When I was fourteen, my science class got taken out to a field trip somewhere downtown. I forget why. Hey, I’m not even entirely sure it was Science. It may have been English. Possibly Math. Anyway.
After touring the museum or art show or whatever it was we were seeing, my class went to Lute’s Casino, which was not, in fact, a casino, but rather a grubby little hamburger stand with all kinds of weird crap on the walls. Things like a jackalope head above the bar, and a foot stomping into the restaurant from the floor above. Lute’s was, and is, quaint, eccentric, and a more than a little bizaarre. They also have a great cheeseburger. They are, in fact, and as the sign above the entrance will tell you, “Where the Elite Meet.”
(Lute’s had had my undying support and devotion since the first time my dad took me there and I got a coke in a paper cup that read: “Save a Kangaroo, eat a Lute’s Burger”. When I took my wife there, a decade and change, later she said that cup explained a lot of things about me. I’m afraid to ask what she meant.)
Back then, Lute’s had over half of its floor space devoted to 50 cent pool tables, with a small corner run of video games and UFO catchers. One, in particular, had a faulty claw. Instead of releasing like it was supposed to, it actually held itself closed after you pressed the button, thereby enabling you to actually get stuff out of the machine. The best part though, was that no one knew that except me.
While the other kids set themselves up around the pool tables with fries and cokes, I grabbed a spot next to the claw machine and casually inserted my quarters. I pulled out the prize and propped it, ever so casually, against the napkin stand on my table. The guys, of course, said nothing. They just gave me funny looks. Until the prettiest girl in the class, we’ll call her Amy, just for this story, why not, came over to me and said “Oh my god, did you win? That’s so cool! Can you win me something?”
Can I win you something. If only the phrase “what’s my name!” had been popular at the time. As it was, I just shrugged and said “sure” and put my quarters in the machine again. Fifty cents and two minutes later I was getting hugged by the prettiest girl in the class and had a whole mess of cuties asking me if I could get them stuff. By now though, I was out of my own quarters and had to say no.
The girls asked the boys, the boys grudgingly gave ground and quarters were given to me with at least a little respect and a lot more jealousy for the attention I was stealing away from their bank shots.
I managed to get prizes for everyone who asked and was basking in the glow of the limelight when my friend Donna (not her real name, natch) asked me if I could get her something. “Sure”, I said, and reached into my pocket for two quarters I had saved just for this.
Donna clapped her hands with excitement when I pulled a stuffed Pink Panther out of the machine and reached over and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled and….
I will swear to you that Lovecraft’s nameless horrors had crawled out of the dark and were inching their way up my spine with claws of ice. Because, oh my god, what did this mean? Did this mean that Donna liked me? Because I liked Donna, but not, you know, like, liked her. She was cool, but I was only fourteen, I didn’t want a girlfriend. Especially one who was like, you know, a friend already!
Something must have shown on my face because Donna looked at me and said “Smile, ok? I think Amy likes you!” Then she giggled and dashed off to join her friends.
Of course, years later, after I had learned how to make a girl like Amy not only not like you anymore but declare publicly that you’re an ass and she never wants to see you again, after I had learned that kisses on the cheek meant nothing and everything at the same time, after all that, when I learned that Donna had, you know, liked me, liked me, I could have kicked myself for not knowing then what I know, well, not now, but then. The later then, I mean. Anyway.
I spent the rest of that afternoon basking in the psyche strengthening glow Amy’s attention, and walked home with Donna, after school, still preening. Donna called me on it, saying, at the bottom of her driveway “Silly Toad, (yeah, even then my name was Toad) how are you going to make us all like you tomorrow?” Then she kissed me on the cheek again and ran into her house.
I walked the rest of the way to my own house, dreaming up elaborate plans for convincing the Lute’s owners to transfer the machine to my high school’s campus and feeling, that, all in all, it hadn’t been a bad day.
Category: Back in the Day