All right, so we’ve all had those summer jobs we’re not proud of, or, in my case, that Mom still won’t admit I ever had.
Family Friend – “Neil at work right now?”
Mom – “No, he’s dead.”
Such was the situation when I spent the summer after freshman year woefully employed as a Professional Mall Arcade Technical Service Engineer and Redemption Counter Attendant Extraordinaire, which is the title you grant yourself while fixing ski-ball for the fifth time in a half hour.
Working in the arcade did have its advantages, though. For one, the day-to-day requirements of my position comprised of little more than hiding out in the back office with a Nerf basketball hoop, helping toddlers redeem 4,000 hard-earned tickets for a Tootsie Roll and changing completely out of uniform whenever I ventured out into the reputation battlefield – that is, the mall.
Additionally, I was always privy to the newest releases in the video game world, such as the historic day when Dance Dance Revolution was delivered to our unsuspecting store. The manager and I set it up together and then stepped back and pondered if anyone would ever use the game.
Clearly, we had no idea.
Fast forward to just two weeks later, as I found myself watching kids pour in by the thousands – replete with headbands, video cameras and towels over their shoulders, ready for an intense afternoon of Dance-Dancin’. I watched their abilities grow and mature from behind the slightly cracked door of the back office and I even felt a certain amount of vicarious pride when Jimmy nailed his first 50-step combo or Ted finally danced a flawless “Flashdance.”
Finally, one night after the gates had been lowered on the empty arcade, I found myself anxiously fumbling with some tokens in my pocket as I stared at the looming DDR machine. A narrow shadow separated the two of us, and somewhere in the distance the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” could be heard. I stepped to the challenge, but it was an ill-advised approach.
My virginal attempt at Dance, Dance Revolution, despite employing the easy-and-slow level, culminated in the frenzied spillage of myself onto neighboring Whap-A-Gator, the impact of which rendered me unconscious. I remained in such a state until the next morning, when my manager came in and found me as I was, out cold on the floor next to DDR. Inexplicably, my clothes were gone, as well. The issue was never discussed again, and I left the job soon after.
But sure enough, weeks later on a date at the local movie theatre, terrible memories were dredged up when I saw a shiny new DDR machine sitting in the lobby, taunting me. My date tried to pull me away, but it was too late – the insult had been issued.
50 cents and 30 seconds later I was on the floor, 15 feet from the machine. In my wake were a broken nose, a tipped ticket booth and an unconscious guy who choked on his popcorn while laughing. My date promptly ran off screaming and the theatre rescinded my tickets, citing skepticism in my ability to even sit in a chair without injuring those around me.
Naturally then, after all this, you can imagine my surprise and slight fear upon returning from a semester abroad to find one of these accursed machines in our venerable URcade. I thought myself safe from the scourge, but clearly there’s no escape. Me? I know I’m not ready for a rematch. But man, the regulars on that machine? These guys have been at it so long that have an entire arsenal of moves at their disposal.
You like that 360 jump-spin? It’s cake. Think the turned-around-no-look-foot-frenzy is difficult? Please, you dance to “Mr. Wonderful” 37 times a day and you’ll be able to do the steps in your sleep. The over-the-bar-and-back? The partner-pad-pounce? The inverted-Twister-right-hand-red-handstand-dance? Yawn. To us, it’s awesome acrobatics. To the dancers, it’s just another day at the ol’ millstone. I can barely walk straight without falling, and these kids are exploding into 837-step combos to the “Captain Jack Remix.”
So it’s with this in mind that I sit amongst the crowded revelry in the Hive and find myself casting sideways glances towards the DDR machine and its patrons, dancing just a stone’s throw away, and I find myself wondering.
I wonder about the source of their fanatical devotion. I wonder about the small fortunes that have gone into these elaborate cyber-salsas, and I wonder why they would spend all this time mastering a dance routine that would be mistaken for an epileptic seizure when transplanted into any club scene, and that would attract an ostrich in heat before it would the opposite sex. But beyond all this, I wonder one thing above it all.
Why can’t I do it?
Janowitz can be reached at email@example.com.