Bob’s pinball technique is a joke — ironic, because he is of the same vintage as many of the classic tables at the Silverball Museum on the boardwalk here at Asbury Park, NJ.
Even at the old pinball machines from the 1950s, with their natural-wood cabinets and rudimentary bumper systems, he slaps at the flipper buttons like he’s trying to put out a grease fire. And when I get him on the more modern machine, the Twilight Zone from 1993, with ramps and levels aplenty, I have to fight one of those urges all sons eventually feel with their fathers. I want to show him how to trap the ball with the flipper, aim his shots, tutor him the same way he did for me when I was a kid — at the pool table, the dartboard, the bowling alley, the backyard with a bat and ball.
And he manages a pretty good score, haphazardly slapping silver balls up the correct ramps and into the correct spinners enough times to outscore me the first two games.
Bob spent a few memorable summers down here as a child, while the decades turned from the 1940s to the 1950s. It’s all different now, he says, new construction and better restaurants on the boardwalk, the sorts of activities he enjoyed as a boy now relegated to a museum.
But he recognizes the old casino, standing on this point of the Jersey Shore since 1932, before his parents — my grandparents — ever met. He remembers the carousel house, too, now a beaux arts skeleton but once the centerpiece of the oceanside carnival and midway, where he saved all his prize tickets until the end of the weekend and then cashed them in for giant toys.
He recognizes the Stone Pony, too, the legendary beachfront rock room where Bruce Springsteen and countless others cut their teeth. On a summer trip when he was still in law school in the early 1960s, he caught a set there from Bill Haley & the Comets.
Here at the Silverball, Bob fares much better at the Skee Ball lane, two ancient cabinets at the back corner of the museum, where he consistently drops bank shots into the 50-point hole, outscoring me in every game.
“Where the hell are the tickets?” he asks after the first round, when nothing comes out of the slot.
“They don’t do that anymore,” I say.