You Know I Wreck (Junk) Shop(s)

After feeling the urge to go junk shopping lately, I recently had the chance to hit up a few shops in a town I don't get to often...and I dropped seven bucks on an armload of awesome.

First, in the cleanest of the three shops, came a set of Atari 2600 paddles. My set works sometimes so I grabbed these up in hopes that they'll work all times. There wasn't a price on them and the lady working asked what I'd be willing to pay for them. Based on the prices of other items in the place, I suggested, "Maybe three or four bucks?"

She went with four.

In the second shop, despite their "half off everything" sale, I was sure I was leaving empty handed. Their inventory was slim for the size of the place and nothing really jumped out at me as I passed through the various rooms. Then on the way out the door, something familiar caught my eye -- a single crate of records marked at fifty cents each. At first glance, they were clearly in pretty rough shape so I wasn't optimistic.

Then I remembered the sale. Half off.

I bought four that there was no way I was passing up at a quarter each.


The last stop was marvelous. Piles and piles of stuff. No real rhyme or reason to the place and that's my kind of shopping. You dig and if you find something, you ask for a price. After one trip through the small building, I hadn't really found much of anything until I came across a dirty Fisher Price Little People Main Street set. It was beat up and missing a ton of pieces...but what about the box underneath?

Digging through the random blocks and baby toys, I came to the surface with nine Little People and a sheep and asked for a price. Typically, I see these for sale at anywhere from 50 cents each (on the cheap end) to five or six bucks each (on the ridiculously overpriced end). When I see them on the cheap end, I almost always buy them as long as they're in okay condition. With this in mind, I was hoping he'd hit me somewhere in the $5 range for all ten pieces.

Then the words came out of his mouth: " 'bout a dollar?"

I kept looking down into the box so he wouldn't recognize any surprise that might appear on my face.

"A dollar each?"

"Nah. A dollar for all of 'em."

Casually, I countered in order to try and give the guy an extra buck in the deal: "I'll go two bucks if you throw in these two cars."


I wreck shop. Junk shops.

It Smells Like Dudes in Here

I have been to heaven. And it is in McLean, Illinois.

I woke up yesterday with an urge to go junk shopping. With our recent move, it's been a while since I've had the chance to dig through boxes of old records or stop by Goodwill in hopes of discovering a random treasure. Instead, I got busy with some stuff around the house that we'd been putting off since moving in.

Then around 11:45, my phone rang.

It was my old friend, Derek.

Although we talk pretty regularly, we hadn't seen each other in about a year. For a while, he and I have been tossing around the idea of checking out America's Playable Arcade Museum in McLean, Illinois -- a small town about halfway between where he lives and where I live. We've both got families and jobs that have kept us from making this plan much of a priority, but today Derek's afternoon was suddenly free. It was last minute, but he wanted to know if I was up for a trip to McLean. After getting the okay from my wife, I grabbed a quick shower and was on the road in less than 30 minutes.

With INXS and Kidd Video as my co-pilots, I decided that if I was headed to an actual arcade, I needed to eat a lunch suitable for such a trip. The gas station provided me just what I needed.

I could almost taste 1985.

Forty-five minutes and a full-on sugar high later, I arrived at America's Playable Arcade Museum.

I knew ahead of time that there was an Addams Family pinball machine here. I'd no sooner greeted Derek on the sidewalk outside than I was in the doors and standing in front of God's gift to the pinball world.

Unlike a lot of "arcades" you'll find these days, there was no cover here. No jacked up prices. You simply drop a quarter in the slot, and you play.

Just soak in some of the awesome...


This place was amazing. Seriously.

