Tommy Explained: Album One, Side Two, Track One

Kevin Wilson


    Tommy doesn’t know what day it is. He and the captain have been playing Airway for days without stopping, eating turkey legs brought to their apartment by the crippled woman who delivers food for a penny. Tommy stares at the playfield: Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Kansas City, Cleveland. He drops a nickel into the slot and sends the ball into play, tapping lightly on the corners of the machine, trying to drop the ball into Detroit and the resulting eight hundred points. “Tilt!” the captain shouts, somehow drunk on turkey legs and pinball, but the machine clearly reads Please Do Not Tilt Machine. No foul. The ball bounces off of pins, Tommy putting English on its spins, and then drops into Kansas City and six hundred points. “Damn it all,” the captain again shouts, turkey skin stuck in his teeth, his hands greasy and shaking. “Poxy pin ball,” he says, but Tommy only pokes his tongue at the machine and sends another ball into the airspace of the playfield.

    Here is what they have learned. Action is the secret of suspense. The ball flashes around the field and then drops into a ball trap, a colored airplane, a random city. There are shouts and whistles, complaints from the neighbors, but these two wild creatures are deaf to the cautions from beneath their feet, their arms aching so much they cannot lift them above their heads.

* * *

    It was a gift, this machine. The good captain arrived, sweating, swearing, and lugging this machine into the living room. Out of his pockets, he dumped nickels and pennies onto the floor, clinging, clanging, drawing complaints from the neighbors below. “Merry Christmas,” he told the boy, though it was not Christmas, the air humid and ragged inside the apartment, the pine tar on their hands evaporated long ago. Tommy slid a nickel into the slot and recoiled from the sounds it made. The captain took over, smashed the ball into the playfield and then manhandled the machine until the metal box in the top right corner flipped over to read Tilted, no score noted. “Damn it all,” he shouted and Tommy quickly discovered the mechanics of the game, to push only so much that the ball understands your desires, to fill the machine with your own spirit, an airplane passing through clouds, to not let it snap back. A game of skill, for amusement only.

    Tommy sends the ball to New York, one thousand points, on three successive plunges, the machine unsure of how to proceed. The glass is smeared with grease, bones clicking at their feet, fire discovered and harnessed.

    His spirit heightens, his spirit’s future level ever heightening.

Kevin Wilson BIO.