The Mid-Afternoon of Morris Yakowitz

By Craig J. Clark

The history books will forever record the hours between 2:00 and 3:30 on May 28, 1983, as the Mid-Afternoon of Morris Yakowitz. It was the Saturday before Memorial Day, which meant Morris was staring down the barrel of a Three-Day Weekend, which were never welcome occurrences in the Yakowitz household. Granted, "household" is a fancy word for the one-bedroom apartment he lived in by himself, far from the home where he grew up, but it will have to do.

Morris hated three-day weekends with a passion people normally reserved for rival sports teams. Being virtually friendless and almost perversely unadventurous, he had a hard enough time filling run-of-the-mill two-day weekends with activities. Adding an extra day to the itinerary (as the company where he worked did) just seemed to make it an insurmountable challenge. If he had been born 20 years later and had access to the internet, maybe his situation would have been different, but stuck as he was in 1983, he simply wasn't up to it.

Once the Saturday morning cartoons (which he felt faintly embarrassed about watching, but not enough to stop) were over, there wasn't much for him to watch on television. And since he didn't own a VCR (although he desperately wanted one) or have a cable box (ditto), his home-viewing options were severely limited. In his youth, he had attempted to emulate his father's enthusiasm for televised sporting events, but that gene simply wasn't hereditary. Or maybe it was just regressive. Either way, he didn't have it.

Throwing down the TV section in despair, Morris got up off his couch and manually turned off the TV. Taking his empty cereal bowl into the kitchen, he placed it on the pile of dirty dishes in the sink and sat down at the kitchen table, where he had left the rest of the paper. He thumbed through it until he found the entertainment section, which was always buried at the back of some other section (usually "Living," whatever that was). He thought about going to the movies, but there wasn't much left out there that he was interested in seeing. Over the previous four weekends he had exhausted the possibilities inherent in The Hunger, Doctor Detroit, Blue Thunder and Bill Cosby: Himself (the last of which had taken him back to his youth, which he had spent wearing out his parents' Bill Cosby records), and the thought of seeing the Richard Gere remake of Breathless was singularly unappealing (but not because he was an offended film buff -- he just didn't like Richard Gere movies).

Scanning the tiny black-and-white ads, he did note that Chained Heat, the new women-in-prison movie starring Linda Blair, was playing at the drive-in (and was probably his best shot at seeing her naked), but that wouldn't be open for hours yet. Surely he could think of something to fill the time until then. Maybe a shower and shave would be a good start.

By the time Morris felt ready to face the world, it was well after one. He didn't have a whole lot of money to throw around, but gas was relatively cheap, so he hopped in his pale yellow 1978 Ford Fairmount (which he had inherited from his parents when he moved out), figuring he could just tool around town until something caught his eye. Depressingly enough, it wasn't long before he found himself in the vicinity of the mall. He hadn't planned on driving there, but when he saw it looming on the horizon up ahead of him, he knew he was being drawn there nonetheless.

Morris found a parking spot near the food court entrance, but bypassed all of the eateries, making a beeline for the arcade instead. If any one place felt like a home away from his home away from home, that was it. He hadn't played many video games growing up, but seeing Tron the previous summer had sparked the interest in him and he soon found himself plunking quarter after quarter into the machines wherever he found them. Not just at the arcade, but pizza parlors, convenience stores, movie theater lobbies -- anywhere. Naturally he gravitated to the Tron game at first, but he eventually moved on to other popular titles like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Q-Bert, Donkey Kong, Galaga and Zaxxon (the last of which he played at his local Denny's).

That day, as he walked into the arcade (which was so generic it didn't even have a clever name), he saw that a new game had been installed since his last visit -- Spy Hunter -- but no one was played it. As Morris sidled up to it to find out why, he was hailed by Mr. Singer, the arcade's owner, and one of the few people in town outside of his work who knew his name.

"Hey, Yakowitz!" cried Mr. S., as he was known to the kids who frequented his establishment. He was in his forties and wore an apron stuffed with quarters for making quick change for customers while he made his rounds. He was the sort of guy who got into the arcade business for the money, not for love of the games. Even so, he was something of a gruff paternal figure for Morris, who appreciated the attention.

