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the claw
hidden skills


me      my company delivered a major software release, 4.5, barely in time for our annual user group conference early this month.
   to celebrate, the hardworking [sic] employees were rewarded with an offsite to the Santa Cruz boardwalk for a day of rides or arcade games. “offsite” is a silicon valley obfuscation for any work or play outside the regular offices. grade schools use the term “field trip.” there are a more similarities than you might think.
   last year’s boardwalk offsite was a bright and sweaty affair, so i wisely prepared for the heat by bringing only a short-sleeved shirt (made from real hawaiians!).
   notice the scorching sun, deep blue sky, buttoned shirt and chattering teeth.
   employees were funded for rides, or arcade games. the bags of tokens looked abysmally small, so i chose the wristband ride pass, since that was an open-ended deal. besides, everyone knows arcade games are fixed and you can’t win anything.
   the first ride was a roller coaster. i have no childish need to subject my body to strange accelerations. it was my intention to collect brass rings on the merry go round. the roller coaster must have been peer pressure. too bad the peer pressure didn’t keep me up after the ride.
take off

smiling start

  hey guys, wait up!

flailing finish

   guys, wait up!
   then came bumper cars. about two dozen Remedy employees hit the ride at the same time. bwah, ha-ha! “where there’s no police,
there is no speed limit

speed racer

   i avenged myself upon those devils who charmed me onto the evil roller coaster, plus on a few devils who didn’t return technical reviews on time.

  blind spot

he never saw me coming

   the next ride was something i’ve never done before: the pirate ship. someone recently told me these swinging rides are fun.
   he lied, of course. unless that word doesn’t mean what i think it means.
   you can’t see expressions in the picture, but i know my coworker had her eyes completely closed, and, except at each apex, i was remembering the time my dad had to stop the ferris wheel early because his three children were too terrified to scream. and what about the apex, you might ask?
danger, will robinson!      i once played a virtual-reality video game in which the goggles delivered complete peripheral vision. the technology was convincing in a deep fundamental way, despite the cartoon gun in my cartoon hand, and cartoon boots on my cartoon feet. when i moved my head side to side, up and down, the cartoon environment moved properly. despite the fact we were paying $4 per minute and that my friend was going to start shooting at me, i moved to the side of the cartoon chessboard i was on, and looked down.
   now, in real life, there’s always something to see when we look down: dirt, grass, the tops of trees, an airport, the ocean. SOMETHING.
   in this video game, when i looked down, i encountered only the emptiness of Buddha’s Void.
   my conscious thoughts included the fact i was playing a video game, inside a fenced ring, on flat floor with no holes or pits, on the street level of a building in downtown San Francisco. however, my college-educated intellect simply could not prevail.
   there was no virtual guard rail. my hindbrain told my muscles that i was about to fall forever, and they lurched me back from my imagination as fast as neurons could fire.
   over the next five minutes i used all that surplus adrenalin to shoot my military-trained friend more often and with greater accuracy than he could muster.
   back to the pirate’s ship.
   some sadist mechanical engineer discovered that a large pendulum won’t let the top seats fall as fast as the stomachs of the people strapped into them. so no matter what my forebrain said about tensile strength of metal bars, and responsible people in government safety commissions, each time we reached the summit of the arc, the only thing i could do was maintain my grasp on the bar until my hindbrain stopped screaming that i needed to leap away from the Void.
   this was my last ride of the day.
   luckily the event coordinator goddess ran into us about this time. seems she had more tokens than employees, and would any of us by any chance each like a bag of arcade tokens? she thanked us because they were heavy and she didn’t want to carry them any more. would i like another bag?
   twist my arm.
   scanning the arcade, my eyes sought the largest potential reward: the biggest bang for the buck, the maximum prize for the minimum effort.
   i don't know what the machine is really named. i've never played one before. i call it the claw.
the main attraction
   what fun: a joystick to position and drop the claw on an unsuspecting victim, chrome pincers to clamp shut and rip the beasts from their lair, pulleys and gears to lift the trophy free, swing it over the final abyss, and drop the struggling target to it’s final resting place.
   all this for only two tokens. the hunt was on!
   buckets of huge stuffed animals were ripe for the plucking. i rescued an ugly green elephant my first try. despite its horrible appearance, my coworkers cheered me on, especially when i started giving away the trophies. the elephant was followed by a huge frog for Julianne, and very soon after, a Tweety Bird for Teg. one final go produced a smaller teddy bear, but after such stressful work, we had to take a chocolate break.
victory conditions
   chocolate covered raisins demanded a chaser, so i got milk. the fellow behind the counter gushed and coo-ed about my elephant. "It's soo cuuuuuuute! Where did you get him? Did you win him? Can I have him? Just kidding." i saw my chance, and gave away the elephant before he could change his mind.
   i was not the only one smug from winning that day. we saw another arcade near the chocolate vendor, and we met more people from our group.   smug
skeeball      i gave away my second bag of tokens, but like bread on the waters, it returned to me multiplied.
   we returned to the claw, and my coworkers started handing me tokens. i won a pekinese dog and gave it away to a nine year old girl. when her grandmother allowed her to give me more tokens, hubris took me. i asked the girl which animal she wanted next, and then i won it for her.
   i was unstoppable.
trouble in paradise
   ok, nearly unstoppable. twice i bagged animals that didn’t want to leave home. the attendant let me rock the boat until they came free.
   i even won a second tweety bird for Teg. she declared that one is good and the other evil. i’m pretty certain my coworker mislabeled them, but i kept silent. heh-heh.
   people gave me tokens until we ran dry. it was a great day. i learned that it was truly better to give than to receive, especially if it means i get to play again.
   the sun even came out.
victory conditions

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