From the parking lot of Good Time Emporium, the late-night crowd began to filter through the double-doors; the melange of characters included packs of greasy-haired junior school punks, permed teenage girls donning skin-tight Wrangler jeans and an occasional preschooler in an XXS patent leather jacket. The cab driver refused to use the word "emporium," insisting that my friends and I were mistakenly visiting his old billiards hang-out, "Good Time Callie's." The towering marquees, however, confirmed that we were entering the famed den of Somerville carousal and inflated Michelob paraphernalia. Before gaining admittance, I was asked to flash my driver's license, convincing the bouncer I wasn't a parentless 17-year-old in need of quenching my keno machine addiction.
Emerging into the neon lights and raucous zinging of a pint-sized "Himalayan" roller coaster, I suddenly regretted wearing my pea-coat and wool slacks, an appropriate ensemble for my earlier Lit and Arts section, but out of place among the Harley Davidson insignia. My ears absorbed a multitude of noises and frequencies as I scanned the warehouse-sized Emporium: the smack of a baseball in the adjacent batting cage, electronic screams from a blood-and-guts video game, and the monotonous voice of a televised sports commentator. The hubub was mesmerizing and dizzying.
Like kids in a candy store, my friends and I stared dumbfounded at this adult playground and its myriad options. The bars swarmed with Good Time regulars watching a Celtics game, while alternate screens aired less popular figure-skating championships. Good Time's "Las Vegas night" drew a large gray-haired contingent, honing in on their poker prowess and amassing piles of plastic chips. The bumper cars immediately caught our eyes; we navigated toward the rink, through a tattooed cluster of Metallica Tee shirts and crotch-length skirts.
We immediately transformed into ruthless road warriors once stationed in our respective bumper cars. No one else in the venue, save a lone 12-year-old, showed much interest in rebounding off walls and wildly zipping around in figure-eights. The action centered around the massive video arcade that was abuzz with clicking triggers and virtual race car engines. Joanna and I decided to put our slalom talents to the test as we hopped on two pairs of stationary skis. She ruthlessly tore up the alpine slopes while I tumbled down a good third of the mountain, breaking every last phalange in my virtual body.
After a few more rounds of video games, I grew emotionally exhausted from dying so many violent and gory deaths--the virtual deaths packed enough punch for any masochistic desires. I met my demise through both tragic Wave Runner accidents and ballistic missile attacks; death by laser tag, although tempting, was not added to my impressive virtual death certificate. I was in need of some karaoke to soothe my soul and release the diva within.
Jo and I ordered a basket of fries that we munched while waiting for our big debut in karaoke singing. A Good Time employee, dressed in a black outfit the size of a bandana, kicked off the routines with a disturbingly amazing voice. We're talking serious vocal cords of gospel proportions. Our anticipated moment in the spotlight did, in fact, come: "Eloise Austin and Joanna Hootnick, youuuuu're up!" We slunk up to the microphone and looked at our shoelaces while our two devoted Harvard fans whistled and heckled. We both gave each other a "what-the-hell-do-we-have-to-lose" glance and busted out with our tone-deaf version of "Build Me up Buttercup," complete with shoop-shoop arm motion.
We actually received a broken applause, but our act was quickly topped by two punks, belting out the apparently new heavy-metal remake of George Michael's "Faith." Their attempt at starting a mosh pit was thwarted by the comatose crowd's lack of enthusiasm. Kelley and Danielle, our faithful karaoke fans, channeled their energy toward the skee-ball alleys. After what seemed like an hour and a year's tuition's worth of tokens, they returned, exhilarated and carrying their winnings: a fluorescent orange rope-bracelet and a holographic pencil. All in all, a successful night's work. I had to speculate what kind of freaks accrued enough skee-ball points to afford the 600-token South Park wind-up toys, much less the 400,000-token CD player.
Our throats were parched from the singing, so we strolled over to one of the many bar areas of Good Time. Crossing the room, we passed by endless billiard tables; they were crowded with goofy, lanky, balding men rather than with hustling pool sharks. Keno machines dotted the horizon as we neared the bar, and the masses of people suddenly became denser as we tunneled our way through double-fisted beer mugs. Once at the bar, luck had it that all the drunken sketchballs in the vicinity spiraled toward our seating area. I turned to my friend who was unaware of the weird characters, making lewd gestures over her shoulder; Paul the self-described "local drunk" attempted to spark a meaningful conversation, but after Joanna politely bummed a cigarette, she nonchalantly shrugged off his advances. Paul insisted that my friend had a "stutter" and that she slurred her speech, although she had uttered all of two words. However, he quickly came to the conclusion that his own diction was out-of-whack from a beer intake of gargantuan proportions. At that point, Joanna signaled for our stage-right exit.
After coughing up a few more tokens, we pooled the coins for go at the stuffed animal crane machine. The jaws of the crane remained limp, failing to clench the plush Betty Boop I had set my sights on, so I cursed and kicked the machine. Our evening had been full to the brim with Somerville-style amusement, and we unanimously agreed to call it a night. Finding a taxi took ample effort, but after trekking a block and scaling a snow bank, we came upon the comforting sight of yellow checkers.