From Arcade Antics to Estes Escapades

sports balls

If you read my previous blog post, “Two And a Half Years of Foosball Mania,” you’ll know that I grew up a tomboy, and I loved to play soccer, arm wrestle, and at times, get into tussles with boys.  Therefore, from our first blind date until we reached our early forties, my husband, Troy and I have contended with each other in the realm of sports.

On this first date, we met at a mall and after strolling around there and discussing foosball and pool, Troy drove us to a nearby arcade/pool hall to show each other what we were made of.  We both showed our competitive natures in battling on the foosball table, with which I had had previous experience, and Troy had little.  I won.  Then, we moved to the pool table and shot the cue ball around, knocking it off of striped and solid balls.  This time, he had more experience than I did, and he won.

pool table with balls.jpg

In between visiting each other’s churches at the time, we found another opportunity to wrangle with each other at my church’s pool party.  There was a badminton net in the patch of grass by the pool, and the rackets and birdies were there waiting for us.  Mind you, we were twenty-six years old, and puberty in my early teens had feminized me to where I had to shower every day, doll myself up everywhere I went, and attending the pool party was no exception.  But as soon as I picked up the racket and birdie and eyed Troy through the red net, the excitement of playing the game and beating him coursed through my veins.  It was as if the girly in me took a hike, and I was now the powerful, unstoppable badminton freak.  Never mind the diving to the ground for the shuttlecock, sweat pouring out of my head and body, I had to hit that blasted bird over the net!  While I was scurrying around my side of the grassy field, Troy was doing the same, scooping the birdie here, swatting it over there.  At times, though, he missed, and I giggled with glee.  But then I’d actually missed a few, and he snickered from his side.

badmitton rackets and birdie

I’m not sure who won that because we both mirrored our misses and hits, but we came away from that short-winded with grins on our glistening faces…well, one of us was glistening.  Troy always had the genes or advantage (whatever you want to call it) to not perspire in huge, salty drops down his face like I, unfortunately, do.  Let me tell you, I didn’t feel fresh or dry after that game, and it was in the middle of summer in northern Louisiana.  Yuck!

Flip the calendar to the summer of 1998 in Dayton, Ohio, in which we’d been married over a year.  Troy’s son, Stephen, came for a visitation, and we decided to head out to the nearby ball park to play some baseball.  It started out well enough, with each of us taking turns batting and catching and pitching.  By the way, Troy knew I could hit the ball because we’d played baseball in one of our rare non-competitive games while dating.  Stephen was in the infield waiting for the ball to come his way.  Troy threw me a nice underhanded pitch, and I swung the bat, making contact with the ball.  It blazed straight back at him–a line drive.  It slammed him in his chest.  He huffed, the wind knocked out of him, and I froze for a moment, wondering if he was going to keel over and die!  I walked over to him, afraid of what I’d done.  I asked if he was all right, and he nodded while rubbing his sore chest, and managed to say that he was okay.  Well, that ended the game for the day!

Baseball Equipment Laying on Grass

Later on, Troy showed me the round, black, blue, and green spot on his chest where the ball had hit him.  It missed his heart by inches!  Lord, have mercy!  That moment always freaked me out, but any time he would tell that story, he’d relay it with a smile and with pride on how well his wife could hit the baseball!

Another incident of competitive tussling in the same year was around Thanksgiving time when Troy’s mom, sister, and his mom’s boyfriend were visiting.  We were renting a house in a nice neighborhood in Fairborn, Ohio, when Troy was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  The house had a basketball pole and net cemented into the end of the driveway to the left of the one-car garage.  Somehow, while we were out there talking with his mother, et. al., the basketball surfaced, and there was immediately the pulling on shirt sleeves and collars and stumbling around the driveway, half dribbling, half committing holding fouls, as we tried to score two-pointers.  I think my mother-in-law thought we were nuts by the look on her face.  After some wrestling with the ball and running out of steam, Troy put the ball away, and we limped inside the house.

basketball and hoop

Between 1998 and 2008, there were skirmishes fought at the local skee ball and basketball hoop machines at fun centers.

Lastly, it was the summer of 2008 in Estes Park, Colorado.  We’d lived in Colorado Springs at that time.  We’d taken a four-day weekend to spend it in the majestic Rocky Mountains.    Our sons, Nicholas, was nine, and Christopher was six at the time.  On one of the afternoons, we all decided to go play miniature golf, ride the go karts, and then take several swings at the batting cages.  When we’d finished the uneventful miniature golf, we climbed into our go karts–Troy and Christopher were in one, Nicholas was in his own, and I was in my own.  This was one sport that we didn’t feel the need to contend, so we drove around the race track with ease, enjoying the experience.

Nicholas rode around the loop like a Sunday driver, relaxed, both hands on the wheel, pleased as punch.  Troy and Christopher rode around with a bit more zip and exhuberance.  I followed this pattern, although I was more concerned with keeping my kart from hitting anybody else’s.  But apparently, I’d accidentally hit the side of the track and someone bumped into my kart’s rear, and the next thing I heard was the PA speaker crackle on, and a male voice tell my kart number to not run into other karts, and if it happened again, I’d have to leave the track!  Well, you can imagine my irritation considering I’d not tried to hit anyone, so I carefully finished the last couple of laps when the male voice droned into the loud speaker that the ride was over.  Good!

mario kart

Troy and the boys climbed out of their karts when I did, and we walked toward the batting cages, in which the boys had zero interest.  Only Troy and I saw it as an opportunity to beat each other’s batting averages.

The boys wandered outside the batting cage, partly watching us gear up and enter ones next to each other, and partly pawing and studying the bats by the fence.  Before we’d put the quarters in to start the pitching machines, we did notice the huge gray storm clouds that had gathered and were looming over us, but that didn’t phase us.  Not even when the lightning, thunder, and rain began to gently come down.  Nicholas walked over to our cages as Troy and I continued to swing, telling each other how many balls we’d hit thus far.  He’d said something like, “Mom, Dad, it’s raining, and look at the lightning!”  We mumbled something back at him like, “Yeah, it’s fine.  We’ve got to finish up our balls the machine is pitching us.”  Nicholas and Christopher took cover under an awning near the batting cages, watching us with frowns.  As we held the “lightning rods,” as Troy likes to say with a laugh in the years that followed, we kept on swinging, twisting, and huffing, our aluminum bats hitting the balls with a loud PING! … until…

…The lightning got closer, the rain fell heavily, and the thunder let out a BOOM next to our cages.  Well, then, we decided we’d better hang it up, call it a day in the hall of fame of batting averages.

lightning 2

If it weren’t for back problems and carpal tunnel issues, we’d still be jostling today.  Cheers to those many years of marital vying in the sports arena!

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Two And A Half Years Of Foosball Mania

foosball table

 

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!

gripping the foosball rods

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.

foosball men close up

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.

peace sign with flowers

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.

foosball toes holding ball

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!

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