Mario's 8 Ball Deluxe

Story date : Summer of 1983
Location : 378 St. Catherine St. West in the Belgo Building
 
8 Ball Mario Sunday mornings I would open Abe Kauffman`s CASINO ROYALE arcade on St.Catherine a few storefronts west of Bleury street for a 15 hour shift of pushing quarters. Even though there weren`t that many customers at 9AM, I was kinda glad to be in charge from start to finish for some reason which I can`t quite recall right now. I guess that finally it must have had quite a bit to do with being in charge, and not having any authorities interfering with how I ran the joint. I was "the man" right down to the way I pushed the broom, emptied the ashtrays and of course, how I positioned and cleaned the machines to look just right. What I also remember is that after midnight I would begin to feel the tension drop as the circuit breakers were turned off two at a time. Slowly my mind became free from silly little tunes and phrases coming mostly from the invading video games that had been on for the past 15 hours. By the same token, I was quite happy to start my week-end in the coolest way I knew how. Walking east to the Rising Sun nightclub while dragging deep on a Dunhill and anticipating the amateur blues night that lay ahead of me. And on the right night, that scene could bring euphoria.
 
My best friend Mike or Walter or Dave or some other buddy would usually meet me there for a beer or two or three or four etc. Other times it was just Patricia and me, and that was OK too. The number 15 bus would run all night on Ste.Cathrine between Atwater and Papineau, and so all I needed to do was make that last number 70 bus (around 2:20AM) which left Papineau metro and use to cross the Jacques-Cartier bridge. This would get me back to my basement apartment on the south shore where that long Sunday shift had started. Getting back to that super quiet, underground "home base" felt good and secure to be sure. And so, in order not to lose grasp on the memory of another day, I would write my journal entry before falling into a deep sleep as the faint signs of the dawn began to manifest themselves. I wrote quickly because I knew that everything was about to reset once again like a new game of pinball. It was the summer of 1983, I was 20, and what the hell did I care about anything at all except those types of moments!
 
Casino Royale was a medium size arcade with a nice variety of pinball machines for that time. Abe would constantly harass his operator/supplier/partner to bring him new machines, and he would make quite the issue out of it at that. I always knew what it was about when I heard him talking to Jack on the phone, because there was this harassing and yet pleading tone about the conversation. Abe knew his business and it showed in the numbers, no matter how annoying he managed to be. There was a very solid and steady amount of walk in traffic during the week, so much so that the weekday lunch hour crowd often consumed about $400 to $600 in quarters from 11:30 to 1:30 PM.
 
But let’s get back to those Sunday evenings when Casino Royale became dotted with regulars. What I remember clearly, is that after 8PM this character whom I only knew as Mario would shuffle in. He had a mustache, was about 30 years old, pretty well chain smoked duMaurier cigarettes and had a nervous and erratic twitch which would suddenly become very controlled, accentuated and focused when he played pinball. It was quite beautiful to watch his condition transform itself into some extremely well directed body English.
 
8-Ball DeluxeI believe that I was a pretty good pinball player back then, because I would occasionally draw a crowd when I played. And in order not to be interrupted by people who wanted change while I built up my score, I let Tommy (an arcade fixture) give change in my place for a while so I could play the latest pinball machine, or just a familiar classic to relax. My boss Abe hated that I sometimes gave Tommy a small float. He would then explain to me that since Tommy was on welfare, he was necessarily unstable. Abe was a conservative man to say the least, and I couldn`t help but like his simplistic & realistic view of the world he acknowledged. I liked Tommy and I thought that he just needed a chance to actualize. Yes, I was a somewhat of a liberal myself looking back, but on the flipside, it made me very popular in that arcade environment, and to me that was more important. I did whatever I wanted when Abe was at home in Cote-St-Luc taking her easy while I ran what he called "the store". So while Tommy pushed the occasional quarter and felt important, I was racking up high scores on all of the 1st generation solid state games except one, 8-Ball Deluxe by Bally. This cat Mario had that, and it was mainly because he would let the ball drain at just the right time for those 3 free games, otherwise he would go over his previous high score and have to turn the freakin` machine over the top again. It was a thing of beauty to watch him cradle the ball, calculate 56K or 112K times whatever he had knocked down in drop targets, take his hands briskly off the buttons, step back take a deep drag of his smoke and wait for the three sharp knocks at the end of the game. I can still see him looking at the backglass, and I can still hear that distinct Bally knocker on the bottom right hand side of the cabinet resonate through "the store" (arcade god dam it !) as most pinheads, and some geeky video game nuts turned towards 8 Ball Deluxe & Mario.
 
I also remember that Mario was polite, shy and nervous. His head would bob up and down as he grunted "hi" and shuffled up to the half door of the back office in order to get his 4 quarter fix for the evening. Sometimes I would tell him about the condition of the machines, if they had been waxed or serviced since last week. It was a moment in time that seems magical now- and I can still see him through his own cigarette smoke jumping and jerking in a nutty yet stylish manner as he would gradually and most certainly get in perfect tune with what inevitably became "his" machine. He was an impressive player, and people would notice the intensity of his moves while watching from a certain calculated distance in order to not distract him. He rarely spent more than two dollars the whole evening and would leave me the free games he had accumulated when came time for him to shuffle out and cross the street to the strip joint, around 11:30 PM. There were usually too many credits left on the machine to play by closing time, and besides that, there was the Rising Sun to attend to just a few steps away.