Probably just as well

I wrote about my fondness for garage sales in the very first post here. On most weekends, it’s hard to drive very far without seeing a sign for a yard sale or a garage sale. And going to them is fun because it costs nothing, and offers a chance to find something interesting. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, after all.

I usually have a very limited range of things I’m looking for when I go to these sales. First and foremost, there’s always a box of books somewhere to be found. I don’t always read the books that I find at garage sales, but I like having books in the house. And usually a dollar is enough to find something of interest. A related search item is old CDs, which can usually be had for a dollar, too. Again, even if I listen to something only once, it’s a whole lot cheaper than it would be to buy it new.

But the best kinds of sales, for me, are estate sales. It’s sad when someone dies, of course, but the deceased’s family usually wants to unload everything as quickly as possible. And going into someone’s house, knowing that just about anything in it can be bought for the right price, is a strange mix of creepy and intriguing.

Last weekend, I saw a sign for an estate sale and drove to the address given. It was on a Sunday, so the sale had already gone on for a day, and everything was half-off the marked price. But the sale was being run by a service, who appraises everything and makes sure that the thousand-dollar art work isn’t sold for 20 bucks. It sucks for a scavenger like me, but I can understand why people do this.

I wandered around in the living room, and out in the back yard, but couldn’t find anything interesting. The best stuff is usually in the basement, anyway, so that was my next stop. I got to the bottom of the stairs, and there it was: my adolescent dream, staring me in the face.

Notice I said it, rather than she. That’s because when I was 11 or 12 years old, I spent all of my money, and most of my time, in video game arcades. I got up every morning and delivered newspapers in order to feed my habit. And I shoveled quarters into the machines, one after the other. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Moon Patrol, Missile Command, you name it.

My arcade of choice was the Wabash Amusement Center, but there was also an Aladdin’s Castle at the mall, and nearly every store back then could find a few square feet for a Frogger machine. I played them all, because the graphics and the sounds and the gameplay experience were so much more advanced than that crappy Atari that I had at home.

An added incentive was that, if you had an especially good game, you could enter your initials for everyone to see. It seems quaint now, but back then nothing made me happier than being able to enter R-P next to my score. It’s a long story, but essentially I was honoring Roddy Piper, my favorite professional wrestler, before he turned all “Hot Rod” on us. Perhaps that’s a post for another day.

There was a show on TV back in the 80s called “Silver Spoons,” where young Rick Schroeder played this kid who was so rich that he had a collection of arcade games in his house. It seemed like an overt display of wealth, being able to own an arcade game and play it all you wanted without having to put a quarter or a token in first. Only TV could make such a thing seem possible.

So at the bottom of the steps, in the second and last day of an estate sale, I saw a real life Defender machine. It wasn’t Donkey Kong, which I would have really freaked out over, but it was still a game that I had played many times.  It was very much a guy’s game, too, because of the space theme and the idea that you were protecting something from an external threat. It played to a caveman instinct, but threw in a hyperspace button for good measure.

As I walked toward the machine,  I saw the comically small yellow sticker that read “SOLD” in the corner of the screen. I was bummed out because, at this stage in my life, I could probably afford to buy it, especially if it was half off, and I even have some space for it in the basement. It would have been perfect.

But there were issues to consider. Getting it out of the basement and into the car would have required a dolley or another person, neither of which were available to me. Stuffing it into the back of my Prius would have also been a challenge. And, perhaps most importantly, the matter of a $500 impulse buy (I’m just guessing at the price) wouldn’t have gone over so well when I did get the thing home. And I doubt the estate sale would have allowed me to return it, either.

I’ve lived this long without owning a Defender machine–or any other arcade game –and I suppose I can keep on going without one. It would have been fun for a day, at the most, but then I would have tired of it, as I did with all of the Atari games I had back then, and all of the Nintendo Wii games I have now. So whoever bought that machine actually did me favor. I’ll just call them Rick Schroeder and hope that they didn’t have all of the logistical challenges that I had.

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