability to play the game. They were surprised because I had tricked them (which I admit I’d gotten too much pleasure out of it) into thinking I had no idea what I was doing, and I would tell them I wasn’t that good, so it wouldn’t take too long. This got me into the game, and well, after that, I became a regular with the guys at the foosball tables. There were two other girls that would play once and a while in a few tournaments with their boyfriends or husband, but in most cases, it was usually just me, and I had no problem with that!
Foosball was a serious business at this arcade. The owner had tournaments usually Friday or Saturday nights. Dedicated foosball players from around Castle Rock, the Springs, and even Denver, would gather at Funtronics and pay their entrance fee. You’d get matched up with a partner through the picking of names folded up on pieces of paper in a box. There were prizes for first, second, and third place. There were actually really nice trophies for first and second place (when the owner had them available), and ribbons for third. First place also received cash.
In the evenings in the summer especially, a gaggle of foosball addicts, including me, would be crammed inside the arcade with its nonstop thumping music, blinking lights, and buzzing machines. Hunched over the soccer tables in the harsh yellow lamplights, sweating, tensing, and gritting our teeth, we’d compete against our opponents with the aspirations of a shiny, gold and marble trophy and several bucks at the end. This money came in handy in feeding it to the quarters machine to play more foosball tournaments and practice in the subsequent days.
Everything revolved around the game. The scrappy, sticky, orange ball became our North Star, and we followed it when we watched our fellow players spank it with their black and yellow figures with their smooth helmet heads and chunky, pointed spade feet.
One dry, warm night, I got paired up with one of the best players—one that traveled down from Denver with his wife. A laid back man, Dave had shaggy brown hair down to his shoulders and an epic beard. He looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Grizzly Adams. A really nice dude, and so was his wife. She was a small, thin woman with long, straight dark blonde hair who always dressed in jeans and t-shirts, as did Dave, and both resembled the flower children of the 1960s.
There were usually about seven teams that would play, and through the process of elimination, you’d get down to the last two who’d persevered. Dave and I faced the Anderson brothers who were fast with their shots and superb in their passing to their rod of men to set up the chance to score.
Being the front man, Dave held the five-man bar in the middle of the table and the two-man rod (or 2-bar) that is both for defense and for lining up, shooting, and scoring. I, as in every tournament, was delegated to the goalie position, but I didn’t mind because it made sense. I had neither the lightening fast speed, nor scoring moves that matched Dave’s or the Anderson brothers’. When they scored, you never saw the ball go into the goal. Their speed was phenomenal. So, playing defense, although nerve wracking, worked for me. Thankfully, I was young then and had no problems with carpal tunnel syndrome, and could grip those rubberized handles and twist and snap my wrists effortlessly and endlessly!
I remember how my whole body would tense up, as I slid my 3-bar-goalie rod slowly back and forth, a few inches to the right and a few inches to the left, attempting to anticipate where Chris was going to aim and slam the ball towards my goal. I did have an advantage of having seen on many occasions his two set up strategies for scoring. So, I knew he would either push the ball to the left or pull it to the right. Most of the time, Chris pulled the ball from the left to the right and slapped the ball somewhere in the middle of the goal space, or to the right of my goalie.
But that night, when he pounded the ball toward my goal, I moved my goalie with a smart skip to the right and felt the thwack of the orange ball against my goalie that sent a vibration through the bar. I quickly punched the ball up the left side of the field toward Dave’s 5-men-bar, in which one of the men’s spade toes caught it and passed it to his 2-men-bar, ready to set up a winning shot.
After the ball had left my area, I’d relaxed my grasp on the rod and let out the breath I’d unintentionally been holding.
Dave lit into the orange ball. It slipped passed Randy’s goalie and into the goal with a modest CLUNK!
We won that night. We each received $10 and a first place ribbon because the owner didn’t have any trophies that night, but in other tournaments, I did win a few trophies—three all together.
The days of foosball and its exciting, climatic tournaments were fabulous, and I hope to never forget them!