Back in the day, when my friends and I grabbed for quarters underneath the couch cushions — occasionally coming up with nothing more than stale Cheerios — and considered the possession of those magical silver coins a sign of great wealth, we would waste them all at this arcade at the south end of Lake George. The lights inside hardly ever worked, and the guy who owned the place had blacked out the windows, so the only light we saw for hours on end came from the fluorescent blinking machines that each blared 8-bit-gangster rap from tinny speakers. High scores merited spiraling arpeggios that seemed to hit the ceiling and bounce in every direction.
There was one game that nobody could seem to master, though. It sat in the corner, behind a large racing simulator with a broken yellow plastic bucket seat, Dalmatian-spotted with blackened gum stains. Dubbed “C.L.A.W.S.,” it was a two-player adventure, with both gamers handling joysticks and a pair of shiny, red buttons. I remember how my best friend and I took turns at handling the two different roles: one of us drove a yellow convertible, viewed from the top down, through the streets of an alternate-reality San Francisco, a city experiencing a renaissance of debauchery and loose morals underneath violent neon billboards straight out of Blade Runner. The other player, a girl in a red-pixelated dress that blew mechanically in the wind, sat on the back of the car and operated a sub-machine gun-type thing that shot out a mechanical claw (this was all represented stylistically on the side of the arcade machine). The object of the game was to use the claw to steal jewels held by wizards who roamed the street and hid in the alleyways. This was quite difficult, because you had to simultaneously avoid all the other cars on the road as well as pedestrians. If you mis-aimed, you could accidentally tear off the head of an unassuming man in a suit, and then the severed head would trail behind the car, still attached to the car arm, spraying gallons of flashing blood onto the tarmac. Then the police would come and you had to evade them.
Needless to say, we wasted dozens of quarters trying to get the prize at the end of the game: a box at the end of an abandoned pier that could only be opened using 12 of the magic gyms. I’ll never forget that fateful day, after hours of sweating into our t-shirts, when we finally won it.
Standing there, a group of boys and girls all cheering us on, we watched as those monumental letters announcing our victory flashed across the screen, and we entered our esoteric three-letter code to represent our high score into the game (we had already agreed on a title: GOD). But then something unexpected happened. A seamless drawer concealed underneath the coin slot slid open, and within it lay a 12-inch LP recording of the game’s soundtrack, performed by C.L.A.W.S. himself and released by Ecstacy Records.
• Ecstasy: http://theecstasyblog.blogspot.com