Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Game

The lines outside the amusement park wrapped around the brigade of hot dog vendors and past the lone Mexican man selling little cups of Red Fire Juice and past the young blond teenager on the outskirts of the park, a girl wearing small white shorts and a red baseball cap that matched the logo on the various novelty items she hawked from her push cart. The small cart was laden with baseball caps to match her own, T-shirts and coffee cups and pencils and shoelaces, dozens of items that people, mostly families with small children, could buy and take home to remember their time at the park. And the girl believed that they would remember their experience while they carried the items to the car and then perhaps when they used them occasionally, but she always imagined that the pencil or T-shirt would eventually become an object in and of itself, distinct from the memory of the rides and the popcorn and the $4 hot dogs. And for some reason, whenever she thought of this, she was sad.
This particular Monday, the lines were obscene, worse than they were on the weekends, on the unobserved days of the Sabbath, the lines demanded more patience than almost all people had, more than they could endure. But they did, they would wait for hours, sometimes a whole afternoon to take a 60 second ride. For a brief cluster of seconds, the roller coaster would turn them upside down, swish them to the right, to the left, in a full 360 turn. It would turn their reality into a fleeting mush of colors, their thoughts would vanish, their worries and hopes and desperate desires, for a couple of seconds, the exhilaration of flight was all that remained.
This Monday, the lines were off the charts. Three new games had just been released and the arcade at the amusement park was the only place in all of Los Angeles county to have them. The nerds did not avoid the lines. They came in van after van, truck load after bus load. This day was one of the most important of the year, a pinnacle after months of waiting and reading the buzz and the reviews and occasionally hearing sensational rumors. This was the day, the time to confirm or deny, the moment to test their skill, to feel out the new story, to marvel at the new graphics, to grow hard to the jiggling of animated women, images that always seemed to grow ever larger breasts with each new edition of the game.
The boys in line, the theft of their innocence was long gone, raped years ago by marketing firms and designers with billion dollar budgets and the very society which opened its legs to capitalism, already wet, the seeds long ago sown, decades before the first ships arrived. This land, and in particular, the nexus of Los Angeles, was the world’s most foul experiment. A conglomeration of shiny cars and skinny celebrities and a hope for stardom that kept bringing more fresh meat to the eventual slaughter. To win in this land meant losing everything. No one ever came out the same, and not in the scientific way in which everything changes and time shifts every single one of our molecules…the change here was different, it was light turning to shadow, robots crumbling to clumps of molten steel. The large white letters stayed where they were put and those in their shadows kept up the constant drinking of brown air, young men became slicker shadows of themselves. Women became painted versions of the pictures they burned upon arrival. The town bred a strangeness that was not easily described, and yet could be felt by the watchers.
To win in this land was to dive deep into the world of the unreal. Where cars were easy to steal, where they drove for hours without a flattened bug or an acquired particle of dust. In this unreal landscape, explosions earned points and no matter how many crashes the car endured, the driver could always walk away unscathed. This was the world’s hidden army. Sitting on beds behind closed doors, in the darkness of an arcade or the confines of a basement, this was the hidden race. The theft of their identify had been used as satire and parody, but they were all too present. As much as Hollywood tried to avoid its unglamorous half, here they were, in front of brightly lit screens, waiting in lines that stretched for miles.
These were the games of the year, perhaps of the decade. And they were there to mark its coming, to mark its existence, to experience its passing. And they waited, in the lines that seemed to never move, yet they did, like the lines that appeared after years on a well worn face, they made their way into the unreal.

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