"Hold on," Tony game-faces his cigarette. "Let's finish these while cleverly measuring up the competition."
"Ooh, ugly people and children first, I always say," I don't.
We're leering at the garage side of the giant chute that connects the Orlando Science Center with its automotive traffic, and while teen hooker JoJo's (JoJo!) "Too Little, Too Late" blaring overhead ought to be working some of its magic by now, it isn't. There is nothing magical about JoJo.
"Too little," I wince at a passing vermin. "And we're late."
This week heralds the return of Otronicon, some violently condensed assignation for an Orlando electronic gaming convention now in its sophomore year, and I'm crashing the opening party like a trick bottle of cheap champagne. Well, not crashing if you count the fact that I was officially invited, but certainly devaluing in the sense that I'm in jeans and a T-shirt while those presently milling about in welcoming plumes of boosterism are all in their best tax write-off gala garb.
"I'm horribly underdressed," I undress for chipper Science Center PR director Jeff Stanford. "So embarrassing."
"Don't worry about it," he assures with sweat beading his brow. Or do.
It isn't the scene you might expect at a Full Sail—sponsored sendup of the global pastime that screams role-playing fat kids with ponytails and bad attitudes. Generously swirled into the absurdity of storm troopers and referees are some crunchy bits of Central Florida's upper crust, most with glasses of wine troubling their grabbing hands, some even clutching cocktail shrimp. Hmmm, I know who I wish was clutching my cocktail shrimp.
"Scott Maxwell," I interrupt one of those circular "I don't love anybody's column, but I love yours" conversations that he is surely more accustomed to than I. "How are you sir?" Peck, then exit.
"You can't just run off like that," he stumbles into my glory hole. "Where are you going?"
Wherever you are. To be fair, Scott's not gay (which is weird considering that he's both cute and my age) and we're both married, but there's something to be said for these sort of dramatized event alliances — something that makes the cheap wine and cheaper conversation go down easier — and I'm saying it loud and clear tonight. An event photographer snaps at us, perhaps knowingly, and I nuzzle into Scott's necktie like Lindsay Lohan might into a toilet. And you know what? The Max of Well doesn't even grab my soiled extensions and throw my head against the tiles! I love me some Scott Maxwell.
"Ooh, there's our gaming blogger," Scott blogs. "I'll catch up with you."
Tramp. That would take at least six drinks. Don't bother.
Sensing a creeping futurism and the possibility of a person with pimples phoneticizing "Wii" and not meaning a pronoun or a good time, Tony and I fall into the never-ending crevice that is our shared youth; namely, an old-timey arcade installation called Videotopia. Most of the old skating-rink standbys are here — Centipede, Space Invaders, Frogger, Asteroids — and although I'm now old enough to drink and ruin my own life, it still feels like I should steal a $10 quarter roll from my mom, pop five pieces of Bubble Yum into my mouth and couples-skate with a big girl. But drinking will do. So will Defender.
"Whatever you do, don't go down," Tony either reads me a sexual riot act of philosophical proportions, or realizes that the joystick on the machine is malfunctioning. "You can go down, but you'll never come back up again."
He's right, too. Within a few moments of instinctively going down (it's what I do), I'm a slightly geometric spaceship stuck in the mountains fending off pixelated interpretations of destruction. The horror.
Maxwell rejoins us for a go at Donkey Kong, where I've already secured the high score in valiant, albeit Italian and rotund, fashion. He assures me that although he's been known to stroke a ball of Golden Tee at Rocky's Replay, he is not currently in possession of a home video gaming console. I don't hear him, though, due to intrusive thoughts of stroking and watersports.
"Two-player?" he smirks.
It doesn't go down so well (ahem), though, as Maxwell grunts, hems and haws his way through that video-game vignette peculiar to masturbating teenage heteros and quickly takes the lead. Totally hot.
"Check out his legs," Tony motions toward the kneecap choreography just outside the quarter slots.
"It's OK," I stylishly regress. "Scott was in Spandau Ballet in the '80s."
And just as Maxwell is revealing his inner new romantic, pining in the direction of the hyper-animation of Dragon's Lair, county commissioner Bill Segal pops by with one age-defining question, and one question only: "Where's Pong?"
But tonight's not all about losing our jackets and ties (or jeans and T-shirts) to the sweet poison of nostalgia, nor is it about me in a stinky beanbag with Scott Maxwell's dress-out clothes in my mouth. Unfortunately, this whole thing has to have a purpose, something that Tony, I and every other conceivable contributor to the Orlando Sentinel in attendance are soon corralled in the direction of: a presentation (amid the big-money war simulators) about how important gaming is to Orlando, we're a digital capital and blah, blah, blah.
Thankfully, Bill Segal's wife is given to hilarity and starts posing her husband and me in back-to-back A-Team snapshots for future blackmail purposes.
But even she (plus a perfunctory handshake from the people's mayor, Buddy Dyer … to die!) isn't enough to make us sit through a digitized rendition of civic pride, some grand overstatement of exponential possibility, joystick included. It's just boring.
Too big, perhaps. And too firstname.lastname@example.org