I’m always chasing this idea of the perfect day. To have one perfect day in life, a day that could be lived over and over. This day wouldn’t be one where something big and momentous happened. In other words, your wedding day is not going to be the perfect day. It’s going to be great, but it’s also going be sweaty and nerve-wracking, and you will be wearing clothes that you absolutely cannot be clumsy and spill something on.
The perfect day also wouldn’t be one where everything goes right. Like a lazy Sunday where your baseball team wins the game, and later dinner turns out exactly as planned, the potatoes not overcooked, the steak just right. It would be a very good day, but very good days are not perfect ones.
The perfect day would be one so perfect it could happen again and again, and it would always play out flawlessly and never fail you. Like a motor that always starts without a hiccup. Like a round smooth stone that fits between your thumb and forefinger. Like the way your father used to pour a can of soda to the very rim of the glass, without the foam not even once spilling over.
When I was a kid, I used to hate those essay questions they gave you in school that asked to describe the best day of your life. To me, the best day would have to be a perfect one. And I knew then it hadn’t happened, and I know now that it never will.
Still, the beach is the kind of the place where you can chase the perfect day. Where you can walk around with bare feet and listen to the ocean waves break on the shore. Where you can breathe in the salt air and coconut lotion. And where you can look out on forever or just to where the ocean meets the sky. Whichever comes first.
For the Memorial Day weekend, the wife and I went to the beach. Or perhaps since I’m a Maryland native—and since I’ve been chided about this—more correctly I should say we went down to the ocean—if not to chase the perfect day, then only to chase a little bit of that mid-August heat. The forecast had called for temperatures in the 90s.
And this particular weekend, I accomplished a rare feat. Something big. After many years of going down to the ocean, I’ve earned many related life merit badges and accolades, and this is another one to add to my very long and distinguished list:
1986: I rode in the Haunted House with my eyes open for the first time.
1990: I dug a big hole in the sand. Very big. Like I could fit my little sister in it big.
1994: I bought my first Beatles t-shirt on the boardwalk and felt very hip.
1999: I went to the Ocean for Senior Week with high school friends and was busted by the cops for carrying a case of beer. The cops promptly apologized seconds later upon realizing that case of beer was actually a BOARD GAME. We were dreadfully uncool.
2007: I took the then-girlfriend to the beach for the first time. Her experience with Ocean City was limited, and we had only been dating three months at this point. Of course it was under the pretense that this was just a fun beach weekend together, but secretly I was seeing whether she could hang with lying in the sun for hours, staying in cheap sketchy motels, getting in some hot arcade action, going on boardwalk junk food binges, and taking a whooping in mini-golf.
Or maybe she beat me. Either way, she could hang.
2010: I proposed to the wife. She said yes of course. For the most part, she was still that girl who could hang with arcades and mini-golf. Everything except the whole sketchy motel thing. Geez, one little centipede in our bed at the Safari Motel on 13th, and she holds it over my head FOR LIFE.
2012: I finally beat the system. I stuck it to the man.
Allow me to explain.
Marty’s Playland is my favorite arcade of the four on the Ocean City boardwalk. It has the latest in arcade games and amusements, but it also has tons of vintage games and pinball machines. While you may not find straight-up classics like Donkey Kong and Galaga anymore, you can still find a 1992 Jaleco Arm Champs II tucked into a corner somewhere next to a Zoltar machine.
However my favorite games have always been the ones that pump out tickets which you can redeem for prizes.
It’s like gambling for children, and I was hooked at a young age. I’m still hooked now, and I’m thirty one, even if I’m now smart enough to compare the money spent playing games to the value of the prizes. You’ll figure out rather quickly the whole thing is a big swindle. A scam. It’s less like gambling and more like indentured servitude.
For instance, there was a Wii console available as a prize choice for just fourteen thousand tickets. Assume a single quarter nets you three tickets on average. And yet, this isn’t even a likely assumption considering a lot of games can cost fifty cents to a dollar a piece, and it’s also entirely possible to get less than three tickets. It’s possible to get nothing. And sure, occasionally you might score 10-20 tickets. Even more rare, you might hit larger jackpots of 50-100 tickets and beyond, but you’ll also have to pay more quarters just to have a single chance at winning them.
Still, let’s assume three tickets a quarter. To get fourteen thousand tickets for the Wii, you’d have to spend around $1200. To look at this in one perspective, a Wii retails for $99. To look at it in another, if your parents gave you a crisp twenty dollar bill (and that’s being generous and you’d probably have to split it with your sister) to play the arcade games every summer vacation, you’d still need about five childhoods to earn fourteen thousand tickets.
You could save your tickets your entire life, into your ripe old 70s, at which point the Wii will be so outdated, there will be no way to hook it into your space-age television that beams out of your eyeball. You’ll have to get the eyeball-to-RCA converter cable at Radioshack, which will somehow still exist and be in business, even though no one has any idea how.
$1200 is a 12x markup on the $99 Wii, but it’s actually one of the lowest markups you’ll find on the prizes.
Take for example, these polyresin pirate figures:
I cashed in fifty-four tickets EACH for these pirates, or approximately $4.50 a pirate. Yes, you’re looking at $18 worth of polyresin pirates. Which was totally worth it because LOOK AT THEM. Except at wholesale cost, these things are worth about eight cents a piece, meaning I paid a 56x markup for these dudes. That makes the $1200 Wii seem like a goddamn basement bargain.
Or take this bloody finger tip, which wholesales for one cent:
I paid one dollar worth of tickets for it, or a 100x markup. But again, totally worth it because LOOK AT IT.
Of course, none of this fuzzy arcade math is the point of the arcade. The point is to have fun, to blow money because you’re on vacation, and to chase that big ticket jackpot. And if not to chase, then to at least hope the game severely malfunctions and it vomits out all its tickets by accident. Dream big.
Except, I beat the math.
This is the Rambo Weapons Pack for the sold-separately Rambo figures released by Coleco in in 1986. Mint on the card. I couldn’t believe it was there, hanging on the peg hook casually and in the wild, in 2012. Even more so, I couldn’t believe it was only marked at 45 tickets.
They probably found some leftover box of them hidden in the back, shrugged, and decided to put them out there. I love how random it is. I love the idea that I could potentially choose the same prize in 2012 that I might have chosen twenty-six years ago.
At a 10x markup, this should have cost a few hundred tickets. But I guess they figured no kids would want some twenty-six year old random weapons pack for an obsolete action figure line that they’d never heard of. In some ways, it’s the equivalent of buying a Wii in 2052.
This pack goes for about five bucks on eBay, and at just forty-five tickets, I snagged the weapons pack for roughly $3.75. Which means I profited. I won. I beat the man. I won at Marty’s Playland. I won at life. Like proposals and centipedes, this can only happen once.
And you know what? It feels damn great, even if I have no Rambo or General Warhawk figures to use these weapons. And too bad Radio Shack doesn’t sell them. Then again, I’m not really sure what they sell.