Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Jill Played Atari

Jill played Atari. Sometimes I’d come over to find her sitting Indian-style, dead-center on the Persian rug, deep into a marathon game of Pitfall. A can of cheap beer would be at one knee, a smoking ashtray at the other. Once she showed me how to beat Raiders of the Lost Ark; a game I’d always remembered as infuriating. Jill could methodically walk through the doorless rooms and tsetse fly infested swamps with an ease that betrayed hours of childhood gameplay. “You have to whip the walls right here,” she’d say as if the act were a simple fact of life.

The fact that Jill had grown up on Atari and still loved playing the dusty, old console wasn’t the reason why she was so fascinating to me. Neither were here fixations with Godzilla, Pee Wee Herman, punk rock or cheep beer. All those guy-centric interests were just offshoots of what made Jill so cool.

Barely surviving a tumultuous adolescence in middle-America, Jill had struck out young, forgoing college for a bill-paying job. She’d grown into a tough but caring ’90s babe who hid a feminine body under skater clothes, Nordic blonde hair under a multi-color dye job, and a fair complexion under a salon tan. There were always bottles of Corona in Jill’s fridge, tequila in her cabinet and a place on the couch for a drunken pal to crash.

Jill was also married, and though she and her husband were on the outs, this fact spelled an obvious doom that I cheerfully ignored. My time with her was thrilling, gut-wrenching and very, very brief. We cruised the tables of toy shows, stayed up late drinking Busch, and made sloppy, ineffectual love to Bjork and PJ Harvey while sitting house in her boss’ suburban pre-fab.

Money was scarce then. My job barely paid the rent, and I was feeling restless, so I bit the bullet and parted with anything “non-essential.” My comics and the Star Wars action figures I’d had since childhood stayed, and pretty much everything else went. The Jack and Sally dolls went for a pretty penny at the toy con. I dumped my old Gibson and amps at a guitar shop, and let go of a ton of random action figures for a decent load of cash.

The money quickly ran out and my Playstation had to go. I’d bought the console early. It was the model that you could trick into playing import titles by simply swapping discs. It never overheated and never had to be flipped on its back to work right. I sold it and a stack of games for $100 bucks.

Luckily, Jill’s new roommate had the console as well, so often, I’d sit down in front of her TV, nudge the Atari over and play Crash Bandicoot while she dyed her hair. Once, I felt her behind me, watching me collecting mangos, or whatever Crash likes to eat, and sensed something strange. “Is every thing cool?” I asked, barely looking over my shoulder to her. “Yeah,” she nodded uncomfortably before retreating to her bedroom.

I’d just moved into my apartment, my first single, when Jill broke me the news. She’d spent the entire evening drinking to work up the courage. I’d spent the entire evening unpacking, cleaning and arranging my new pad, with the idea that the night would be dedicated to christening the new love nest.

“I just don’t feel that way anymore,” she said through her tears. I placidly agreed, barely putting up a fight.

I didn’t take the rejection easily. Every mention of Jill stung, every run-in with her in a bar was a trial. I couldn’t keep the pain from bubbling out through my face, and it must have killed my friends to see it.

One night, Jill’s roommate and her boyfriend knocked on my apartment door. “We brought the Playstation and a six-pack,” he said. “I got this new game, Twisted Metal, it’s really cool.”

Neither of them mentioned Jill once. We jacked the console into the TV and fired it up, and for an hour or so, all of the regrets that had been torturing me fell away.

--Gus Mastrapa

Also published in 1-Up #3 with illustrations by Souther Salazar