"Hey, Mr. S."

"Are you related to that 'Weird Al' guy my customers keep talking about?"

"Can't say that I am, Mr. S. He's Yankovic, I'm Yakowitz."

"Ahh, gotcha."

"When did you get the new game?"

"Oh, this one? I guess it was a few days ago."

"Is it popular?"

"Oh, sure. People love to watch it. Hardly anyone has played it, though."

"Why, is it that difficult?"

"See for yourself."

Mr. Singer gestured to a kid who was approaching the game cabinet with some trepidation. Morris watched as he timidly put his quarter in and faltered his way through a spectacularly lousy game.

"It's like people are afraid to really play the game," Mr. S. said in his ear.

Sure enough, it was over in record time and the kid slinked away, his tail between his legs.

"You know what these kids need?" Mr. S asked.

"What's that, Mr. S.?"

"Someone to show them how it's done."

Picking up the gauntlet that had just been thrown down, Morris stepped up to the game. It seemed straightforward enough, so he put his first quarter in and started playing. That was just after two o'clock. For the next hour and a half, he was on fire. Morris Yakowitz and Spy Hunter were the perfect combination of man and game machine, like the one was made for the other (or vice versa). There were some early stumbles and he went through a couple dollars while he familiarized himself with the game, but once he got the hang of the game mechanics, Morris was unstoppable.

Soon enough, the small crowd of spectators that had gathered around the game grew to be a medium-sized crowd of spectators, all jockeying for the best view of the screen and/or the game controls. Morris's near-symbiotic mastery of the steering wheel, weapons buttons, stick shift and gas pedal would prove difficult to replicate, though, for after he abandoned the game out of sheer exhaustion, others who jumped in failed to repeat his success with it. At least they were playing it now, though. That made Mr. Singer happy.

"There, what do you think of that?" Morris asked.

"I think you done good, kid," Mr. Singer said, pressing a dollar into his hand. "Get yourself a soda on me."

"What about the change?"

"You can keep it. You've earned it."

In a strange way, Morris felt like he had.


| Leave a comment

Wow. This story really does take me back to those bygone days of the early Reagan era, before anything good was invented. I can remember when VCRs and cable were a luxury that only rich people had, and video games were (for the most part) something you had to leave home to play. How did people fill up their 3-day weekends back then?

But back to the opening lines challenge.

For whatever reason, I've decided to be merciful and chosen for you:

If he ever got out of this alive, Peter swore he'd never mistake a mausoleum for a pet shop again.

That is, indeed, quite merciful, Joe. Now I feel kind of bad about sticking you with the story about the colonoscopy.

Update: I believe I've cracked my story. How are you doing on yours, Joe?

I will admit, it is going slowly. Our deadline is January 1, n'est-ce pas? Between then and now, I am planning to synthesize -- and then take -- a powerful yet non-addictive new hallucinogen which will make composing this story an utter breeze. Imagine that movie The Trip only with me as Peter Fonda, and instead of bothering ladies at the laundromat I'm at home writing this story. When faced with writer's block, I asked myself, "What would Hunter S. Thompson have done," and the answer, I feel, is something pretty much like this.

For the scientifically-minded among you, the recipe for the aforementioned hallucinogen consists mainly of common grocery store items (Yoo-Hoo, Pine Sol, Tylenol) along with just a pinch of "Paraguayan pixie dust," which has thus far not gotten FDA approval but which is nevertheless easily available from independent distributors at bus stations, mall food courts, and other public gathering places.

Man, after the opening of this one, I was sure that it Morris was just going to further wallow in his friendless desperation. The turn of events, although sort of pathetic, was a nice change of pace. It was great to have one of your lonelier characters encounter some modest personal success, even if it was just a greater-than-basic understanding of how to apply an oil slick.

Overall, I really like the tone of this one and the character development within such a small piece is really commendable. Great work, Craig.

Leave a comment

Entry Archives

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Craig J. Clark published on December 14, 2008 5:43 PM.

Six to Eight Weeks was the previous entry in this blog.

Night at the Mausoleum is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.