I was about 13 years old when I first entered the Palace. I was a tag-a-long to an older friend who was going there just to score a nickel bag.
Pinball Palace was a small, almost hidden place, tucked between the Jerry Lewis Movie theater and a specialty bra shop. From the outside, it looked forbidden and dangerous, two things that combined to point a beckoning finger at me.
Gina opened the door and I followed, knowing that this was exactly the kind of place my parents warned me about.
As soon as we stepped inside my brain went into sensory overload. The smell hit me first; cigarettes and pot and teenage sweat swirling together in the dank heat of the Palace.
The noises. The clacking of pool bools as someone yelled break!; the dings and and whistles of the twenty or so pinball machines that lined the walls; the cursing of the bikers at the pool table; the jangling of quarters in the pockets of Levis; the fist banging on the glass as a machine cried out TILT! It was all underscored by Led Zeppelin's Trampled Under Foot shouting from the jukebox, and the combination of those sounds became my own Pied Piper, begging me to follow.
I was hesitant that first day and just hung in back of Gina while she made a deal with guy at the change counter. When she was done, we went behind the movie theater, smoked a joint, and then snuck in the back door of the theater. They were showing Shampoo. We watched Warren Beatty, naked on the floor and humping the daylights out the poor girl underneath him and all I remember is a person was watching them through a window and said something like "Now that's what I call fucking!" Gina sat gaping at the screen, taking in every word, every movement, probably taking notes in her head, and all I could think about was going back to Pinball Palace.
The next Saturday, Gina took me with her for another buy. This time, I brought quarters. While Gina flirted with her dealer, I made the walk towards the machine in the far corner. The Bally Wizard.
I slowly put the quarter in, knowing full well that I would become addicted to the flashing lights and turning numbers. The quarter dropped. I hit the reset button. The silver ball popped into place and I slowly pulled back the lever, feeling the resistance of the coiled spring. I let go. The tip of the lever and the metal ball connected and as that ball went around the curve on its journey towards the playing field, it took with it my grades, my social life, my allowance. From the first loud ding when the ball rang up my first score, I was obsessed.