By Russ Jensen Camarillo, California
Famed author and playwright the late William Saroyan was apparently one of the first people in the literary arts to realize that pingames were definitely a part of the American scene. In 1939 he came out with a play "The Time Of Your Life," which was to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. The story was set in a San Francisco waterfront saloon called "Nicks" and revolves around its various patrons, their problems, feelings, and aspirations.
One of these people is a young Assyrlan, Willie Faroughli, whose ambition is to beat the pingame in that saloon. Throughout the play he is seen and heard in the background playing the machine. Then, near the end of the play, Willie's dream is fulfilled! The machine suddenly starts to make strange noises, lights begin to flash, and a bell rings six times. Willie counts off the rings which signify the six nickels he has won. At that point an American flag pops out of the top of the machine and begins to wave. Simultaneously, an internal musical device starts to play "America." The other patrons get to their feet and begin singing the song. Willie has triumphed!
Real pingames, of course, do not display all the gymnastics of the one in the play, but Saroyan was probably using this to illustrate Willie's feeling of accomplishment at fulfill ling the goal he had set out to achieve. The six nickels he won certainly did not compensate him for the numerous coins he had spent trying to win them, but his feeling of accomplishment outweighed any monetary considerations. Willie himself summed up his feelings in the lines: "I’m the kind of guy who makes up his mind to do something and then goes to work and does it. There's no other way a man can be a success at anything!"
This, however, was not the first time Mr. Saroyan wrote of pingames. Several years earlier he wrote a short story called "The Crusader," whose title even came from a pingame. This story was originally published in Scribner's Magazine, and also reprinted in a book called "The Best Short Stories of 1937.”
The locale of that story was the lobby of a small hotel in Saroyan's own home town of Fresno, California. A primary feature of that lobby was a pingame which, the story said, was called "The Crusader. Bally actually made a game in mid-1933 called simply CRUSADER, which is probably where Mr. Saroyan got the name for the game in his story.
A couple years ago a Bally CRUSADER was actually offered for sale at a Loose Change Fun Fair. When I told my friend and fellow pinball collector, Richard Conger, about the Saroyan story, and that I thought that was the game to which the story referred, he bought the game for his collection. After getting it home he read "The Crusader" and said that the description of the game in the story very closely matched the actual features of his game.
I would now like to present that story, and let you readers decide for yourselves if the game in the story and the Bally game are one in the same. Besides, good fiction involving pingames is quite rare, and what could be better than a pinball-oriented story by one of America's literary greats?
(Permission to reprint this story granted by the William Saroyan Foundation, Copyright 1990.)
by William Saroyan
The small Greek with the false teeth and the sick eyes was luckiest of all, and gamest, and the marbles acted well for him, stacking up a high score every time. He talked to himself in Greek, a few words in English like "God damn," and "Jesus Christ." He wasn't a shipper of grapes or a real estate man or a broker like the other men who played the game: he was a Greek gambler, high-strung, reckless, and at the same time cautious. The game was for two dollars, against one other player, or two, or even three or four, just so they played quickly. The Greek couldn't tolerate any player who didn't play quickly and if such a player got into the game, the Greek stepped out quietly, bought a ten-cent cigar, lit it, and stood aside, talking to himself. He wanted speed, so he could win. Slow players always beat him because they worried so much about each marble, and ten marbles to worry about was too many.
The Greek himself never worried, he cussed. Even when he rolled up the highest score that was ever made on the machine, 13,000 double, he swore. “God damn it,” he said, “thirteen, no good.” And he picked up eight dollars, and collected twelve nickels from Joe, the cigar-stand man who got forty per cent of the machine's daily earnings. Some days the machine earned as much as forty dollars; forty per cent of that was more than the profit Joe made on cigars, cigarettes, candy bars, soda water, magazines, and newspapers. Joe never stepped out of the stand to verify a score, he just handed out the nickels because the machine was making good money for him. He didn't mind handing out the nickels at all. All he wanted was to see the machine going all day, and when the cold weather came and the vines of all the vineyards in the valley were touched by frost, the machine began to be busy from eight in the morning till three, four, five, and sometimes even six the next morning. That meant plenty of nickels in the slot for Joe.
The machine was called The Crusader, but nobody ever bothered to notice its name except Jeff Logan, the young man nobody knew. Jeff came to the hotel around midnight one night and got a room, and in the morning he came down and saw the Greek and Peterson the barber shooting a game. "What's this, boys?" he said, and the Greek said, "Two dollars a game; want to shoot?"
"Sure," said Jeff, and he got into the next game. He made the double hole, and then he got seven of the marbles into the sewer. "Ha ha," he said, "zero double, that's a mighty big score." The ninth marble was just about to fall into the sewer too, but instead plopped into the 2500 hole, which was right in front of the sewer. "Ha ha," said Jeff, "there's still another marble; maybe I'II win yet." The next marble rushed around at top speed and smashed right into the 2000 section, surrounded by wire.
If you were very lucky, you could get three marbles into the 2000 section, three into the 1500 section, and three in the 1000 section. Nobody was ever that lucky though.
The Greek and Peterson the barber tried to beat Jeff's score, and normally each of them could have done it very easily, but Jeff stood over the board and watched every marble carefully. He didn't say a word, but something went wrong. The Greek got five marbles into the sewer, and the other five fell into small-number holes, and he didn't make the double. Then Peterson made the double on the first ball and seven small-number holes, two in the sewer, and his whole school added up to 3500 double, a whole thousand under Jeff's score.
Jeff picked up the money and went into Omar Khayyam's for breakfast.
The Greek looked at Peterson. "Who is that fellow?" he said.
"Never saw him before," said Pete. "I've been in this town twenty-seven years. I've been the first barber in this hotel shop twelve years and I never shaved that fellow yet."
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