Those pivotal moments

When I think about those pivotal points when my life’s journey changed in the course of a day or an instant, I also think about some of the times when it could have been drastically altered, but wasn’t. While watching Pretty Little Liars (which I recently admitted to viewing) one of those moments came rushing back to me.

liarsIn the episode (S04E14 “Grave New World”) there’s a scene where a couple of the girls are looking out of a window that’s broken. Cue suspenseful music — cut to a glimpse of the window slipping down — cut to girls’ necks ready to be severed. Spoiler alert: the window does crash. The girls survive.

Working at Aladdin’s Castle in the early 90’s had such an influence on me that I still regularly have dreams about the place 25 years later. Twenty five years?  Yeah… I guess so. In fact, this spring it will be exactly 25 years since I started working there.

I only worked there for two or two-and-a-half years before I quit — the first time. Six months later I worked there again for another couple of years before the Tinseltown movie theater opened up on Highway 50 and soon led to the demise of Old Market Square. Even though the arcade remained for awhile after, Namco Cybertainment closed Store #325 in Kenosha in, um, 1994 or ’95. Maybe ’96. The mid-90’s are a bit blurry for me.

Anyway, one of the games and I didn’t get along so well. This frickin’ beast of a game that tilted forward and backward and left and right. Nevermind that I sucked at the game. Performing maintenance on that sumnabitch was probably the greatest amount of stress I suffered throughout those years. Look at the thing… just look at it!

Sega Afterburner

Every so often, one of the motors would stop working. In an automotive garage, it would be an easy fix. Typically the motor wasn’t completely trashed. Something called a motor brush had to be replaced. Since the thing rocked back and forth and left and right, there were two motors, hence twice the fun of replacing the stupid springy thing.

A view of the Afterburner’s motor

Replacing the brush in the back motor wasn’t much of an issue. The blue metal thing had to be unscrewed, elbows needed to be contorted, batteries needed to be found to put in a flashlight to find a runaway washer. Tedious, but not a big deal.

The front motor, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy. The motor had to be accessed from underneath the cabinet. Obviously, being unable to phase shift through the floor, the left side of the cabinet would have to be tilted up. And, since the cabinet would have to remain propped up during the repair, this process would require two people.

Except that being a small arcade with maybe three customers before 3pm on a school day, I typically worked alone. Combine the impatience of youth with a desire not to remain at work longer than necessary, and my problem solving brain starts working.

Car jack
Flimsy car jack not designed to lift Afterburner cabinet

I thought a car jack should do the trick. But, I was driving a Dodge Shadow at the time that had one of those not-really-a-spare tires. I suppose all spare tires are that variety now, aren’t they? Along with the not-really-a-spare-tire came a flimsy car jack. Fortunately, I was only a couple of years past 18, so I was still more or less immortal and believed this thing would do the trick.

The first trick was to figure out a way to lift the cabinet and get the jack positioned appropriately to prop it up. The fact that I weighed maybe 125 pounds at the time didn’t help at all. After some huffing and puffing and swearing, eventually the cabinet was off the ground enough for me to get my head under it to see what’s what.

Yeah, that’s right: my head. I put my head between this 900 pound machine and the cement floor. There wasn’t much room to spare. I only remained in that position for a moment or two to determine the likelihood of having enough room to maneuver and make the repair. Honestly, at this point, I can’t remember if I did or didn’t.

For whatever reason: a need to get a flashlight or socket driver,  a premonition, a realization that I was being incredibly stupid — whatever — I got out from under the cabinet. Seconds later the jack crumbled and the cabinet crashed down.

That could have been one of those life altering pivotal moments. The weight of the moment was not lost on me. That’s why I don’t really remember what caused me to move right then. I did, however, end up waiting to repair the game until I had someone to help me.

Since then I’ve been accused of sometimes being too cautious or unwilling to press ahead without the proper preparations. As a kid, my father would chastise me for always having to “learn the hard way.” That was largely true. I believe most of us only learn from our own mistakes — not the wisdom of others. After a few significant experiences like having a huge game actually perform a gruesome fatality in real life, I suffer no embarrassment for being overly cautious.

I’ve also come to recognize nearly every moment as a pivotal moment worthy of mindfulness: making sure to walk carefully down the stairs when it’s snowed outside… and when it hasn’t; not trying to carry too much if there’s glassware involved… even if it’s just a few inches so I can dust.

I guess that begs the question: how the hell did I end up spending three-and-a-half hours in Lake Michigan after dumping a kayak last October. The answer to that is pretty obvious. Despite best efforts, it’s impossible to be mindful of everything, yet that doesn’t stop every moment from being a pivotal moment.