The Best Birthday Present I Ever Got? a Roll of Quarters.
This was back in like second grade, but I can still remember it. I was one of those kids who had the December birthday, you know? So you always feel ripped off ‘cuz it never seems like you get as many presents. Plus, when you get back to school, you can’t really brag ‘cuz everyone else got presents, too.
Not so in 1981. I can’t even remember what else I got that day – I think a Simon Says and a Domino Rally set. But anyways, after I thought it was all over and I had a belly full of cake, my dad comes up to me with an expression of fake curiousity on his face. “What’s this in my pocket?” he asks. “I think this is yours.”
And then he stuck a roll of quarters in my hand.
At first I didn’t even know what it was. It was a brown cylander, covered in paper, and very heavy. I’d helped mom roll up the pennies from the family jar before, but had never seen a roll this big. Then I saw the black lettering: $20. In quarters. I remember carefully ripping open the top just to see the gleaming eagle peeking out at me. I had never seen that many quarters. I looked up at my dad who pointedly sat down and covered his face with the newspaper. “Wow, whaddareya gonna do with all those?” he asked. But he already knew.
Near my house was this movie theater – one of the big ones with eight screens. Well, eight whole screens was big in those days. That was the place, though – the lobby was filled with arcade machines. I tore outside and hopped on my bike. Couldn’t believe it! All my life I’d been on a strict quarter ration, I mean, I considered myself a rich man if I got a buck for washing the car. And then I’d agonize over how to spend each and every one. But twenty dollars? As my BMX tires ground their way through the fresh snow and my breath froze in front of me, I worked out the math. At first I just sorta assumed I had twenty quarters, then I realized that I had read twenty dollars. That meant eighty quarters. Eighty games! When I realized that I pedalled even faster. Under my orange puffy winter coat I was sweating. The whole way that big big heavy roll kept banging against my leg.
I strolled into that movie theater like I was the KING of the joint. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the top movie there. Arthur was also playing – I can still remember. The games were all blinking at me: Berserk, Defender, Wizard of Wor, Missile Command, Donkey Kong, and Crazy Climber. You know, I didn’t even like crazy climber but I blew my first quarter on it, you know, just to show how rich I was.
I dumped the whole roll out into my hands. Man that was a lotta cash, clinking between my fingers. I attacked Donkey Kong first and for the first time in my life I was able to make it past the springy board. Then my friend Joe came in – that was the best part – I pulled out one handful of quarters and his eyes all bugged out, then I reached into my other pocket and pulled out another, and he practically hit the floor. He watched me dump two bucks into Missile Command, playing to my heart’s content.
At one point I got really thirsty, and considered spending some of my loot on soda – but no way! These were for the games. I suffered through.
An hour later Bryan came by. By this time I’d already had my fill of Berserk and I’d even blown a couple bucks on Defender, even though I sucked at it. My next goal was clear. All kinds of new enemies appeared in Wizard of Wor if you got far enough, so I was determined to dominate the machine. Bryan and Joe looked on as the new king of the Strand Cinemaplex 8 fought his way through that blinking blue maze, taunting the machine even as it taunted back at me with it’s awful gravelly synthsized voice.
I was down to like eight bucks. I coulda gone on even longer, but … Well, here I did something kinda crazy. I looked at Bryan, I looked at Joe, and then I took my last handful of quarters and just dribbled them all into a pile on the console between the two joysticks. What I did next guaranteed me free ice cream at lunch and help with homework for years to come, and later in life, free rounds of beer in bars from lifelong friends… “Who’s in?” I said.
The three of us swapped out whenever one of us died. At times I remember watching Bryan and Joe both play the game while I stood back, even though they were playing with my quarters. Aw man. That was the best birthday ever.
Nowadays my company gives me $10 bucks off of lunch at TGI Friday’s. It ain’t the same.
[Victim idea submitted by GameSpy forums diety Jamie “Thrrrpptt!” Madigan.]
Sad thing is, this past winter I offered my nephew $20 bucks for the arcade, and he asked if he could get a Dreamcast game instead.
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