"When I was a child, I spake as a child... but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
So the New Testament says, and like many passages in what Homer J. Simpson aptly describes as "a preachy book," that passage sidesteps an important question, namely: Why?
Why should a boy have to give up plastic Army men or flashlight tag or comics or pinball or other fun things just because he's growing older? Is that what maturity is, the slow surrender of simple pleasures? The obvious answer to the big why is, "because most boys eventually hope to get laid, stupid." But there's a more hopeful response for we manchildren who miss our toys. You don't have to give them up to grow up. You can become a collector. (Or join the military, but that's a discussion for another page.)
Truly blessed is the man with a large rec room, an understanding family and his own collection of the really fun stuff he always loved as a kid but couldn't afford back when. We don't know about his family or the size of his rec room, but by the latter measure Craig Hassell, an organizer of this weekend's 2002 Texas Pinball Festivalin Arlington, is a fortunate man. He owns nine (!) pinball machines, which he can play whenever he wants for free.
We hate this guy...No, wait, sorry, that's the envy talking. In fact, he seems very nice, the lucky bastard.
The festival is a combination tournament-flea market-seminar for fans of the silver ball featuring more than 100 pinball machines for sale and play (no quarters necessary). Pinball designer Steve Ritchie, whose machines include one of our faves, Black Knight, will lead a seminar and Q&A session and sign autographs.
He may seem an odd choice for an addition to anyone's autograph collection until you consider the quality of the art that goes into the design and back glass of some machines--or consider that there may not be many chances in the future to see new works created. As Hassell points out, there is only one company still making pinball machines--down from four 10 years ago--and the games are becoming hard to find in arcades and bowling alleys. They have become too complex and too difficult to maintain for arcades, plus there's competition from video games.
"It's become a very popular hobby for people to collect them and restore them," Hassell says.
Finding the various switches and electro-mechanical bits and pieces needed to keep them running can be a challenge, however, which is why a chunk of the festival is devoted to buying and selling parts, along with vintage and salvaged machines.
But these people aren't fusty collectors of the don't-take-it-out-of-the-wrapper variety, Hassell says. Pinball collectors also like to play. Four of his nine machines he keeps at his workplace, where his co-workers can use them. The others are at home.
"It seems like the best place to play pinball anymore is in people's houses," Hassell says.
So again, we'd like to apologize for that hate-you part, Craig. Didn't mean it. Can we come over and play?