Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I grew up near an arcade called Circus Circus.  It was sort of like Chuck E. Cheese, and it definitely wasn’t anything like or associated with the Las Vegas casino that shares it’s name.  It was the childhood place I loved going to right after the school year got out.  For some reason, they would give us free tokens when we’d show them our report cards.  I’m not sure if the token allotment was based on grades or if everyone got the same amount no matter what, I just remember being super excited that we were getting free tokens .  My eldest sister would take me to Circus Circus whenever she was in town.  She’d play old school games like Centipede and Galaga while I’d play Street Fighter II repeatedly even though I never seemed to get much better at it.  I’d occasionally play games for tickets, but I typically preferred the video games.

When my family moved to San Diego, there was no immediate Circus Circus equivalent.  Chuck E. Cheese was a poor substitute and Dave and Busters didn’t exist yet.  After a few years, something came to fill the void, and that something was the nickel arcade, where you pay a flat admission fee, and then all the games cost different variations of nickels.  They built one down the street from my high school and surprisingly, I never played hooky to go there.  Sometime when I was in college, they closed that nickel arcade down.  I wasn’t particularly bummed that it did for a couple of reasons.  One, there was another one not too much farther from my parents’ house, and two, it seemed that arcades weren’t as alluring to me as they were in my childhood.

Now that my sisters have kids, the nickel arcade has become a place I frequent once again.  It’s a great place for the kids to expend some of their energy and it’s relatively cheap to kill a couple of hours.  I only play a handful of games while I take the kids out, so I don’t experience the arcade in the same way that I once did.  I’m usually holding onto tickets or getting more nickels, opposed to frantically pressing buttons trying to beat the level boss.  In other words, now I’m the adult.

Shortly after Christmas, I was in charge of taking my nieces and nephews out to the nickel arcade so my sisters could have some bonding time.  I paid for admission, gave the kids each a bag of nickels and they went on their way.  I parked myself in front of the Deal or No Deal arcade machine because it had a seat, and decided to give the game a play.  Shortly after my game had ended, my nephew Jordan informed me that he was out of nickels and that he needed more.  I went to the counter to get a five dollar bag, and then walked over to where he and the others were so I could divide the nickels out evenly.  To my surprise, there was another kid, and obviously not one related to me.  He was advising my other nephew in the middle of a game, and I immediately grew suspicious.

I didn’t ask him his age but I’d guess he was in middle school.  He definitely wasn’t bullying the younger kids (the nephews) or trying to make nice with my nieces, so I decided to leave the kid be, since he wasn’t doing anything to warrant any action on my part.  In fact, moments after I showed up, he handed my nephew a huge handful of tickets saying that he didn’t need them.  Not only was this kid not causing trouble, but he was actually being generous, and with not a single ulterior motive.

He was helping my nieces and nephews with one of the ticket games.  In the game, if you land on the bonus, you need to to hit the button to line up a flashing light with the jackpot.  It does this three times, and each time, the flashing light goes around the circle faster than the last.  This is when the kid would step in, and he helped win the jackpot on more than a few occasions.  It was an amazing sight to see, and it was even better to see the excitement from my nephews.  He stuck around and helped for the entire hour or so that we were there, rarely leaving to do anything on his own.

We started to turn in our tickets about 10 minutes before closing so my nieces and nephews could decide on prizes.  Once the prizes were redeemed, we started to walk towards the door.  He stopped us, pulled out even more tickets from his pockets and told us “you guys can have them, I don’t need these”, and once again we were floored by his generosity.  While I’m pretty sure that part of the reason that he was so generous was because his ride wasn’t going to pick him up until closing time, I’d like to think that he was a saint with some special gaming powers, but not like the one in that terrible Fred Savage movie.  Not only did he make my nieces and nephews happy, but he also brought back to me the sort of awe that I once had when I was a kid and I went to the arcades.