It is a setting fit for new, pimply-faced teenagers and the children eager to reach that stage. For those that may not understand, it may be the worst type of sensory deprivation, but for those that do, we can imagine nothing better.
Our senses are blissfully and endlessly stimulated in this place; a place of electronic madness, poorly-lit hallways lined with cabinets that assault your eyes and ears with a constant barrage of flashing imagery and seemingly random beeps, tinny tunes, and sound effects from worlds being obliterated for lack of one quarter. The smell of day-old cheese sauce and hot dogs that should’ve been thrown out ages ago are unavoidable if you get too close to the front counter, but still resonate in the rear room. And everywhere, there is the barrage of taunts, jeers, friendly insults, and challenges as rivalries are born, settled, and laid to rest. This, my friends, is the arcade.
On this night, I’m eleven years old, and this is my second home. Unfortunately, I have long since lost track of time.
Not that I’m eager to get home, knowing what I’ll face regardless of my time of arrival. Presently, the Mad Gear gang has kidnapped Jessica, the Mayor’s daughter, and my sole priority is saving her. For the first time, I’m nearly at the end of this journey, and I plan to see it through.
I’m so engrossed in the game that I’m completely oblivious to my surroundings, save for what I know to be there.
So when the presence of darkness overshadows me from the rear, my stomach bottoms out through my groin, my throat goes dry, and I wish I could disintegrate into nothingness. It’s the cologne that gives it away, and I wonder if everything will finally be made public. Will he lose his temper in public? Will everyone finally see him for who he is?
Today, there is only an uncharacteristically gentle hand in my right jacket pocket. I know the voice as it leans into my right ear, but its warmth is unfamiliar to me. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear a stranger was propositioning me. His words are an invitation, not a warning. “Come home when you’re ready.”
I count to ten. When I turn, I’m alone.
I fish a twenty dollar bill out of my jacket pocket. I have no idea what to think—except I’m suddenly hungry.
First, I rescued the Mayor’s daughter.
Then, I took part in defeating Shredder with three other strangers.
I had my traditional meal of two Big Mac’s, Large Fries, and a 20-Piece McNugget set.
I received no blowback when I got home that night.
The rest of the money went to a jacket I have to this day, although I outgrew it long ago. Far and away, that was the best twenty dollars I ever spent.