Sunday, October 03, 2004

Doing the claw

It's not in my astrological chart, but I have discovered a talent I have that seems to have remained dormant in me until that past couple of years. I am a veritable genius with a claw machine. If the Who had not have already written the Rock Opera Tommy about a pinball wizard, they would have written one about Timmy, the Claw Wizard.

If you don't know what a claw machine is, they are these carnival like games that you find near the door in many grocery stores these days. The glass case is filled with stuffed animals. The goal of the game is to manipulate a claw with a joystick to pick up one of the stuffed animals and manipulate it back to a chute so you can claim your prize. Sound simple? The road to the chute, as with life, is paved with many pitfalls. First, in many cases, the claw is pretty weak and opens easily. So even if you grasp the stuffed animal, it will easily open when the claw begins its ascent. Next, stuffed animals are soft and give way easily when grasped. And finally, even if you snag a stuffed animal, manage to lift it out of the pile of other stuffed animals, odds are it will strike another stuffed animal on the way back to the chute and you'll lose it.

Despite these odds, there is rarely a time these days that I walk away from a claw machine without at least one stuffed animal. It has become like chess to me without the pretense. I can walk up to a machine and size it up immediately as to which stuffed animals are ready to fall. Not unlike the kid in the movie Sixth Sense, I have a gift. He saw dead people and I see stuffed animals that are primed to fall to the claw.

But even with my gift, I am constantly beset with challenges to prevent me from walking away a winner. I think the Sugarloaf people (the ones who manufacture many of the claw machines) are on to me and have sent their own versions of the Terminator out to stop me. Suspciously enough, nine times out of ten the minute I start playing the machine, some ponytailed mental deficient with beer breath stops to watch and give me advice. "You ain't ever going to get that one...it's too smooth." Cast your gauntlet, geek. Nothing is too smooth for the Claw Wizard.

Then they send the hordes of little kids to watch. "Hey mister, can you get that one...I want that one." I can usually ignore them, but even a wizard has limits. I almost lost it in a Top Foods the other night when a five year old berated me for only being able to snag a Bert from Sesame Street and not winning him a freakish looking NBA bear. Near god that I am, I can only make the claw do so much.

But last night I was pure poetry. I walked away with a gorilla back pack, a Miss Piggy, a stuffed dog and a Bullwinkle. The guy with the ponytail was almost in tears. Greatness is so rare these days.

And what do I do with all of my prizes? Fortunately, Tess, my girlfriend, teaches 4th grade. To her students, I am a legend...an urban myth perhaps. But when Friday rolls around and they get to draw for prizes from the grab bag they all thank me.

"He's a claw wizard,
There has to be a catch,
Claw wizard's got such a supple wrist...."
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