When we got there around 1:00, there might have been five other people there. By the time we left a few hours later, the place was busy...but not crowded. By that point, as Derek observed, it "smelled like dudes" in there. The crowd that had gathered included a good variety for any amateur people-watcher:
  • Bored girlfriend along for the ride while her boyfriend played video games for an hour? Check.
  • Dad with his young kids standing at his sides while they watched his arcade skills in action? Check.
  • Guy who clearly just got off work and was stopping in for some game action on his way home much like others might stop off for a drink? Check.
Sticking with the bullet points, here are my take-aways from an afternoon at the arcade:
  • I had forgotten how to play Burger Time.
  • Kidd Video is pretty much the perfect soundtrack for an 80s-inspired day.
  • I hadn't played a stand-up Pole Position in at least 20 years. As soon as I heard "prepare to qualify," it seemed just like yesterday.
  • My brother recently played Tron and said his muscle memory brought everything back to him instantly. My muscles apparently remember things differently because it took me at least 75 cents to get past the tank level.
  • The back room was mostly games that came out after the days I would have been in an arcade as a kid. I didn't spend any money in the back room.
  • I found myself comparing my Donkey Kong scores to those of the guys on King of Kong. Needless to say, I didn't do so well.
  • Large bathroom mirrors on a wall that backs up to the "employees only" room give me the creeps.
  • The first time my wife and I hung out together, we ate calzones and played Ms. Pac-Man. I found myself thinking about this and smiling while I played Ms. Pac-Man.
  • It never occurred to me as a kid that the "square joystick" on Tapper is a beer tap. Plus the game is a blatant Budweiser ad for kids.
  • I cannot handle the pressure of having a limited number of seconds to enter my initials after achieving a high score.
  • Any games (pinball excluded) that cost 50 cents got no money from me as a kid, and they got no money from me today. Video games cost a quarter. Period.
For an afternoon that was supposed to be filled with decorating walls and raking leaves, I think it's safe to say that Derek saved the day with his phone call.

My Baseball Prayer

Here we are. October. And the Chicago Cubs are playing playoff baseball. Not only are they playing playoff baseball, but they're doing so against the St. Louis Cardinals and their elitist nation of self-proclaimed "best fans in baseball."

Over the past several days, in my excitement over the Cubs' playoff berth, I've been referred to by a few St. Louis fans as a "bandwagon" Cubs fan.

Child, please.

You're talking about the kid who pretended to be Ryne Sandberg and Jody Davis while his friends were Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee. You're talking about the kid who was bribed by his parents to stay for a full week of summer camp with the promise of a new Cubs shirt. You're talking about the adult who became physically sick to his stomach as he watched the infamous Bartman play unfold.

I'm no bandwagon fan. I've just evolved into an adult with a job and a family who's content to follow his team in the papers when they're bad rather than maintaining baseball as the focal point of his daily existence.

If you'd like, I'd be happy to tell you where you can park your bandwagon.

So as we approach the first ever Cubs-Cards playoff series in the history of the game, tensions are high. The Cardinals are banged up and the Cubs have momentum. Still, this is somewhat foreign territory for the Cubs while the Cardinals are frequent playoff contenders.

I've already declared that I expect relationships to be damaged as a result of this series. And I'm pretty much okay with that.

I don't ask for much. And I know God doesn't negotiate. But today, I'm begging for one thing. Please, God, let the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the NLDS.

I'll donate generously to a charitable organization. I'll feed hungry stray animals. I'll say my prayers and exercise and take my vitamins every day. Please, just let the Cubs win.

I'd be glad to endure five games of heart-stopping, gut-wrenching baseball. But for the sake of all that is good and holy -- Let. The. Cubs. Win.


Play ball.

Cursing Like a Sixth Grade Sailor

In the spring of 1988, I was finishing the 6th grade and the shortest track and field career in the history of the sport was just underway. I've mentioned plenty of times before that I attended a small rural school from grades K through 8 before being fed into the larger community high school. With an average grade size (not class size, but grade size) of around 20-30 students, athletic opportunities for boys were limited to basketball and track.

Coming off another basketball season on the bench (which I've recently discussed, as well), the weather was warming and it was time for track. I'd never enjoyed running. In fact, the furthest I'd ever regularly run up to this point in my life was from home plate to first base -- aside from typical kid play, of course.

Our school didn't take too seriously its track traditions. Events were occasionally assigned using methods like "you're pretty fast, so you're a sprinter." For the most part, we were able to sign up for our own events. Acceptable practice from a team whose season consisted of only two track meets.

The day was coming when we'd spend the early parts of after practice selecting our events. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for sure since I really didn't like to run, I couldn't jump high or far, and the heaviest thing I'd ever thrown in a competition was a baseball. I was basically out for track for social purposes. But before I get to my event, let's talk about what happened in PE class a few days earlier.

Our class was taking part in a fitness unit and we'd come to the day where we'd all hang from the chin up bar and look like fools. Sure, there'd be a few early developers who'd knock out a half-dozen pull-ups with little effort -- and the girls could do the flexed arm hang -- but what about those of us whose chin-up skills were a little less...refined?

Ugh. I hated this day.

My name was called and I climbed to the chin-up bar where I gave a half-hearted effort. Resigning myself to the fact that I was better suited for the shuttle run than the chin-up bar, it happened. My hand slipped from the metal bar and I fell to the floor below. Although I landed on my feet, I did so awkwardly enough that the words just came naturally from my lips:


My classmates went silent as Coach Skelton raised his eyebrows and pointed to the bleachers across the gym where I was to sit alone with my zero chin-ups and my sailor's tongue.

I can't remember if I told my parents about this when I got home. I don't think I did...but I didn't have to. It was only a few days later that the letter arrived.

April 14, 1988 
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Lybarger: 
I am writing this letter to inform you that Tim will stay in after school detention Monday, April 18, 1988. 
This action is because Tim blurted out the word "SHIT" in P.E. class Wednesday, April 13, in front of many students and Mr. Skelton. He did it in exasperation at not being able to complete an exercise he was doing. Although it appears to be unintentional, he cannot be allowed to talk in that manner. I trust this form of discipline will help him to control his tongue in future situations. 
I thank you for your help and support in this matter. Any further incidents will be dealt with as they occur. 
He will be in detention from 3:10 to 4:00 p.m. Please arrange for his way home at 4:00 pm. 
Earl R. Sullens

Detention to be served on Monday?! That was the day we'd be signing up for our track events! I'd be stuck with whatever crappy event was left after all of my friends got their pick!

Nevertheless, I served my detention. Sitting at a desk alone in the 7th grade classroom, my friends were just a few rooms away picking sprints, high jumps, and throws. Me? I found out at 4:00 that I'd be running the 800.

What?! That's a half-mile!

With no other choice besides quitting the team, I accepted my fate and boarded the bus a few weeks later, headed to my first track meet. Keep in mind that we had no history of being a school with any sort of competitive track program. Our daily practices consisted of afternoon laps jogged around the perimeter of the school's blacktop. Needless to say, my training was sub-par for a race I had no business running in the first place.

But I was at the track meet and the time came for me to run my race. And I planned to win.

I was a 6th grader running against 8th graders. But I was going to win.

I hadn't trained. I hadn't even stretched or warmed up in any way. But I was about to dominate the 800 meter race.

The gun sounded and off I went on a dead sprint. I hung tight with the pack through the first turn -- what would that be? 100 meters? -- before the distance quickly increased between myself and the other runners. My pace slowed as the others left me behind. Even the kid from the private school that anyone could beat was far out of my range. Despite my inner desire to quit this two-lap race after one lap, I pressed on as I heard my friends howling with laughter as I passed them in the stands.

Less than a quarter of the way into my second lap, I heard cheers from the crowd as others were finishing the race.

Yep. You read that correctly. In a two-lap race, I was just starting my second lap as most of my opponents were finishing their second. In a two-lap race, had there been a third lap, I easily would have been passed.



Half-way through the second lap, my legs were so tight and my mouth so dry that I considered walking across the grass and quitting. But I continued.

I'd love to know what my final time was in that race but I'm guessing it wasn't even recorded as the runners in the next race were already lined up -- in my way -- as I got to the finish line.

Equally embarrassed and exhausted, I headed to the bleachers as fast as my wobbly legs would take me. My friends laughed. I tried to throw Gatorade on one of them to quiet their mocking … but they continued. So I drank my Gatorade instead.

I continued to go to track practice after school that year, but found myself “sick” on the day of the second meet. I chose not to go out for track as a 7th and 8th grader thus ending my short and humiliating track career.

I'm guessing Usain Bolt never said a curse word in PE class.